I wasn’t seeking excellence as a perfectionist. I was seeking it because I was imperfect.

If you have read my book Journey Through The Guilt Trip, you know that in my 20s, I had a nervous breakdown, trying to meet expectations that I thought would make others accept me and like me more. I strove to be the best I could, and always said that I was competing against myself all of the time and to some degree, I guess I was. Although, when I now look back, I realise that the competition with myself was driven from hiding the fact that I knew that I could never be truly perfect.

And herein lies the problem. People who are driven to succeed may look like they are set upon perfection, but in reality, they are more likely to be incredibly sensitive to the fact that they are anything but – their effort is more to keep that hidden from the world than anything else. And this is important. We tend to hold up ‘successful’ people as those role models for the rest of us – work hard, strive to be more, to be better, just like them. But if we don’t understand what has been driving them, we may be striving in the wrong direction. If they have been driven by a quest to hide their imperfections, thinking that if they show them that society will judge them and find them lacking, then we are in a tricky situation. Can you honestly say that you show compassion for your idols who seem to fall from grace? It takes a big person to see the humanness of their idols and not feel somehow cheated.

But to feel like this is to miss the point. Let’s celebrate these people not because they are perfect, but because they have succeeded even when they were NOT perfect. Don’t judge role models by what you want them to be but by what they are. It is healthier for you and them, as we stop holding people to impossible standards and get disappointed when they cannot be met.

To read Journey Through The Guilt Trip, go to Amazon or click here

Using Social Media for Mental Health Support

TRIGGER WARNING – REFERENCES SELF HARM. 

This week has been heartbreaking. I follow a lot of people on Twitter who suffer from various forms of anxiety, depression or mental fragility. One of those people self harms and during one such episode, posted a picture of their wounds up on the social media platform. They was clearly in some distress so the immediate response from most people was concern that they get them checked out and that they take the medication they was prescribed. But what I found upsetting was how many people immediately – during the episode – were incredibly cruel to them, saying that they were being triggered and they had just caused them to relapse. They were horrified that this had happened and has apologised but they were clearly not thinking straight when it was posted.


I don’t pretend to understand what it is like to be triggered by such a picture and I do understand how very tenuous the control is over the conditions. But I also struggle with holding them fully responsible for this. They are very clear in their tweets and posts that they struggle with this, and it would be fairly logical to assume that there is a risk of them having an episode. And this makes me wonder, how much responsibility do we have to take in order to make sure that others aren’t triggered? I am not for one moment saying that they were right in posting it and quite rightly they removed it as soon as the medication kicked in. But now they are still getting abuse, and they are still mentally frail, so I just don’t understand why it is okay for them to be held responsible for the mental states of others, but not the other way round. 
How much responsibility should you take for yourself if there are things that trigger you? If I know I am triggered by something, isn’t there some form of rationale that says that there are certain people or accounts I should probably avoid because the likelihood of seeing something triggering is fairly high?
It is so depressing to think that people look for mental health support online because they feel they don’t have access to any other type of resource, and I feel for all sides of this particular discussion. Having to navigate social media anyway is incredibly difficult, but doing so trying to avoid certain topics must be exhausting.

Please seek help when you need it – there is no shame or guilt associated with needing some support:

https://www.samaritans.org

http://www.samaritansusa.org

Guilt and Why Boundaries Matter

When you let other people determine your choices, whether consciously or not, you are effectively giving away your power to them, as you are letting them decide what your right and wrong choices are. When you overstep those decisions, you feel guilty. The reason you may not argue or resist this is because to get them out of your head, you need to set up some boundaries that clearly mark areas of your life where you will not allow interference.

Boundaries make you very nervous as they suggest that you are putting a barrier in between you and other people. And the worry is that this barrier then somehow stops you having a close bond or relationship with them. But that just isn’t true. In fact, you can’t have close bonds with someone where there are no boundaries set in place – because how on earth do you know that you are close when you have no sense of where you start and finish?

Boundaries are just as comforting to others as to you – it tells them the lines within which they can play. Without them, we all become a bit lost, and we can more easily give in to our worst impulses. Think of children who are left to their own devices – they may start out following the rules, but their natural instinct is to push through that, to find out where the limits are to what behaviour can be acceptable. No limit means they just keep going.

Human beings are not designed to have no boundaries when it comes to our emotional security and well being. Look at a baby who is put down on a mat, and not able to feel anything protecting them; they flail their arms around and become very tense. They seem scared because they are scared – they feel that they will fall. You are used to having something around you at all times, from when you are in the womb and beyond.

Freedom might suggest that we don’t want to be restricted, but ultimately, even a skydiver makes sure they have a parachute!

In order to live guilt free, you have to know that the choices you are making are coming from you not others. To do that, you must know where your limits and boundaries are. And you must trust that by putting them in place, you are making life a lot easier for everyone else around you.

Guilt and Passive Aggressive Behaviour – If You Say So

Making you feel guilty doesn’t always happen (in fact, hardly ever) as angry tirades of abuse. Its effect is achieved mostly in those small offhand comments, designed to make you question your view of your actions, to make you doubt yourself.

Think of the times when others have been able to adapt your behaviour and the subtlety used. It’s not “Don’t do that!”, but “if you want to do that, then go ahead”. It’s in telling you that they don’t agree with you but they are going to take a grandstand seat to watch you do it. It’s in the lack of congratulations for your achievements but a reminder that they did it before, did it better or don’t see the point of doing it at all.

The subtlety is what makes it so dangerous – you are questioning yourself and feeling guilty and foolish and they have achieved all of that with a smile on their face. The definition of passive aggressive behaviour includes the “avoidance of direct confrontation” and it is this that can make it so difficult to spot and so difficult to counter. There is nothing for you to defend yourself against, as the words used, on the face of it, appear harmless. Once you realise how bad they have made you feel, the only thing you can do is fantastise about what you could or should have said back to them.

So what can you do against the relentless attack on who you are, on your self confidence and self worth that does not appear until it has done its damage

My advice – take what they say at face value. If it is wrapped up in complimentary language, accept the compliment. If they dare you to go ahead without their permission – do it. Don’t respond by questioning yourself but instead don’t question them and hold them to what they say. Passive aggressive works because it threatens without being threatening, due to the assumptions that are loaded into the words used. But, when you take that venom out of the words, you take the energy out of the attack.

This also turns the power back to you. In effect you are saying to them, if you want to attack me, then you need to say it loud and clear, and make it obvious, because I’m going to deliberately not respond when you try to do it subtly. It might sound strange to be inviting an outright attack but they are a lot easier to defend yourself against than charming language hiding hostility.

Does There Have To Be A Word For Everything?

The English language has a particular quirk to it, in that – in comparison with other languages – it tends to have far more nuance and subtlety to it. There is not just one word for things like ‘good’, but dozens. Each one gives a slightly different flavour to the sentences, and it makes us highly competitive in Scrabble.

But this onslaught of vocabulary comes at a price. It makes it far more difficult for others to learn how to speak it. English as a Foreign Language is a class studied the world over, and many other regions just don’t understand why we need so many different words to say the same thing. The contrast is seen when you try to translate between English to another – especially something such as Chinese which is a character set that encompasses whole notions, not individual syllables.

The reasons behind having a million different ways to say the same thing are numerous, but a significant one is the fear that we will be misunderstood. If you think about it, getting the wrong word in the wrong context can start arguments, or be considered offensive, so it is understandable that we will be a little bit sensitive to use the right word to describe what we mean. Of course, the fact that this relies on the other person knowing the words you are using means that sometimes, trying to be clearer causes more confusion. My mum used to say she needed a dictionary to talk with me sometimes, as I loved playing with words and learning new ones. So in my quest to be more precise with what I was saying, I ended up causing more misunderstanding.

Why am I talking about language when this blog is about guilt? Because our need to refine our language significantly impacts our ability to communicate how we feel. Guilt is particularly affected by this as it is not considered a ‘nice’ emotion to feel or inspire in others, so we use other words to describe how we feel. This makes it easier for us to skirt around awkward follow up questions, When people I am talking to know my subject matter, they tend to spend a long time trying to convince me that they do not feel guilty (even if i haven’t actually ever asked them whether they do or not). But they don’t like the word ‘guilt’, so, as they would naturally be inclined to drop the ‘G’ bomb, there is a pause, a look up to the sky and eventually they use a different word to explain how they feel. We both know the word that they should have used was ‘guilt’ but they couldn’t leave it with that.

In recent years there have been huge advances in talking about mental health and words such as depression or anxiety are now used without as much of the stigma associated with it. And that is wonderful but I do feel we need to do the same with our emotional health, and that starts with calling out the emotions we are feeling without scrambling around for a softer word. I can talk to 10 different people and to me they are struggling with guilt but they will all reference some other emotion. And if I mention that they might feel guilty, I get accused of putting words in their mouths.

Am I? I’m well aware that the more you focus on something, the more you see it and as someone who studies guilt, I’m more pre-disposed to see it. It is the lens that I think makes the most sense not just from how people are feeling but also by how it changes their behaviour. Often, the description of how they feel aligns closely with guilt, but the negative connotations of guilt mean they will slide past that, grabbing any other word instead – then argue that it is more accurate.

Guilt as an emotion is difficult to deal with – by design. It is meant to compel you to take action and as such, can make life feel very uncomfortable. We can feel quite defensive and sensitive when it is brought up – and it is sometimes used as an attack on people when you want to shut them down “Stop trying to make me feel guilty!” But we need to talk about it more, use the word more, so that it loses that power to upset and disrupt us, and lets us stay clear in what we actually want to say.

What If ‘Political Correctness’ and Guilt Trips Are The Same Thing?

I promise that this is not a political post, even though trying to avoid being seen as political is incredibly difficult these days! But I wanted to suggest a different approach to what tends to make both sides of an argument froth at the mouth, whether we are discussing political decisions or social ones, such as sexual equality or toxic masculinity.

I have seen for many years the “It’s political correctness gone mad” articles in the media, the latest being the poor unsuspecting vegan sausage roll from Greggs. As these things always do, it sparked off a debate around why people get so upset about things that, on the face of it, seem to have little impact on their life. And what I see missing from all of this debate is the part that to me is critical – it is the use of guilt trips. Guilt is used by others to control our behaviour – so we try to make someone bend to our will by making them feel guilty about what it is they are doing. We do this because it is hugely effective – you only need to look at the adverts around to see how often we are made to take a long hard look at what we are buying and reassess our choices.

But using guilt trips has four possible consequences: Firstly, it can indeed impact and change your behaviour – you listen to the opinion, you decide you agree with it, and you adapt. Secondly, you feel guilt being triggered but you don’t feel there is a way for you to change your behaviour and so you just feel bad about your inability to adapt and take it on as further criticism of you as a human being. Thirdly, you feel the guilt triggered but instead of taking it onboard you become indignant that you are being made to feel guilty and so you fight back not on the issue itself but on the person trying to make you feel guilty. Lastly you feel the guilt triggered and – without really assessing or caring whether you agree or not – you double down on whatever it is that you are being made to feel guilty about.

From my perspective, many of the political correctness arguments originate from the last two possibilities – that the attempt to make people feel guilty just makes them dig in even deeper, and then start attacking back. When one side suggests that behaviour should be changed, it is done in a way that it makes others feel so uncomfortable that they defend themselves by attacking the person’s right to tell them what to do. For added effect, they then do it even more. The drip feed of these guilt trips has been relentless and so the individual issues are inconsequential – it is now more of a fight around who gets to tell who what to do. This to me is the essence of the political correctness issue.

Now, we live in a society where a certain amount of compromise has to happen in order to maintain civil obedience. And the constant rumblings of ‘bloody political correctness’ have largely been tempered by the acknowledgement that you are not going to like everything that everyone does around you. However, we have reached a tipping point, where the amount of things people are made to feel bad about has made the discomfort of not being right so bad that there is now nothing left to compromise on. And when we no longer try to compromise, we end up with constant battles over who can win ground. Our natural instincts towards compassion and empathy for others are overshadowed by our survival instinct to protect ourselves.

We only change behaviour when we feel that we won’t be judged or embarrassed by doing so, yet the antagonism in society overall seems to have got to the point where it is no longer safe to change your mind and so your only other option is to fight back.

How do we change course? How can we begin to listen to one another without being defensive or hostile? The key is to understand this one thing – opinions are neither right or wrong – they are just opinions. In a democratic society, we are all allowed to voice our opinion, but we must also listen to opinions without judgement, and without fear of judgement. One person having one opinion does not mean that everyone else is wrong. Sometimes, the issue is less that there is a right or wrong answer, but that we say that someone is wrong without explaining an alternative. So we just leave them in the no-mans-land – and wonder why there is a backlash.

If you are vegan, eat the sausage roll. Tell people how tasty it is. Buy another one. If you are not vegan, buy a meat sausage roll. Tell people how tasty it is. Buy another one. Let market forces dictate whether demand is there for something that you don’t particularly like yourself. If someone asks your opinion on vegan or meat, say, “I think … ” and don’t get caught up in trying to convince them that you are right.

In the long run, it is nothing to do with ‘political correctness’ and everything to do with feeling that you are being made to feel guilty without the possibility of redemption, once too often.