Blame, Responsibility, and Guilt
As anyone reading this has doubtlessly figured out by now, guilt is a major issue for me. I’ve got my problems, and it’s bad enough that they hurt me. But they reach out beyond me, and manage to hurt people I care about, too, like my wife and my kids. And I sometimes have a really hard time coping with that. It’s really awful when I see the effects that my screwups have on them. They’re innocent; they had no part in anything that happened to me; they have no reason to be stuck dealing with my trouble. But they do get stuck with it. It’s a constant cause of pain and concern – and most of all, of guilt.
But as I work on trying to fix myself, as I get treated for my troubles, one of the things that I’m being forced to do is confront my fears, to face up to them. I have to learn to not just react in the moment, but to dig into myself, and see why I react that way. I need to understand what makes me fear, what causes my anxiety. And that has led me to wondering about causes and responsibility, whether or not they really exist, and whether or not they really matter. Are my troubles my fault? Are they someone else’s fault? Does it really even matter?
Life sometimes intervenes in ways that help make things clearer.
I got an email yesterday. I don’t know how the sender found my address. But it was a guy I went to high school with. He heard about where I work, and wanted to know if I’d help him get an interview. It’s a very friendly email. He calls me “old buddy”, and reminisces about the good times we had together in high school.
Good times? Is he serious? Good times??
This is a guy who tackled me on the way to a football field in gym class – just for the fun of being able to hit me. In the fall, I sprained my wrist – and for the duration of the time I needed to wear a brace, he proudly referred to it as his brace, because I was wearing it because of what he did to me. He was really proud of it: Hurrah! he’d injured a geek!
Yeah, good times.
I feel guilty about the indirect harm I do to my family because of my anxiety. But there is a reason that I’m like this. And there are people to blame for it. And… they don’t care. They either don’t remember it, or they think that torturing another person, deliberately, for fun, is such a trivial unimportant thing that it just doesn’t matter: “Sure, I used to beat you up. Sure I used to torment you on a regular basis. But it was all in good fun! Now help me get a job!”
In the long run, it doesn’t matter. Whether or not my problems were caused by what others did to me is ultimately unimportant. Because they can’t fix it. There’s only one person in the world who can fix me – and that’s me. I don’t know if I can, but I’m trying. But damn it, I wish that the tormentors could, at the very least, feel a little bit guilty. That someone who abused me could acknowledge that what they did to me was wrong. It wouldn’t undo any of the damage; it wouldn’t make it any easier to work through the process of trying to mend my scars. But it might just do a little bit to restore my faith in humanity.