Sorry I’m Alive

Mandy Reiss
7 min readJan 25, 2021
Picture by Merry Christmas (Pixabay)

“Mandy, could you take over my shift on Sunday?”
“No, sorry, I really can’t. Unless I ask my girlfriend, whom I’m supposed to meet on Sunday, if she minds to reschedule our appointment. Wait, I’ll give her a call. ”
“Hi Tine, I know we agreed on meeting this Sunday, but would you mind rescheduling it? A colleague of mine asked to take over her shift… Ok, so you really don’t mind? Because otherwise we’ll just meet this Sunday. I know it is not easy for you to find a free moment. You can meet in three weeks?! Yes, fine, then we’ll see each other in three weeks! And sorry again about Sunday.”

I sigh. I already regret the call to my girlfriend. Do I want to undo it? Call her back? What do I actually want? I address my colleague again: “Okay, Katleen, I can take over your shift on Sunday.”

Maybe you recognize yourself in this? Do you say “sorry” whenever someone else bumps into you? Are you going to work even though you are sick?

This is just one example of how I used to try to organize my life in such a way that I never offended anyone. I was what they call a pleaser. I find it such a dirty word! But seriously. It was my main activity. Trying to please everyone and avoid any conflict. That meant: not having my own opinion and being ‘flexible’, as I liked to call it back then. I guess I was in denial. I was flexible in the sense that I blended into my environment like a chameleon. I don’t think people in my life ever knew who I really was.

“What movie do you want to watch?”
“Oh, it doesn’t matter, you choose!”

“What are you going to take to eat?”
“Oh, I order the same as you.”

A little guilt is good of course and useful. It makes sure that we aren’t sociopaths. That we say ‘sorry’ when we do ‘wrong’ or hurt the other. That we ‘try to make it right again’. Although that is material for another blog post. Because okay that we have control over our actions, but we are not responsible for and have no control over the emotions and reactions of others.

“I don’t understand how you can be my daughter.” — My Mom

Guilt is largely rooted in the Mother Wound. Sorry mom 😉
As a child, my mom was my everything. She also repeated often enough, “Mommies are always right and know everything.” And as a child I took that quite literally. My mom and I used to be two peas in a pod. My mother always had an opinion about others and I simply adopted it. Until I stopped doing that. Until I started to have my own opinion. My mother often said “I don’t understand how you can be my daughter.” That sounded like a blame and hurt. She was referring to the differences between us that became more and more visible and painfully palpable. Of course, it is completely normal (and desirable) for us to break away from our mothers. Yet, it comes with a feeling of guilt. How much guilt we have depends on the extent to which daughter and mother take responsibility for their own feelings and experiences.

Our upbringing in general also has a major influence on our guilt. During the time I got religion in school and took catechesis, I constantly thought I was doing something wrong. It was designed to convince us about how ‘insignificant’, ‘sinful’ and ‘unworthy’ we are. I am glad that after my communion I no longer had to follow religion and I was allowed to attend ethics class instead. Our very alternative, left-wing teacher made a creditable attempt to educate us about current events and we learned to think critically. However, that one hour a week was not enough for me.😃 I was already very insecure at the time. I was afraid to express my opinion out of fear that it would make no sense. That I would make a fool out of myself.

I also learned to be ‘good-natured’. If I was ‘ill-disposed’ for a longer period of time, my environment would react against it. I now believe that I was often ill-disposed because I mainly conformed to what others expected from me. Or I behaved the way I thought others wanted me to behave. Happy Mandy was good Mandy. Sad or angry Mandy was the ‘difficult’ Mandy who ‘thought too much’. So I hid the sad Mandy as much as possible. I managed to smile a lot, but a dark cloud regularly moved over my face in the form of ‘rolling my eyes’ 🙄, which my parents were allergic to. I couldn’t help it. I thought it was the only way to express my discontentment.

Then there were the frequent commercials on the public TV channel, which showed that you could achieve whatever you wanted in life. Everyone could look good, always be happy and have a successful life. If that didn’t work, it was probably your own fault.

I found a job and got married. For a long time my marriage was ‘happy-happy-joy-joy’. We had a lot of fun together and had fun adventures. We were seen as ‘the perfect couple’. My ex loved that I ‘never acted difficult’. The pleaser in me got stronger. In the meanwhile, I got further and further away from myself. And therefore also from others.

The divorce was the ultimate proof that pleasure and happiness are no guarantee for a successful marriage and life. I also believe that my frustration, because of that constant pleasing, must have been more and more tangible.

Yet I didn’t learn my lesson. I kept pleasing so that I could avoid any conflict and the accompanying feeling of guilt, maybe even more after my wedding. Because I was and felt alone and longed for the approval of others.

Then I got to know my current lover. I was crazy about him and he liked me too. Yet, it took us a lot of effort before we really became a couple. When Alessandro lived in Australia, I followed him at one point, hoping we would end up as a couple. Also because I love traveling and Australia sounded like an adventure.

I felt very insecure driving on the left side of the road in a car that was not mine. I thought it was all very exciting. I tried to hide my insecurity with toughness.
“This is so much easier than I expected!” I laughed. When I made a mistake, I reacted lightly, “Oops, it really takes some getting used to this,” while Ale clung to the door handle (and my heart secretly pounded hard in my chest because I got startled too).
Above all this, we had never spent more than 2 days together. And now we were supposed to spend 28 days together in a mono-volume car that served as a car, sleeping place and kitchen. I was constantly worried that Ale would reject me. I was afraid that this journey would drive us further apart, instead of making us grow closer together. I remember not daring to cook in front of him because I thought he was so good at it that I could never match his cooking skills. So I let him cook and assisted him while I love to cook. And I am good at it too.

Things exploded during the fourth day. I didn’t understand what was happening, but we shouted all kinds of ugly things to each other, which I’ll spare you here.
“I’ll drop you off at the first airport and continue this journey alone!” I yelled at one point. My face flushed with frustration, tears rolling down my cheeks. “I hate you!” And that came from the depths of my heart with a power I never thought possible.
“Fine!” he yelled back.

Although I was deeply sad, I also felt a strange kind of relief. It was over. I no longer had to try to be ‘his ideal lover’.

And that turned out to be the key, as I understood in the next days when we were able to talk to each other as adults. Alessandro longed for equality in our relationship. For teamwork. Openness and honesty. He didn’t want to be with a ‘fake’ version of a sweetheart who was constantly afraid to do or say something wrong. Because I was constantly guided by guilt, I was never myself in front of him. I also relied on him constantly. When I felt completely fed up of the situation we were in, he saw a glimpse of my fire and fearlessness. We could build on that. It’s an ongoing process though.

“Nice doesn’t come out of goodness or high morals. It comes out of a fear of displeasing others and receiving their disapproval. ”- Dr. Aziz Gazipura

To conclude:

- Guilt can manifest itself in various forms. Very often, it comes together with shame. Shame for not being the person we want to be.

- Guilt is a difficult feeling and we often try to avoid it. However, through this avoidance, the feeling of guilt gets more power over us. Accepting the guilt is the first important step towards liberation.

- While guilt is an uncomfortable feeling, sometimes we use it unconsciously to avoid even more troubling feelings. Think about grief, anger, disappointment or loneliness.
A small example: when I needed to put my dog ​​to sleep, I felt very guilty. I was afflicted by questions such as ‘Shouldn’t I have tried to give him extra medication?’, ‘Didn’t I decide too soon?’ What I actually avoided was the deep sadness I felt now that he was gone. A goodbye letter to him allowed me to accept the loss and the guilt disappeared.

- We often even feel guilty about what we think and feel. While we have no control over that at all!

- You get out of guilt by taking responsibility for your own life. It will be pretty difficult in the beginning. Choosing for yourself means that you don’t always do what others expect from you. You may not be liked as much. But you will like yourself more! You really just need your own approval.

Would you like to further investigate how guilt terrorizes you? Feel free to comment below.

--

--

Mandy Reiss

I love writing about subjects such as sustainability and personal development.