by Tom Kelly, M.S.
Recently I have noticed that my commitments are growing. I have a number of things to do for school, family, roommates and friends. As the list gets longer, the angrier I notice myself becoming. Mostly, that anger is directed inward, as I recognize that this problem is of my own making. I find myself thinking, “Why did I commit to ANOTHER task?”
While I spend a good deal of time getting angry at myself for what seems to be self- inflicted pain, there is another powerful emotion at play. Specifically, it is the guilt I experience when saying no to somebody whom I’d like to help. For example, when asked to help out with tasks around my home, I find it extremely hard to be assertive and let my roommates know that I have an important report to get done, and won’t be able to help out right now. These types of situations happen often, and contribute to a strong feeling of guilt. In these situations, my guilt is a particularly unhelpful emotion, and I’d rather it not guide my decision making.
So, where does this guilt come from? I have found that saying yes to most every request for help results from my belief that I must not let other people down. It is important to me that I am of help to others, as this is the trait of a good friend, family member, roommate, and student. Selfishly, being helpful to others even results in recognition or praise, and this often makes saying “no” difficult as well.
However, I’ve also noticed that I am much more likely to let people down when I make commitments out of guilt. If I say yes to another task, when I have many others to get to, I notice I am likely to forget to help or do a poor job in helping. My belief is not helping me to accomplish my goals, and is actually quite flawed. If I want to be less overworked and less angry at myself, I will have to change my unhealthy negative emotion of guilt, to a healthier emotion of regret. It’s okay to say- “I’d love to help, but I’m not able to right now.” That does not make me a bad friend, family member, roommate, or student. So is this something you struggle with? If so, what can you do to work on it?