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Guilt and Obligation

January 16, 2014

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Healthy friendships don’t run on guilt and obligation. Some of us are primed from a very early age to respond to tugs on our guilt and obligation strings and that’s partially how we end up in toxic friendships. That discussion deserves more attention, but for now lets look at how guilt and obligation play out in a toxic friendship.

1. In a toxic friendship you might be groomed from the outset to feel guilty. Your friend may repeat stories about how mistreated they have been by everyone. This sets up a dynamic where you might feel guilty if you don’t rapidly respond to your friend’s needs as you don’t want to be yet another person who has abandoned them.

2. Another way you might be prepped to feel guilty and obligated is when a friend has done “favors” for you or purchased things for you that you never wanted. This type of scenario can develop into a “you owe me” type relationship. You may cringe when they do something “nice” for you because you know they expect you to reciprocate ten fold. After all, they have done SO much for you.

3. Other times toxic friends might directly convey a sense that you should feel guilty. They may say something like: “I can’t believe you didn’t call me back when I needed you,” or “If you really loved me you would do this!” A slightly more passive tone might sound like: “Never mind, you obviously have more important things to do,” or “Where were you when I called?”

4. Your friend might have a difficult life where unfortunate things keep happening to them and because you are a nice person you naturally feel guilty if you don’t help. However, your friend should not be guilting or pressuring you. Being nice to someone because you feel guilty is not really very nice at all. It gives people a false sense of your allegiance and love and leads them to believe that the relationship they have with you is something that it’s not.

I cannot think of a situation where in a true friendship you are obligated to do anything. Ask yourself if you are doing things for your friend out of (1) Mutual love and reciprocity, (2) Your own self-created guilt and obligation, or (3) Because your friend has encouraged you to feel guilty and obligated. Think about it.

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