“You must have it!” and other such arrogant phrases are not only the usual substance of commercials, but also one of the many misconceptions people hold, and harm themselves, and each other, with.
They come up early in life, and society does everything to keep them up for you. As a child, you find out you must have certain toys because otherwise you’re not cool. Then you’re told you must have a certain number of friends because otherwise you’re a loser. Then it transpires you must have an ideal body because otherwise you’re not attractive. Then adult life begins, and so many opportunities open up! so much there is to reach out for!…
…that you may be heading straight for full-swing depression if, in your heart, you feel obliged to really reach out for all of them.
I was thinking a lot about it, recently. Partly because I watched this guy discussing the problem of depression from a Buddhist point of view, but also partly because, from time to time, I hear people telling me, other people, or themselves that they must have: a driving licence, a degree, a flat of their own, a child (“before 30”), a partner (that would be… “before 29”, or what?), and I guess they also must have an awful load of guilt on their minds, too, as they move through life setting those goals and, every so often, not reaching them.
It’s guilt towards the ones who burden you with all these expectations — as if they had a right to! I know, I know, some people just revel in telling others what they should have, what they should do, and what they should want, and I won’t change it by saying they don’t have a right to do so. Still, I hope I can change the mindset of those who feel guilty about not fulfilling other people’s expectations.
Is it enough if I point out that these expectations are so often theirs, but not your own? Example: my family have been telling me to get a driving license. With them, it’s not even the “you must” kind of telling, but I felt obliged to get this damn license anyway. For some time, at least: then I came to the super-wise realisation that I never wanted to own a car, and I don’t think I want a job where I’d have to drive one. So much congestion, so much smog overhead, so many idiots on the roads, so why in hell should I become one of them?
And so I decided to remain a pedestrian idiot, but, in my own eyes, also a hero because I discarded one of the expectations that were not my own, and stopped worrying about not fulfilling it. And for me, the realisation that that particular need was not my own — that, in other words, a licence is a thing I can happily do without — was enough to stop feeling guilty towards my family; and it felt so freeing!
And for me, that’s enough: realising which needs and expectations are yours, and which are somebody else’s. Although it takes time – like any thing worthwhile, it takes a lot of it! – and may involve some risks, it’s worth it. At the beginning, you get rewarded with a kind of thrill, and later, you get time for yourself, by which I mean time for fulfilling your own needs and expectations.
And here I’m coming to the rather difficult issue of the other kind of guilt: guilt towards oneself. As you may have traced from my earlier posts, or even from the very fact that I write of it, I have problems with this one. Feelings of guilt towards oneself may be much harder to cope with than those connected with other people.
You may feel guilty towards yourself about not having something, or about not having acquired something up to some point in your life. These might be, again, things you can do without, and it’s great if, after some time, you realise it and find yourself free from guilt. But they might be things you really need. Simple things, like a sense of security, which some people don’t have and have difficulty “acquiring”.
The guilt which arises from not being able to get what you really need may be crushing, and my so-called wisdom fails to come up with any advice on how to cope with it. Myself, I lack time, good mood, and a job. I can’t stretch time, and they don’t sell good mood on every corner, but I know at least what to do about the last one: I must keep searching. Perhaps it applies to other kinds of lack, too. I don’t know. Anyhow, I feel guilty towards myself about not having enough of the former two.
And seriously, I don’t know what to do about it. I hate to finish this post like that, too. I had different expectations about it. But I guess my posts fuck expectations. Good for them…
If I ever learn anything about coping with guilt towards oneself, though, I’ll share it here. It’s a promise to myself, and it’s a promise to you, too.
All the best,