In Greek mythology, before the era of the Olympians, the Titans reigned supreme. One of these mighty Titans was named Atlas. The Titans waged war against the Olympian gods led by Zues, and Atlas sided with the Titans. The Olympians triumphed over the Titans. As part of his punishment, Atlas was condemned to carry the weight of the celestial spheres on his shoulders for all of eternity (Britannica, 2019).
After the week I had, I sympathized with Atlas. I instead carried a heavy burden of guilt. Each step I took filled me more with regret, dragging me down with its immense weight.
It started on April Fool’s Day. Each year this day is met with skepticism. People actually research what they see on the internet for once. If it is on the internet, it must be true, right? I decided to post a fake pregnancy post that I have done every year for the last two or three years with an ultrasound that was outdated. It was an unoriginal, yet annual, tradition at this point. In years past, I caught some flack from several Facebook friends that felt it was offensive towards women who dealt with infertility or had miscarriages. I honestly never expected the reaction I received this year.
I posted it in the early afternoon, and it quickly started a comment war. Several individual critiqued me for being insensitive and continuing to post something that was triggering and offensive. A few others messaged me about it and expressed their concerns. I am not going to lie. I was initially angry that so many people were offended by what I felt was a harmless joke. However, my feelings clouded my judgment. An old high school friend messaged me and said that her friend messaged her about my post. I was livid by this point. I told her that I was just trying to post a harmless joke and that if individuals were triggered by it that they were letting it win. This was definitely something stated out of emotion and not true rational thought.
I was then accused of being an insensitive mental health professional who “trivialized grief” and was called “gross.” This individual perceived to block me on social media across the board. I gathered my thoughts and let my logic take back over. She had a good point, and I was being selfish in my thought process. I never felt that kind of pain for one. I am a male, so I will never carry a child. I may have experienced other kinds of pain, but everyone is at a different point in the grieving process. I hate to say it, but she was right.
I took the post down shortly thereafter with an apology posted in its place. I honestly felt like shit. For anyone that knows me, it is never my intention to hurt others. I really was trying to give everyone a silly laugh on what is supposed to be a silly tradition in the form of April Fool’s Day. I almost broke down in tears that night. I had posted an insensitive post and reacted out of character by letting my feelings get the better part of me. This post may have affected dozens of people that I know personally. I beat myself up bad over this one. I do not like to hurt others at all in any way, shape, or form.
Over the next few days, it felt like I was throwing small rocks into a sack on my back. Every time it crossed my mind, there was another one. It only grew heavier and heavier.
While this Facebook drama took place, I was also experiencing my own triggers, which fed right into the guilt and my reaction to the Facebook post. I did not even made the connection until later unfortunately. Without getting into too much, my mother and I have had a, for lack of a better term, interesting relationship over the last ten years. The most sensitive area for us to discuss is money. She has struggled with managing her money, so I agreed to help her with budgeting.
Recently, she asked for money on two separate occasions for rather outlandish reasons. Deep down, I wanted to trust her. Optimistically, I hoped that she understood her wrongdoings with money and could manage her finances independently. However, rational thought combated this idealism. If past behavior was any indicator, the money would disappear into some dark abyss of debt.
Reluctantly, I deposited money into her checking account and called it a day. A day or so later, my father called me. He informed me that my mother called him balling her eyes out. It turns out the debt collectors froze her bank account and took the money she owed. It was no small rock being thrown into the sack. It was a boulder.
Deep down, I always felt responsible for my parents and their actions. That was just part of growing up as an only child in a dysfunctional family. When you see what your parents are doing wrong, you want to save them even if the situation is out of your control. It was part of the reason I chose my career path of mental health counseling. I wanted to “save” people from similar situations.
I felt even worse in this particular situation given that I had some control. The whole purpose of me agreeing to help my mother with her finances was to use my decision making skills to contend with her poor impulse control. I felt responsible for this mishap even though this was her debt that built up over the course of nearly a decade.
The Facebook incident coupled with lingering guilt from my mother took its toll on me. It all finally came to a head in the safest setting I knew- my therapist’s office. I let my walls down and talked about the regret surrounding both events. The more I spoke about it, the more emotional I became. My empath was showing. I took on other’s pain and made it my own. I held it in though and masked it up until this moment. What was odd was I thought it would come out as sadness. Usually, I cry or at least tear up when I experience guilt. This time my chest grew tight. It felt like I was laying down and someone was placing textbooks on my abdomen. It was difficult to breath. I even found myself slouched over in my chair unable to hold my posture from the weight.
Goddamn, I was in pain. It was emotional pain, but it hurt nonetheless. I had to take a step back and re-evaluate the situation. Rather than feel defeated, it was time to re-frame.
There was some peace of mind bringing awareness to the feelings of guilt. Previously, it would tear me apart, while I continued carrying out my auto pilot mode. Eventually, the mask fell off, and the breakdown begins. I was proud of myself just for the simple fact that I was willing to acknowledge it, especially since part of it was related to some deep down trauma and irrational core beliefs. I pushed myself beyond surface level thoughts and feelings. That, in itself, is a challenge.
I cannot hold myself completely responsible for others’ feelings, actions, or perceptions. With the Facebook incident, I acknowledged my mistake in my lack of perspective taking and sympathy for others. I was not in control of how others would perceive the post or their experiences however. With my mom, she unfortunately made poor decisions with her finances for many years, driving herself further and further into debt. It was not my fault for trying to help her in a tight situation.
For once, I took action against my guilt. I talked about it. I am writing about it now. Putting it out there made it less confusing and helped me understand the situation. Hearing other perspectives put it, well, in perspective. Their feedback assisted in opening up my view and prevented cognitive narrowing.
Ultimately, guilt held me back from acceptance. Like a ball and chain, it holds us back and keeps us in the past. The bigger the ball, the harder it is to move forward. It feeds into irrational thoughts and emotional reasoning. Acceptance is about being in the present moment and objective acknowledgment. Seeing the guilt for what it is takes away its control. It is just a feeling and nothing more.
Things are finally feelings a little lighter this week.
-The Caring Counselor
Britannica, T. E. (2019, February 12). Atlas. Retrieved from https://www.britannica.com/topic/Atlas-Greek-mythology