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Stuck In the "Guilt Trap" -- Anyone Else?
June 1, 2007
5:41 pm
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GuiltTrap
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Just curious if anyone else has this problem:

I’m a pleaser/conflict avoidance kinda guy. I get really uncomfortable when I see anyone else upset – I’m the type of guy who always instantly backs down if I see someone else get upset or cry. I feel sorry for people, especially lonely people.

Enter my wife.

We met and dated for a few months and then moved in together. This wasn’t a big deal for me because although I was NOT passionately/desperately in love with her and hadn’t really been “passionately” in love with the other girls I’ve lived with. I had lived with two other girls prior to her and while I found it difficult to end it with them, I did. Mostly because they were strong enough to deal with life so I never felt too bad. I can deal with them being mad at me, but not being hurt or sad. Mad? No problem. Hurt and sobbing and depressed? Can’t deal.

I was living in a crappy apt I couldn’t really afford on my own so I figured, “Why not?” She seemed like a very stable person so why not? What’s the worst that happens? We break up? She had just come back from doing a stint in the Peace Corps, had a Bachelors degree and had backpacked through Europe with her friends in college. C’mon. Peace Corps? Needy people with serious self-esteem issues don’t normally fly to Boliva to live in a hut with strangers for 2 years, right? Seemed stable.

Sounds like a fairly confident person, right? I thought so too.

Shortly after we moved in together it became apparent that we really weren’t all that compatible – a fact I was well aware of and that she might not have noticed because whenever we disagreed I always backed down and just did what she wanted to avoid conflict or to avoid her tears.

Several times during those first few years we’d have big fights and I’d find the courage to say, “Hey! This obviously isn’t working. Maybe we should break up!” --- to which she’d sob uncontrollably and talk about how miserable I was making her and then I’d back down and take it all back in a desperate attempt to get her to stop being sad. She would guilt me into staying in a relationship I actually hated. I felt so guilty and so sorry for her because her life seemed so unhappy. After a few years with me she became totally co-dependent! She had no friends and little family contact. We became a Cult of Two with literally no one else in or out. She’d throw temper tantrums if I tried to spend any time away from her by myself. So my world and her world became only each other.

And the years rolled by and she sunk her claws deeper and deeper into to me I find it impossible to leave her because of the crippling feelings of guilt and obligation.

Every wonder about those kids who get kidnapped and abused – but after a few years they never leave even though the doors wide open and they can easily do so? That’s me! I’ve been so crushed by this woman and her problems that I have invisible chains. Three months ago I gave 2 weeks notice at my job, told everyone at work I was getting a divorce, told my parents, bought a plane ticket, etc. My plan was simple: since I am physically incapable of looking her in the eye and telling her I want a divorce, I would just leave her a letter and fly out! But two days before my flight I had an overwhelming panic attack! I became overwhelmed with anxiety and guilt and the thought of hurting her made me sick to my stomach. I backed down and couldn’t go through with it.

I’m trapped! She will NEVER willingly let me leave her and she has sworn some kind of blood oath never to leave me – so I’m stuck.

Uh, anyone else got those unbreakable invisible chains on?

June 1, 2007
7:29 pm
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loverbee
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What exactly do you mean "let you leave her?" Its not her choice. You need to get this one book called "goodbye to guilt." I am not sure who wrote it but I got it for my ex. The last few months of our relationship, we were getting along fabulously actually but he has always had this huge guilt complex that stemmed from his mother. The thing is, when he said that he thought that our relationship had come to a point where we could only grow more if we saw who we could be when we weren't a couple. And I said. "ok, I think you should move out too. I told him I still loved him very much and I always would but I knew he was right. Then I went and called my sis and spoke with her about it." When i came back out, he was shocked. he said he had been considering the breakup for weeks but didn't want to hurt my feelings. The point is that guilt is about you. Not about her.Not about anyone else and that means that only you can deal with it and get over it. If you don't like confrontation, you are the one doing the avoiding and if you want the guilt to stop, YOU have to take an active role in acknowledging it as your problem and taking steps to fix it. I hope this helps.

June 2, 2007
9:27 am
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GuiltTrap
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So you're advice is basically, "Get over it"?

I'm a little shocked. Everyone else seems to be posting about how their struggling with their emotions and are incapable of just "doing" anything -- and my advice seems to be a shrug of the shoulders and a confused, "Why don't you just do it?"

Is it because I'm a guy?

If I were a girl saying I'm stuck in a loveless marriage and consumed with guilt -- I think I would have gotten a little more.

Co-dependecy means you can't "just" do what you know is right -- isn't that what's this entire support board is for?

Sorry to be rude, but I've been getting the "why don't you just...?" response a lot from family.

If it were that easy -- would their even be this board?

June 2, 2007
9:30 am
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GuiltTrap
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I'm just having a hard time finding ANYONE who is a guy and trapped by feelings of guilt in relationships they want out of.

I gotta tell ya. I feel like Patient Zero.

June 2, 2007
9:39 am
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loverbee
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Oh no no not just get over it. Guilt is a little like depression. I am not saying that you don't need help. I am just saying that we need to get to the source of the problem. I mean, when did you start feeling guilty with everything? Was it your mother? I think that your ex is very manipulative its just that you have to figure out how you want to handle yourself in this situation. YOu have to make you important. I am sorry you thought that is what I was saying.I have a horrible sunburn and was a little cranky. Lets see if we can;t help you.

June 2, 2007
9:41 am
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loverbee
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Also, gotta identify the triggers. What does she do/say that makes you feel so sorry for her? Have you ever called her out on how manipulative she is? Does she know how guilty she makes you feel and do you think it is habit or to get her way?

June 2, 2007
9:44 am
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loverbee
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Oh and there is a reason that there are such great books out there about guilt. It is a real thing, it isn't just in your head and I just think its a little like any other emotional problem...you can't overcome it until we acknowledge that you are a small part of it and there are steps you can take to move past it. But that doesn't mean you should ever feel stuck in a situation. Just that there area a lot of avenues to take to overcome all this.

June 2, 2007
10:07 am
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loverbee
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Whether you are a guy or girl doesn't matter by the way. Its just that we as human beings and caring considerate people deserve better. If you were a girl or a guy, I am only trying to get you to be proactive. Just like me in a codependent relationship, I would say to me, I know it is hard and I know it is painful and sometimes you can't picture yourself without this person, but if this relationship is toxic for you then you have to find the couraget to find a way out. So Guiltrap, we are here to support you and tell you what we think is right, but will you work with us and recognize that this guilt issue you have is something you must want to overcome and something that only you can get rid of? We can support but we can't MAKE you feel better and hey, like a lot of people have said, its not supposed to be easy.

June 2, 2007
11:28 am
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Juanita
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You ask if anyone else is stuck in a guilt trap. Yes. I am. It is awful, and yes, it is depressing.

I used to be happily married until my spouse wanted to do *things* I was not interested in. Basically to sum it up on one sentence - he was interested in trying swinging & I was totally NOT. His persistence and disregard for my feelings destroyed the love I felt for him.

Now, he knows I am only remaining where I am due to lack of financial independence. I feel I have been truthful, we have tried counseling, and each time, his interest and desires for things I do not want to partake in return. I have made it clear, we are two different people that have grown in different directions morally.

So, I get to hear two different ends of the spectrum all the time.... with the intent of being of keeping me where I'm at.

I wanted to go to school to better myself. He said I couldn't b/c he had been wanting to go longer than I & he did not want me to go to school on his tab to get ready to leave him. Guilted me out of school. (Later, I could go to school if we took the same courses, which I did not want to do.)

He says, "I love you and you are my 1st choice." then he adds "but if you insist on divorce, I am looking forward to dating" and that he will make it clear that the divorce was not his choice or decision... that he will cut all ties to me (mind you, we have 2 kids).

He says things like "if you divorce me, you will financially ruin this family" and asks me not to throw us all into poverty... but also if I don't return to showing him some affection & fulfilling my wifely duties he will leave me. He also insists that if we divorce, we sell the house so he/we can have a nest egg to start over with... he says that is only fair. He intends to move out of state.

He says not to divorce him & take the kids away from him, yet he is willing to move out of state? He says he doesn't want me bringing another man into their lives as a Daddy figure.

He says that when the kids are 12, they will be able to decide who they want to live with. I feel that is a veiled threat in that if I have to stand on my own, I will have to work 2 jobs to support me & the kids... they will see a hard working, tired, Mom who has to maintain 2 jobs & a household on top of taking care of them, but when they get to go see Dad ~ they'll get to see Mr. Fun & Mr Wonderful as it will only be for a couple weeks here & there. I fear they would want to go with Mr Fun when Mom will have to be Mrs Work. I don't want to be without my kids! I hated the thought of not seeing my kids every other w/e, never mind this!

He accuses me of having an affair (I haven't), but he's the one with his interests & who put a profile on a "dating" site (which, of course, to him is totally innocent).

He blames me for the ruin of our marriage as I won't forgive him his interests. To me, they are morally wrong & not for me. If he loves me the way he says he does, he should have never pressed this issue in our marriage.

He says he loves me still, but it would be easier (for us to divorce) if one of us were having an affair or were gay. (???)

He then says that I am not satisfying his needs & have restricted him from seeking alternate releases (ie: thru internet interest in that "dating" site) so I am being unfair to him.

I hear things all over the place.

I will be painted the evil one for wanting to leave. I will financially ruin the family. I am denying him sexual satisfaction. I am the one ruining the marriage by being unforgiving.

I am tired of being manipulated by guilt. I want a new life as I have no faith in my old one. There are no p/t jobs around to supplement my current income & help me towards freedom, so this past week, I stopped at a college to look into enrolling & taking some courses.

Guilt & depression suck. It is very hard, but I am trying to work thru mine hoping to find a better place at the end.

Oh yeah, he also tells me all men are alike & why trade him in for a different man with other problems & issues, and that no matter what, I'll be bringing my own emotional baggage & issues into any new relationship.... so why go thru that? Might as well stay together as we "know" each other. AND, when he knows I don't want "any" - he reminds me he won't hurt me, he is the same man who has had sex with me for the last 20 yrs. Isn't life grand? I feel so valued! He is just trying to get his way.

My blessings to anyone trying to escape these types of guilt traps... may God grant us the courage and strength to do so. It is going to take a lot of determination and resolve for us to do so. We also have to be a bit selfish and put our needs ahead of theirs. So, here is for standing up for our selves. I find it also helps to have a couple of good friends, and the people here, who are so supportive. Some days, I don't know how I'd make it thru without them.

Juanita

June 2, 2007
11:35 am
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bevdee
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Hey Guilt Trap

There aren't very many men here, but I do know what you mean when you say, "She would guilt me into staying in a relationship I actually hated."

Yes- I lived with a physically abusive man, and in between my beatings and loathing him, I felt the same way- guilty for wanting out. He made sure I did. He knew what worked with me, and he played pitiful to press his advantage.

I'm not going to go into a diatribe about the DV, because I don't believe that is what you are asking, except to say that even after I got out and away from that abuse, I had these horrible pangs of feeling responsible for his life and his well-being. It was as if I had been brain-washed in those 4 years.

I felt sorry for him. I felt sorry for the way I saw his family treat him - at first until I learned what he had done in the past to make them seem uncaring. I felt sorry for him at first that his two exes would not let him see his children, until I learned how in arrears he was on the child support. I felt sorry for him and the path that his choices had taken him on. I only saw the results of the path, not that he is responsible for his choices.

Because of the job he did on me and my guilt and sense of responsibility- I lost sight of the fact that he had made it for 48 years without me. I left him, and I focused on the work I needed to do on myself. Because of the physical danger to me, I didn't check on him- but as far as I know, he has made it without me, despite all his threats and warnings to the contrary. Your wife survived just fine before she met you, didn't she?

You know, I had to think past my physical abuse when I read your post. You are being abused, though, if she knows you don't want to be there, and is holding you in a relationship by emotional manipulation.

I know how hard it is for a man to see a woman cry! I hate to admit it, but I have used that to my advantage a couple of times before. We all know it. The fact that you state you hate to see a girl cry lets me know you are a nice man, not a callous unfeeling lout. I'm sorry you are going through this. Sometimes weekends are slow here, especially because the weather is nice, and sometimes it takes a while before new posters connect with the others, but I encourage you to stick around.

June 2, 2007
12:17 pm
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red blonde
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Guilt Trap ~

I wanted to think a bit more about what you said before I replied. There was no intention to make you feel not welcome or somewhat slighted.

I have been in a loveless marriage and also a loveless relationship just recently. And I didn't know what to do either, I wanted things to change, hoped that things would change, finally I had to divorce and the other relationship, the only resort I had was to literally throw him out.

Having 'guilt trips' is horrible and they are a bitch to deal with (no pun intended). To make someone feel guilty and responsible for someone else's feeling, life, etc. is a sign of an abusive relationship.

I am like you with being a people pleaser and would rather avoid conflict in any form.

You are not happy, in fact, you are feel miserable and trapped and I think you also are afraid of what she may do - if you left. She has made you feel that you are responsible for her, her life, her feelings and obligated or your duty to stay with her no matter what.

I would suggest that you go to counseling first - by yourself - to find out how you can deal with the crippling feelings of guilt and obligation. Then, I would suggest that the two of you go to counseling together - but if she will not go, hopefully, the therapy or the help you received with dealing with the issues has made you stronger - perhaps to go for a 'separation' from her which will ease you away from her and then finally a divorce, if that is what you truly want.

At the moment, you are really only hurting yourself. The more you want to leave, the more she will cling and make you stay.

I am still learning to deal with the guilt that other people have made me feel. I don't know all the answers either. All I know is that if I am not happy, I can not make someone else happy. I felt I had to subjugate my feelings, wants, desires, needs, rather than to face the conflict with the other person. I finally realized that it was no way to live - it was either get out for my own health: mentally, emotionally, AND physically - or feel like I was experiencing a slow agonizing death of my soul/spirit. Oh, there had been counseling, but he didn't want to address his problems, then blamed me. He wasn't the man that I met and loved - it was like he was wearing a mask and then when I was too enmeshed in the relationship, the mask was taken off.

I have no idea if I am making any sense.

You cannot change her, the only one you can change is yourself. Only you can make the right decision for yourself. Counseling will also help you in that respect.

Are there any children involved?

June 2, 2007
12:33 pm
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This woman is your wife? That means you took vows and in a committed relationship. And you both sound miserable, yet unable to communicate in a healthy way. Have you explored counseling, both individual AND "couples" counseling? Counseling is cheaper than divorce. I would give it a shot. If nothing else, it might help you a great deal to discuss this guilt with an objective professional.

I read your initial posting several times and one of your comments "jumped out" at me:

"...Several times during those first few years we’d have big fights and I’d find the courage to say, “Hey! This obviously isn’t working. Maybe we should break up!”

I wasn't present during those verbal conflicts to personally witness the dynamics between you and your wife, but this remark could be considered a courageous attempt to break away from her manipulation, OR an equally manipulative effort to bring her under your control. You seem to feel trapped, manipulated and stuck in this relationship because of her emotional histrionics, etc. which push your "guilt" buttons. However, there could be other dynamics in play here. The statement, "Maybe we should break up," is frequently used by one partner to negate or discount the other partner's genuine emotional pain. Rather than addressing, recognizing and validating that pain, one partner threatens to walk away. In such a scenario, threatening to break up is a controlling and cruel "counter-manipulation."

Again, I don't know both of your personally, so I may be missing the mark completely on this. I don't mean to offend you. I am trying to view your situation from different angles.

- Ma Strong

June 2, 2007
1:25 pm
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red blonde
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Ma Strong ~

I know what you have gone through just recently and I applaud your decisions. I know that he also played the guilt cards on you to control and manipulate you and to make you also have fears. And you are right! Sometimes, we also use the same tactics they use on us as a counter measure or as self defense because we have had enough or a last resort to stop them or show them what they are doing to us...which is hurting us because we aren't doing what they want or what they expect us to be doing - for them.

Guilt/shame/fear are all so subtle tools or weapons or tactics to keep us 'in line' or under their control. I have had husbands and boyfriends do this to me - but the grand master was my mother, she had it down to an art form!

June 2, 2007
2:12 pm
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Hi Guilt Trap Iam a man and i know exactly what you mean by this whole situation. I was married to a woman like this for seven years. she had three kids and did what ever she could to keep me there especially the guilt trap or should i say guilt CRAP, including but not limited to going off birth control without my knowledge and having my beautiful daughter that accounts for the last 2 years of the relationship. this marrage ended 15 years ago and it ended badly for all. nobody wins that is for sure. the point i feel compeled to share with you is this: I knew from early on that i needed to move on but thought she couldn't survive without me. That was stupid on my part and even a bit deitymeniacle. Of course there was weeping wailing and nashing of teeth. thats what happens and evetually i had to just SACK UP and face the music. When i sacrifice truth for peace i will end up with neither. I hope you find the courage to live in your own truth. I think you will find a life worth living.

June 2, 2007
3:07 pm
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Hey Guilt Trap

Red blonde said is so true! "The more you want to leave, the more she will cling and make you stay."

Maybe if you think back to the times you told her you wanted to leave, or times your actions might have told her that- it might give you some insight to her manipulative ploys and your responses to them? And knowing what she does to pull at your strings might give you some strength when it happens again?

Another thought that occured to me when you described the isolation and the hysterics is that it might help to research Borderline Personality Disorder to see if your wife fits any of those characteristics.

"When i sacrifice truth for peace i will end up with neither." Wow jv63! I love the way you expressed this!

StronginHim- You are so right about the cycle of dynamics in abusive situations. I would have to be honest and say I played it back to my abuser. I would threaten to leave and he would "act right" for a little bit. Is your divorce final yet?

June 2, 2007
3:24 pm
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bevdee -

Thanks for the inquiry about divorcing my abusive husband. I have been unable to raise enough money to initiate proceedings. Here in my State, the basic retainer (just to get started) is around $2,500. That is way beyond my current means, so I am at a standstill. And the prices go UP, if he dodges being served, demands financial compensation of any kind, etc.

I am hoping for some sort of miracle to help free me from being legally bound to him.

- Ma Strong

June 2, 2007
4:57 pm
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Guilt trap I can see where you are coming from. It's funny you should mention the kidnap scenario because I was thinking about that in relation to my ex this week. It's as if there are invisible binds, a kind of brainwashing that's gone on over the years so that you can't just up and leave,even though you know that is for the best long term. A friend of mine said this no contact thing would give me the chance to become de-programmed and I think it's working. I was no longer living with the guy though so it is more difficult for you. It will never be a case of "just" doing this or that. There is far more involved. Maybe counseling would be a good start. Good luck.

June 2, 2007
5:17 pm
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definitely agree lovemedo, counsleing is a great first step. they will also be able to help you get out of the unhealthy things that are going on in the relationship.

June 2, 2007
6:50 pm
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red blonde
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Ma Strong ~

I will ask my HP to send you a miracle!

Red

June 3, 2007
10:27 am
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StronginHim77
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((((((red blonde))))))

Thanks!!!!

- Ma

June 3, 2007
6:28 pm
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bevdee
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GuiltTrap

Thinking of you today.

June 3, 2007
9:18 pm
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red blonde
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JV63

You have stated a couple of things that I have written down and will place on my fridge and bathroom mirror! I REALLY like them!

First - The guilt trap is actually just GUILT CRAP! (SO TRUE!)

Second - When I sacrifice TRUTH for PEACE - I will end up with NEITHER!
(SO SO TRUE!)

Third - Find the courage to live in your own truth! (WOW! I intend to do this from now on!)

Red

June 3, 2007
11:45 pm
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jv63
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Hey Red thanks. You seem to be on a positve path right now. glad to be of support. You are recognizing somthing i think is so important. Guilt Shame fear anger are toxic and that kind of poison especially when others put it on us is a real spirit killer. The thing i have to constantly remind myself of is when someone tries to park thier glad bags on my door step, i don't have to pick them up and tote them around. I can simply choose to let them deal with their own garbage.
jv63

June 4, 2007
8:46 am
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Juanita
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Red,

I'm going to have to copy your last post down. Really good & right to the point. I've re-read it a few times, especially #2. So true...

June 4, 2007
2:45 pm
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GuiltTrap
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Well, I made an appt to speak with a therapist today.

I’m optimistic on the one hand but pessimistic on the other as far as the effectiveness of talk-therapy goes. I know that being able to get all this emotional weight off my chest will make me feel better, but I’m pessimistic because I know that my problem isn’t really “conceptual.”

Hell, I KNOW that I’m in a relationship that doesn’t make me happy and fulfilled (or her either) and intellectually I KNOW that whatever pain or heartache results from leaving her is temporary – but my brain just won’t function! Just like drug addicts (or any addicts for that matter) eventually realize at some point intellectually that what they are doing is unhealthy and that the quality of their life will improve dramatically if they stop, they can’t. They “know” but their brains are short-circuited and they “can’t” do what makes sense.

Whenever I think about how sad and alone she’ll be when I leave her – I get sick to my stomach. And it doesn’t help that the Fray’s “How To Save A Life” plays on the radio every 5 freaking minutes!

So yes I’ve made the decision to start therapy but am doubtful about the beneficial effects of talk therapy. I mean, I can’t picture that there is going to be some breakthrough and I’ll suddenly have the strength to leave my wife.

My main goal for going is to get networked into a support group and possibly get medication to manage my anxiety. I hear Valium works well. What I really, really need is a group. If I can just start to develop relationships outside my Cult of Two that would be major.

I could leave – I could! – if she just had ANYONE else in her life that she could turn to when I leave. Let me tell you what it feels like. It feels like I innocently walked into a house one day and saw a nine year old kid sitting there by themselves. No friends, no teachers, no parents around – nothing! This kid looks up at you with sad eyes, obviously desperately lonely, and asks, “Well you play with me?” So feeling sorry for the kid you say, “Okay.” And this kid beams like you just made them the happiest kid in the world. So this goes on for awhile and the kid is having a blast and you are too – but after awhile you’re done playing. You want to leave, go home. But that would mean leaving the kid alone again. Still no parents, no friends, no one – no one will have anything to do with this kid. There’s plenty of food in the house so the kid will always be physically okay, no worries there, but once you leave the kid will go back to being totally alone and that makes you feel sick with guilt.

You pray to God, “Please! Please let someone else come so I can go. I can’t just leave them alone – I can’t do that. I couldn’t live with the guilt!”

But God refuses to help. Sorry, He seems to say, this is your problem now. If you want to go, He says, just go ahead and crush them. Leave. Sure they’ll be unbelievably depressed, sad and lonely and miserable – but if that’s what you want, go ahead. Just crush them and go do whatever.

That’s what it feels like. Yes, she’s chronologically an adult, but emotionally she’s just a lonely little kid with no friends or family. And she’s a nice person too dammit! A nice, lonely person with no joy in her life or friends except for me.

And all I want to do is go home, but I just can’t live with the guilt of what her life will be like if I leave her.

Can therapy really help with that?

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