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21 Feb 2003

Guilt because I cannot do enough
I've experienced feelings of guilt my entire life. Both my parents brought me up to feel guilty if I didn't help paying bills at home, or if I wanted to sit with my friends at a primary school concert, or if I didn't help in the family business after school, on Saturdays and during school holidays (not that I had other options) My mom would say things like I don't love her or care about her, would start arguing and scolding that my sister and I are putting her through all sorts of trauma. My sister and I are a year apart and grew up with these feelings. She is one who is able to sort of disconnect and not let it get her down, and I was always the cry baby. Everything upset me because I really did feel responsible for stuff that didn't go according to plan. My dad expected money from me as soon as I started my first varsity job. He would simply show me a few bills and wait fo the money. He provided for us and I'm grateful for that, but was never good at budgeting and never looked to planning for the future. He is now 72 years old and has nothing to show for it. Ipay their rent because I am the only one of their offspring with a permanent job. I feel guilty because they are my parents but I cannot afford it any longer because I am expecting my second child and my dad still expects me to continue supporting him. I am now in a position where I am a home owner, we own 2 vehicles and we live in Sandton - and I feel like I don't deserve all this because my parents have basically nothing. My dad is stubborn and will not change his ways, and my mom still causes scenes even when I fly them up to my home for visits. I feel like I should start thinking about me and my family now, but the guilt that I've felt my whole life is so overpowering. Plaese help - I want to start living my life. I'm turning 29 soon and need to start with a fresh mental attitude.
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Expert
CyberShrink
cybershrink

01 Jan 0001

Dear snazz,
it's a sad fact that some parents have an enormous skill at teaching their children to feel guilty for things for which they ought to feel no guilt whatoever. Your parents, as adults, made their own choices in life. And if they failed to chose to make proper provision for their own age, it is entirely their fault, not yours, that they find themselves not well off. Of course you are free to choose to help them --- and they may be too stubborn to appreciate this or to feel grateful. But stop accepting the gift of guilt.
Some people, perhaps like them, who are unskilled at loving, concentrate instead on material matters like money, and decide to value nothing else. You need to tell them that while you are under no obligation to fund their retirement, you will help when you can, and to the exent that you can --- but your own family and children have to take priority. They should be encouraged to also explore what further aid might be available to them through the welfare system, as then you could supplement whatever they might be eligible to receive, rather than carrying the entire burden.
Your success in life tis very well deserved, but now you need to learn to start enjoying it. You really deserve psychotherapy with a good shrink, to work through these issues, and to unlearn the habit of guilt which you were trained to feel.
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