Hey, Bonita!

Don’t Guilt Trip Yourself

Hey Bonita,

How do I free myself of guilt? I’m not talking [about] normal, healthy guilt from doing something wrong, just constant people-pleasing guilt: choosing something for myself over something my family wants, not doing enough for everyone around me when my plate is full, slacking at work when I’m overwhelmed. I’m tired of feeling so guilty when I know I’m trying my best.


Hey Anon,

I don’t have a simple answer for that. What you’re talking about would call for a major shift in the paradigms around how you think about your relationships and what the individual owes to others. This is situational—your relationship to your job is completely different from the one you share with your parents, your partner or partners, and so on. 

I’ll start with work, and I’ll say to you what I’ve said in plenty of past columns: Work can’t love you back. Work is an agreed exchange of your time and labor for money, and it really shouldn’t be seen as more than that. I know that sounds crazy and lazy to the average boomer (my late father certainly didn’t appreciate me talking about jobs or work without reverence), but workplaces exploit the emotions of workers to get them to do more than they should. In a town that shamefully lacks both living wages and affordable housing, I hope that workers will one day follow the ruling class’ lead by putting themselves first. Leave a job that does not pay you well enough or expects you to do work that is not your actual responsibility. In the words of Janet Jackson: What have they done for you lately, anyway? Your workplace would not hesitate to replace you, so I think it’s in a worker’s best interest to have the same level of detachment when it comes to loyalty (or, really, the absence of it). Your boss is not your family, and neither are your coworkers—and seriously, if your boss or managers ever use that kind of language while underpaying and overworking you, update your resume and start looking because that is a red flag. You are already being exploited, my guy. Do not let your boss manipulate you into working yourself to death for a wage that can’t even keep you warm in winter.  

I know that sounds easier said than done, but you’re worth the trouble of a job search or relocation. Love yourself the way that your boss expects you to love that job. Disconnect the notion of your self worth from your labor, and resist the need to let your productivity define you. And hey, maybe your boss is great and your work is fun, but you’re just horribly burned out. Maybe it’s not a capitalist hellscape, and you just need to rest. Stop labeling your on-the-clock downtime as slacking (any honest person will admit that not every second of their workday is spent doing the actual tasks of work), and start planning a vacation. Create and maintain boundaries around work: If you work from home, I recommend setting real work hours and sticking to them. Uninstall Slack, Outlook, etc. before the start of your vacation—become truly uncontactable. Bring a copy of The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism by Max Weber with you. 

Loved ones are a different story. Personally I don’t believe that love should involve sacrifice that is painful. I mean, I would not be touched by an unemployed lover spending hundreds of dollars on me. I love them, so I would not want them to make their life more difficult for me. Personally I don’t put much stock in the honor of stress and strife, and I would hope that your loved ones love you enough to be proud when you choose yourself and your future over their desires. I mean, you’re an adult, right? You’re the one who has to live with your choices. Don’t be afraid to assert yourself, to tell your loved ones that it’s your life and you need to make decisions for yourself. I’ve done that and while it’s stressful at the moment, it’s always worth it in the end. Personal relationships can also benefit greatly from healthy boundaries.

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