Hi, my name is Maggie. I am a guilt-a-holic.
Someone once told me, “You would make a really great Catholic with the amount of unneccessary guilt you carry around.”
Though I wasn’t raised in the Catholic faith, I sure would love to “Hail Mary” my way out from under the oppressive weight of my guilty conscience.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I haven’t committed any crimes.
I don’t have any dark, burdensome secrets weighing on me. I just have a hyperactive sense of responsibility for…well, everything.
When there are problems in the world, I feel the urge to try and fix them right away, or at least be an active participant toward their resolution—an impossible task that sets me up for immediate failure. Followed by guilt.
I want to save the world! And be perfect! I’ve termed this plaguing martyr-mentality “Mother Theresa Syndrome,” and I suffer from a bad case of it.
Yes, I am well aware that this is naïve, and I am by no means suggesting that I am a saint-in-training. But I feel burdened by the little daily stream of things I could be doing to better the world, or that I could be doing better, in general:
If I can’t find a recycling bin for my plastic bottle and have no choice but to throw it in the trash: immediate pangs of guilt. Why did I even buy a plastic water bottle?! I should’ve been carrying my refillable one around!
If I take a bath—one of my favorite ways to relax—I feel guilt just watching the water fill the tub. Water, such a precious resource, is so easily wasted by those of us who have it running fresh from our taps. Some people don’t even have water to drink, let alone soak their entire bodies in! I think about this so much that I hardly enjoy my treat, and have ended up avoiding it all together.
If I forget to tell a friend Happy Birthday because I had such a busy day, I am officially the worst friend in history. And I proceed to send excessive belated birthday wishes, some sort of gift or treat, and meanwhile make multiple calendar reminders for next year.
If I don’t involve myself in multiple volunteer activites and good-doing on a frequent enough basis, it obviously means I don’t care about the world or my community. Why am I so selfish?
My guilt-ridden thoughts are enough to sabatoge the joy of many blessings bestowed upon me. And upon realizing this, I feel guilty about not being grateful and gracious enough to accept good things in my life. It is not a fun cycle, and lately I’ve been especially worn-down by it.
The major plague recently is that I’ve had so many good things happen to me.
That sentence sounds completely ironic, and some of you may want to hit me in the face for saying that.
But I feel unable to fully embrace and enjoy the universe’s benevolent gifts because my martyr’s mind has convinced me that I have to earn everything with blood, sweat and tears. Nothing should come easy; that I am unworthy of life’s beauty unless I’ve sufficiently proven my own goodness to the world.
For the better part of my life, I have formed an identity around struggle, suffering, and sadness.
My youth was somewhat tumultuous and I bore my scars like sacred battle wounds that showed I’d earned my way in the world. I found validation in being the kind of person who took a hard situation and made the best of it. I was a proud boot-strapper and an independent woman. I felt corroborated by my own well-disguised self-pity-turned-into-pride.
The problem is that my life is no longer such a struggle of pain and heartache. Thus, I can no longer define myself by my hardships and I feel lost without that part of myself.
I recognize it is not a healthy mindset, but it has been central to who I felt I was. And now I’m sabotaging my own happiness by feeling undeserving, yet I struggle mightily to leave this pattern of thought.
When I confessed all of these sentiments to a deeply insightful friend of mine, Jessica, she helped me realize that this is one of those issues that I shouldn’t expect to solve on my own.
In other words, we can’t expect to just mindfully muscle our way into inner peace. For the intrinsic heart-and-soul kinda stuff, we need to invoke the help of the divine, the universe, God, or however we define and connect with that which is bigger than ourselves.
To do this, my friend suggested that I imagine taking my feelings of guilt and carefully packaging them up into a box. Then I envision taking that box and giving it away to the great wide universe. Handing it over. Releasing control.
It is not mine anymore to lug around or fuss over. And in that empty space where once I held a box of burdens, I can fill myself with the peace of knowing that I am worthy of the happiness that life gifts me in return.
And so are you.
And so are we all.
Isn’t that the most Mother Theresa-esque mentality of all?
That the whole wide world deserves peace, joy, love and goodness? I realize that I can’t literally save the world or ensure happiness for all its inhabitants, but if I am rejecting my own blessings and gladness, I am already shooting those lofty aspirations in the foot.
So this new year, my resolution is this:
Instead of weighing worthiness, I will remember that I—like all of us—was born worthy of wonderful things. That I should rejoice and be thankful when good things come my way, savoring them with the knowledge that there will likely be hardship again someday.
I will no longer measure my value by my sufferings, but by the love I have in my heart.
I will embrace joyfulness and thus infect the world, for this is my greatest weapon. I will stubbornly seek joy in both good times and bad. And at times when peace and joy evade me, I will return again with my packaged-up pain and lay it at the feet of divinity.
True, I cannot save the world. But I can help make it a better, happier place, starting with myself. I choose joy.
Author: Maggie Anbalagan
Editor: Sara Kärpänen