On a party night I found myself talking to a stranger about his feeling guilty about being happy in spite of a difficult situation his family went through, that of a loss. He described how incredibly guilty he felt when while his family was all about remembering and sharing stories all he was feeling was the longing for going for a walk because he felt happy being on his own. He told me he wanted to feel what his family was feeling, and help with the situation, but any time he was trying to do so he felt that he was faking it. Because of this, he thought of himself as an incredibly selfish person.
When I told him that I did not think he was being selfish, his eyes widened in surprise. But I did tell the truth, I did not think he was being selfish. I told him I thought he found his own way to cope with it, and there is nothing wrong in doing so. Everyone deals with grief in different ways, and his was to take a break from it. Why is it selfish? I would call it self-love.
The words I told him come from my personal experience. I felt guilty for trying to be happy while my mum was sick. And throughout it, I felt unbearably guilty. I thought I should have felt sadder, I should have empathised more, I should should should. But can we really control how we feel? All I was doing was trying to cope. Ans that is fine. I still tended to my mum, I still did everything, but without feeling it. It might have been that it was too much to handle and so I went in a disconnected mode in self defence. Because I needed love in that situation, and if I was not giving it to myself first, who would? So, I did not stop my life. I kept going out, studying, and doing everything as normal while helping her.
She was not making it easy, as she had to comment that I needed to be more present because in front of such a grave situation, I should have behaved differently. Should I have really, though? That was my way to cope. Besides, if I were sick, I believe I would want other people to carry on. I would never want someone to stop their life because of me, even though it might male feel loved and important. I believe I would want anyone to behave like they feel because in a hard situation, anyone deserves a bit of happiness. Suffering with someone else does not make the person suffering feel better.
So I told him to go on walks if that was what made him happy, and long ones. And I told him to think about the fact that taking care of his own mental health was indeed helping others, as his family did not have to deal with his suffering, adding more difficulty to his situation. After this comment I saw something click in him, as if he found the purpose of self-love. Love yourself so others do not have to worry. Love yourself so when you are ready you can help others. He told me he never thought it that way, he just felt he was being selfish. But now, he told me, he would try to think it that way, to shoote the guilty and to be ready to help his family in more ways. I saw him smile.
I felt happy after that conversation. I gave him the advice I had not been following for years. Guilt destroyed me. I spent years doing things out of guilt, and when trying to think about myself, I would feel guiltier. That resulted in a constant state of anxiety and stress because I could never take a break and relax. But, being mindful about ourselves does not mean not caring about others, as one thing does not exclude the other. When I realised it the guilt faded away. My mum’s words do not touch me anymore. Because I know I care about others, and even if she doesn’t see it, I care about her too. And that is enough for me. Living guilt free is the best achievement I have reached in recent years.
What I would like to tell you is not to feel guilty about loving yourself. It’s freeing, and it instantly betters your relationship with others.
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