I grew up in a home that was filled with guilt. As bizarre as itmay seem, that guilt grew out of very generous behavior. Myparents always thought of other people. In many cases, they wereforced to. Both worked hard and were always striving to dobetter. While not rich or even financially comfortable by anystretch of the imagination, relatives were often envious of thefiscal stability that they had achieved. This led family membersto drop their problems at our doorstep. I can't remember a timewhen some poor or sick relative wasn't living in our house. Whenchildren couldn't be easily managed or needed temporary shelter,family members didn't think twice about leaving them with us forextended periods of time.
Despite the added responsibilities heaped on to our family, Ican honestly say that I never felt slighted. However, there wasan emotional price to be paid for the generosity forced out ofus. Most of our acts of kindness were rewarded with jealousy andingratitude. This led us to hold each other to a higher standardwhen it came to appreciation. That higher standard was actuallyguilt in disguise and began to affect everything we did for eachother. As a child, it was particularly upsetting to me. Almostanything I did for myself brought about a response like, "Thinkof someone else besides yourself for a change." So I did. Infact, thinking of other people and putting them first became areally bad habit. Not because there's anything wrong with beingunselfish, but because I often forgot to be as generous withmyself as I was trying to be with others.
It took me years to see what a flunky I had become. I began tosee how those I tried to help often rewarded my efforts with thesame ingratitude and jealousy that my parents had experienced.It was a classic case of personal neglect. My entire existencehad become focused on satisfying the personal guilt that hadbeen burned into my soul during the early years of my life. Whenyour life is driven by guilt, there's very little room forpersonal appreciation, achievement or growth. The best way tostep out of that mold is by beginning to understand that actionsdriven by guilt and those motivated by kindness are two separatethings.
Guilt is a Dictator. It says we have to help someone or face theinevitable emotional backlash that we heap on ourselves.Kindness is self-sacrifice. It motivates us to help someonewithout any reward. Unlike guilt, it allows us to pick andchoose those whom we decide to assist. It also gives us a choiceas to how that help is dispensed. Guilt always insists that wehave a direct part in helping people. For better or worse, itmakes us the unwilling instrument of everyone's ; ; deliverance.Kindness motivates us to find others who can assist people weencounter in ways better then we can. And not just people!
Guilt promotes obsessive behavior. When you're under its spell,it doesn't seem that way; but it is a fact nevertheless. A goodexample is Pet Rescue people. I've met many over the years. Someare very well meaning individuals who volunteer their time andefforts to bring unwanted animals into legitimate shelters.Others have convinced themselves that no one can care forabandoned animals like they can. As a result, they flood theirhomes with unwanted animals. Lacking the finances, knowledge orfacilities to care for these creatures, they end up doing farmore harm then good. Each year, all kinds of abandoned animalsare found in people's homes or on their property. Despite thefact that most are starving and many are already dead, theindividuals responsible for these makeshift shelters gleefullystand up in court and exclaim their 'better dead then abused'philosophy toward animals.
Once you learn to ignore guilt as a motivation for helpingpeople, you can really begin to appreciate yourself and othersin a normal way. True appreciation is a halfway point betweenwhat's good for you and what's good for someone else. You mustlearn not to cross completely over to either side. Instead,maintain an awareness of those who assist you on a regularbasis. When you get a chance to return that assistance, do so ina measured way. People with a good grasp on reality understandand respond well to that kind of give and take.
Self-appreciation is not a difficult thing to learn, but it is atough goal to achieve. Everyone around us who feels bad aboutthemselves will do their best to make sure that we join theirranks. More then just 'glass is half empty' people, they arenoisy negativists who see the bad side of everyone andeverything. Even when something good happens to them, they focuson the things that do not. When something bad happens, theyimmediately assign blame and ignore solutions to the problem.Part of mastering self-appreciation is being able to admit thatno one is perfect. People who appreciate themselves and othersknow how to face mistakes. Instead of assigning blame, they lookfor a way to fix the situation to everyone's satisfaction andbenefit. What better expression of appreciation could anyoneoffer?
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