Gratitude without guilt
I have an amazing mother. She is one of the most giving people I know. She's the kind of woman that remembers everyone's birthday (even like, the granddaughter of a co-worker's birthday) and makes sure to send something every single year. She's always given to charity, even when she didn't have all that much. Whenever I see her, she gives me something. She takes me out to lunch, she takes me shopping, or she just hands me some money. I'm her baby and she loves taking care of me. I know that if I'm ever in need, I can turn to her for help. She is the best and I am eternally grateful to her.
But man, do I feel guilty sometimes! I think, "I'm 35, I don't need my mom buying me clothes. I should be buying HER nice things!" When I've actually had to ask her for money, the guilt train really comes barreling in. I feel like I piece of shit when I have to ask for her help and there's no reason for it! She's never made me feel guilty for needing help. Like I said, she's happy to give and the truth is, she's better off than me. I've got graduate school bills to pay and a fledgling business to maintain. A free lunch here, a few bucks there, it's really nice - not to mention the time I get to spend with my awesome mom.
I always thought guilt and gratitude were inseparable. There's a voice in my head that says, "It's ok to accept this, but you'd better feel bad about it." Maybe because it's considered polite to say, "Oh thank you, but you really shouldn't have." Maybe because some people make you feel like you owe them once they give you something. Maybe because I think I don't really deserve it.
Here's the thing: Feeling like you owe someone kills gratitude. Seriously, there are studies on it. The more you feel like you owe someone - and the more they remind you of it - the less likely you are to feel thankful for the help. By now, you've probably heard about all the great mental, emotional, and even physical benefits of a consistent gratitude practice. But what about separating feelings of guilt and indebtedness from that practice? Imagine how much better you would feel if you could just simply be thankful for the gifts, love, care, and luck you receive, and not experience guilt about how much people have given you or about how little others have in comparison.
So how do we do it? Here are a few things to try:
1. Simply say, "Thank you." There's no need to hem and haw and say, "Oh, no, I can't." or "You shouldn't have!" or "I'll get you back, later." Think of how annoying it is when you genuinely give something to someone and they respond like that.
2. Try this mantra on for size, "I am worthy." Remember what you've done for the person or for other people, or imagine what you WOULD do if you could.
3. Give when you can. Pay it forward, right? I find it helps to balance the flow of giving and receiving.
4. Along these same lines, when someone says "Thank you", try simply responding with "You're welcome" instead of "No problem!" or "No worries!" What you did has value or the person wouldn't be thanking you. Take that on. It's ok to feel good about giving!
Now, I find that these things work for me when I'm feeling guilty about getting. Try them on and see what works for you.
I'd love to hear what you think or hear your ideas about how to separate guilt from gratitude. Leave me a comment to share!