Exploring guilt as a tool

There comes a time in most people’s life when they get to have a coming-of-age conversation with their parents or siblings, when they can have a conversation based on everyone being an adult and an almost level playing field. It was in this atmosphere around the kitchen table, over cookies and milk, that my sister, mother and I really explored the guilt complex theories. My sister, who is nine years older than I am, much smarter and who doesn’t much like me talking about her, will be named Liz for this adventure. (I would hate to hurt her feelings.)


Liz had been reminiscing about how effective Mom had been on inflicting guilt trips as a form of motivation, discipline and perhaps amusement. While I knew that Liz was very influenced by guilt, I didn’t attribute it to anything that had happened in our home. I had to question what on earth they were talking about. It was then my mom got a very determined look on her face, not the most pleasant, and announced, “Guilt only works when you can make someone believe they are responsible for the feelings and actions of others. Some people are immune.”

Liz was suddenly outraged. “Isn’t it important to recognize that our every action affects other people?”

I couldn’t help but laugh. Then I kind of felt sorry for her. I began to wonder how it would be to have your quiet time at night, that time just before you fall asleep, filled with thoughts of how your day and your choices may have planted a seed that would someday cause a war. Now I finally understood why Liz slept so little.

As mothers often can do, our mom sensed the thoughts that were flying in each of our heads and decided to share with us a bit of wisdom. On the subject of guilt complexes and their use and effectiveness I would offer the conversation–no wait lecture (we didn’t interrupt or add)–she gave us.

“Anyone who has raised at least two children understands that they come with their own personalities and you may be able to influence, but you will never change their basic nature.”

“Think of the story I read you about the hen who was making the loaf of bread. Remember none of the animals were willing to help, and in the end, they all wanted some of the bread.


Well, Liz you were very concerned about the other animals. You truly wanted them to learn their lesson and help make the bread. As your mom, I was proud of you and realized that you would be very conscious of your actions and may be a great world leader because you would take care of the world. You would bring them together.”

“I read Trenna that same exact story, I believe with the same inflection and emphasis. She said, “Well, the hen wanted bread and so she should make it. It was sure nice of her to share.”

As your mom, I was proud of you and realized you would be gracious and maybe a great leader someday because you would always find the best in people.”

“Guilt complexes don’t work the same for everyone. It’s probably best to try and avoid the use of them on others and just examine how they can help you be a better person.”

Of course it was Liz who came up with the perfect response. “Well said.”


6 thoughts on “Exploring guilt as a tool

  1. My mother was great for inflicting guilt but it wasn’t until she had died that I realised just how powerful that made her in my life. Not for the best reasons

  2. For the longest time, I refused to be Catholic because I refused to bear the guilt for everything. Guilt may be a great motivator, but so are praise, approval and love, which are so much better feeling. 🙂
    So, does this post mean you and I are ready to take over the world? We can make your she shed our headquarters! It’ll be great!

  3. Did you look at the size of the shed? I am okay with a world headquarters — of what? I don’t even have a theme. Seriously, most of the time I am just writing to myself. So um, what do we do with the world once we take it over?

  4. The shed is like a treehouse lol. And hey, how many times have we heard “size doesn’t matter”? >:-) when we rule the world, we can remind people to be nice to each other and remember how to take turns, for starters!

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