I grew up in a home that was filled with guilt. As bizarre as it may seem, that guilt grew out of very generous behavior. My parents always thought of other people. In many cases, they were forced to. Both worked hard and were always striving to do better. While not rich or even financially comfortable by any stretch of the imagination, relatives were often envious of the fiscal stability that they had achieved. This led family members to drop their problems at our doorstep. I can"t remember a time when some poor or sick relative wasn"t living in our house. When children couldn"t be easily managed or needed temporary shelter, family members didn"t think twice about leaving them with us for extended periods of time.
Despite the added responsibilities heaped on to our family, I can honestly say that I never felt slighted. However, there was an emotional price to be paid for the generosity forced out of us. Most of our acts of kindness were rewarded with jealousy and ingratitude. This led us to hold each other to a higher standard when it came to appreciation. That higher standard was actually guilt in disguise and began to affect everything we did for each other. As a child, it was particularly upsetting to me. Almost anything I did for myself brought about a response like, "Think of someone else besides yourself for a change." So I did. In fact, thinking of other people and putting them first became a really bad habit. Not because there"s anything wrong with being unselfish, but because I often forgot to be as generous with myself as I was trying to be with others.
It took me years to see what a flunky I had become. I began to see how those I tried to help often rewarded my efforts with the same ingratitude and jealousy that my parents had experienced. It was a classic case of personal neglect. My entire existence had become focused on satisfying the personal guilt that had been burned into my soul during the early years of my life. When your life is driven by guilt, there"s very little room for personal appreciation, achievement or growth. The best way to step out of that mold is by beginning to understand that actions driven by guilt and those motivated by kindness are two separate things.
Guilt is a Dictator. It says we have to help someone or face the inevitable emotional backlash that we heap on ourselves. Kindness is self-sacrifice. It motivates us to help someone without any reward. Unlike guilt, it allows us to pick and choose those whom we decide to assist. It also gives us a choice as to how that help is dispensed. Guilt always insists that we have a direct part in helping people. For better or worse, it makes us the unwilling instrument of everyone"s deliverance. Kindness motivates us to find others who can assist people we encounter 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 good example is Pet Rescue people. I"ve met many over the years. Some are very well meaning individuals who volunteer their time and efforts to bring unwanted animals into legitimate shelters. Others have convinced themselves that no one can care for abandoned animals like they can. As a result, they flood their homes with unwanted animals. Lacking the finances, knowledge or facilities to care for these creatures, they end up doing far more harm then good. Each year, all kinds of abandoned animals are found in people"s homes or on their property. Despite the fact that most are starving and many are already dead, the individuals responsible for these makeshift shelters gleefully stand up in court and exclaim their "better dead then abused" philosophy toward animals.
Once you learn to ignore guilt as a motivation for helping people, you can really begin to appreciate yourself and others in a normal way. True appreciation is a halfway point between what"s good for you and what"s good for someone else. You must learn not to cross completely over to either side. Instead, maintain an awareness of those who assist you on a regular basis. When you get a chance to return that assistance, do so in a measured way. People with a good grasp on reality understand and respond well to that kind of give and take.
Self-appreciation is not a difficult thing to learn, but it is a tough goal to achieve. Everyone around us who feels bad about themselves will do their best to make sure that we join their ranks. More then just "glass is half empty" people, they are noisy negativists who see the bad side of everyone and everything. Even when something good happens to them, they focus on the things that do not. When something bad happens, they immediately assign blame and ignore solutions to the problem. Part of mastering self-appreciation is being able to admit that no one is perfect. People who appreciate themselves and others know how to face mistakes. Instead of assigning blame, they look for a way to fix the situation to everyone"s satisfaction and benefit. What better expression of appreciation could anyone offer?