Chances are you’d know that if that person behaved badly, it wasn’t your fault. But with your parent or sibling, you’ve been blamed for their unhappiness over a long, long time and you’ve been burdened by long-lasting feelings of (unconscious) guilt.
Why is it so difficult to avoid feeling guilty toward your parents when you probably wouldn’t blame yourself for the badly behaving stranger?
The Gods Must Be Angry
As children, we view our parents in the same way that members of a primitive tribe view their gods. When the gods are angry, the heavens erupt and earthquakes, floods, and droughts occur.
Tribal elders know for certain that the gods must be appeased. Amends must be made for hurting the gods. With a lack of knowledge about the causes of the natural disasters it experiences, the tribe assumes that it has angered the gods of nature.
And so by altering its behavior through prayer, performing rituals and sacrifices, the tribe believes it can placate the offended gods and so alleviate the punishment.
But in altering its behavior in order to amend and atone, the tribe may make accommodations even if they’re detrimental to its well-being—for instance, sacrificing a cow even if there’s a shortage of cows.
In the same way, as a child you assumed that your behavior was responsible for provoking your parents. Though this assumption was often just a general feeling and not clearly well thought out, it was based on real experiences with siblings or parents who constantly acted hurt, threatened, or angered by your normal behaviors.
Remember the mother in the joke at the beginning of the chapter—the one who made her son feel guilty about not paying enough attention to her? Have you ever been in a similar situation? If so, what did you do?
Continue reading the last part.