This is the third of a six-part series of articles on guilt, emphasizing specific examples, and how to deal with them. Written by a psychologist.
The trick was to “unbundle” one or more different dimensions that were embedded in one guilt-inducing level of communication. The principle is to deal with the different dimensions separately. Do so by making them conscious and then describe them out loud, preferably articulating each separately. This excavates the underlying ambivalence, exposes the anger and weakens the foundation of guilt. Unfortunately, still there might be some anxiety, but it will be more conscious. Now we have to speak up, which, for many of us, is another cause of anxiety. While this is still not entirely comfortable, it is a step away from verbal manipulation and towards psychological health.
Another thing I tried to do is in this example was to reduce comparisons to evaluations, not judgments. When we compare two “things” (ideas, beliefs, values, behaviors, etc.), we look at their merits. In my terms, that means looking at whether or not they work, or, whether they are effective; that is, accomplish the intended results. Something is superior or inferior if it does a better or worse job. This is an evaluation. That’s it. In the example, I created an Adult-Adult communication. This is good.
Judgment adds a different dimension, one of right or wrong. It tends to be more personal. Because it is personal, the judgment dynamic wreaks havoc at personal levels. It creates anxiety, depression, lowered self-esteem and is the chief player creating resentment. This would be a Parent-Child communication. This is bad. In the example, I failed to buy milk. That was not personal, but my wife made it so to maneuver me, to change my behavior using guilt. I separated the two dimensions, restoring the failing-to-buy-milk part to being just transactional; that is, a behavior without personal sequelae (referring again to anxiety, depression, etc.). I made it Adult-to-Adult, not Parent-to-Child communication. I challenged the judgment part (“Don’t you love me?”) by eliminating the personal association implied by failing to buy milk. Failing to buy milk had nothing to do with loving my wife. It had to do with my absent-mindedness. I feel the same about my wife, regardless of my memory problem. In real life, sooner or later, judgment is likely to creep into almost any communication. Small and mild judgments will not do serious damage and can be dealt with in the above manner; that is, by separating the dimensions, then using process-level communication to expose the ruse via assertive communication.
A more blunt example is the adult parent being “guilted” into supporting his manipulative progeny. In this case, assertiveness might have taken the form of “tough love.” The parent might have turned the argument around by saying “Was I abandoning you when I was paying your rent all these years?” “Who’s the bad guy when you don’t succeed and I have to bail you out, at my expense?” “How about you get it together and pull your own weight and stop using my support to mask your lack of initiative?” This teases out all the levels and “powers up” this parent. Now, the parent is focused on THE standard—his!