Imagine that you’re alone in a big, beautiful house that you love. It’s your home, and it’s exactly right for you.
But before you go to bed one night you hear a noise that sends fear up your spine. You check the downstairs side door, and the lock is broken.
The instant that you realize this, someone clears their throat behind you. It’s a group of people, and they’re already inside the house.
Pure terror. You’re braced for a fight, or worse. But then, it gets really weird. The intruders don’t want to beat you. Oh, no! They just need your house for the party.
“The party?” you say, dumbstruck.
Yes, they say, impatient. They’re annoyed that you don’t understand. Of COURSE they need your house for the party! Get out of the way! They have people arriving!
“But … this is my house,” you say. “And I don’t – ”
They cut you off. Of course, you are hosting this party. You’re not to argue, and you’re certainly not to call the police. If you do … well, they won’t be held responsible for what happens next.
One of them lets you see the knife he’s holding. Your eyes widen. Right then, the intruders become jovial.
“Please enjoy the party!” they say. “Please, have a great time! Have a drink!”
They leave you to mingle. Someone hands you a drink, and the sharp edges of fear start to blur. You meet another woman who feels like a kindred spirit. You catch glimpses of the intruders; every time you see them, they’re smiling.
You are more confused by the moment. These people have broken into your home and are holding you hostage, but it’s become harder to remember these facts.
By early morning, your “hosts” have passed out, and you realize: I could escape.
But what if they catch you? What if they find you, and make good on their veiled threats?
Plus, part of you feels guilty at the prospect of reporting them. You’ve grown almost fond of them. You’ve developed a Stockholm Syndrome bond with your captors.
After all, they were so nice! They let you have drinks and come to their party! Surely they didn’t mean any harm! But a part of you knows the truth: they have already harmed you.
Still you’re frozen, undecided. Will you risk freedom, or will you stay trapped?
That’s when you wake up.
That was my most recent nightmare. Can you relate to it at all?
Do you ever feel like your life doesn’t really belong to you?
Do you ever feel afraid to tell the truth, or set boundaries?
Do you ever feel trapped by your circumstances, then intensely guilty when you try to change them?
If so – this is not random. Rather, it’s an indication that at some point, you were trained out of your natural tendency to take care of yourself.
And you’re not alone. If you’ve read my book, then you know that I had plenty of programming around putting everyone else’s needs first, and my own dead last. Cults are really good at that! I’ve unlearned a lot. And, it’s an ongoing process.
For the past four years, I’ve been fortunate to work with many coaching clients on false guilt, people pleasing, and fear.
My clients have worked hard to reclaim their lives and start living their truth. It’s amazing to witness. The process frees them, and on some deep level, it helps to free us all.
And, lately I’m also noticing how much our empathy trips us up.
Don’t get me wrong; our greatest strength is our kind hearts. The trouble comes when we encounter people who live on the other end of the empathy spectrum.
These are people who have NO problem taking whatever they want from us … our time, our money, our energy. And when we don’t give them what they want, they start on the guilt or shame.
(Do you have someone in mind as you read this?)
On some level, we feel as though we “owe” them more. Their entitlement is so convincing, especially because they are nice to us sometimes. And sometimes we love them, which makes it even more complicated!
They pressure us, and we revert to our usual coping strategy – just keep giving! We give and give, then wonder why we’re miserable.
It’s because we’re pouring our energy into bottomless wells.
The scariest villains aren’t necessarily the most menacing. Sometimes, the more dangerous enemies are the ones who feign friendship.
Think of Dolores Umbridge in Harry Potter. Though Voldemort is the more powerful villain, he doesn’t pretend to be otherwise. But Umbridge pretends to be meek even as she’s incredibly cruel. She’s a psychopath who tortures children, but she doesn’t present that way at all.
That’s an extreme example. But even in our everyday lives, there’s a lot of cognitive dissonance going on. At times it’s exhausting to hold on to reality.
To give two “ordinary” examples:
“You’re too sensitive!” (Really? There’s a correct level of sensitive, and I’m not it?)
“Don’t change! You should just be grateful for what you have.” (I am grateful for what I have, AND I want to make changes.)
The good news is: Freedom isn’t about changing the other person, or getting them to see what’s real.
Rather, freedom is about facing down our OWN false guilt.
It’s about remembering who we are, and what already belongs to us.
It’s about reclaiming our right to take care of ourselves.
It’s never about convincing “them” of anything.
It’s always about us, and what we choose to do next.
So now it’s my turn to listen and learn from you.
Here’s what I want to know:
What would you do if you didn’t feel guilty?
What would you do if no one would be mad at you?
What would you do if you were truly FREE?
Please hit reply to this email and let me know by this Friday, August 12th.
It’s important to me to hear your answers.
Once I learn more about what you’re dealing with, I’ll create something new to help.