Guilt Sucks! Literally!
May 8, 2011 3:38 PM   Subscribe

How do I deal with the guilt of having enough?

It's is coming up on the 1 year anniversary of my partner passing away. Much of the year has been spent grieving, wrapping up her estate, etc. She has made her presence felt to friends and I through dreams, etc. I received the bulk of her estate through her will and I now feel like she is a "silent partner"

Because of all that has happened I feel as if I've been given a new life. A lot of the year has been reorienting to this new space. I live in a place and neighborhood that I love, I am pursuing projects and work that interest me. I have a lot of freedom to play with. I know this is what she wanted for me and I want to live her (and my) want fully.

What's happened is I've become very sensitive to people who are contrary to this. Most are friends and aquaintances I have known for awhile. I find myself feeling bad and doing things out of guilt. I find myself not doing anything (travel, pursuing my projects) for the same reasons.

I was raised Catholic and have done a good job separating from the BS. One of the best compliments I received awhile ago was when a friend said to me, "I never had you pegged for a Catholic" It's a big part of it though. I am the youngest of ten and the only one who "left the farm" if only for the reason I did not want to become what I saw them becoming. I visit twice a year and do so quickly as the repression and the "self-hatred and flagellation" there is strong, heavy and intense. When I visit I know I bring in a lot of light and joy. If I stay too long I find myself feeling the same guilt.

In the past 7-8 years I've really come to feel that "there is enough to go around for everyone." A lot of the world and culture seems to operate from the opposite position and have done for so long its more ingrained than people realize.

I want to feel good about being who I am, what I have and that it's ok that I do have enough. To do otherwise seems disrespectful not only to me but to my partner.
posted by goalyeehah to Human Relations (17 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
In the past 7-8 years I've really come to feel that "there is enough to go around for everyone." A lot of the world and culture seems to operate from the opposite position and have done for so long its more ingrained than people realize.

What's happened is I've become very sensitive to people who are contrary to this.

I feel bad to start this off with a kind of buzz-killing reply. But the reality is, "a lot of the world" is trapped in grinding poverty and there is *not* enough money (I assume we're talking about money here) available for everyone. In this country, millions of people are barely making it, like worrying about having enough food for their kids.

So, it's not that the people "contrary to this" are trying to be killjoys, I don't think. It's just that it's off-putting, when you're struggling to keep your head above water, and a person who has recently inherited a huge amount of money is acting like you just have a bad attitude.

I see two ways to feel good about "having enough" for luxuries (the travel and projects pursuing you mention, for example).

1. Be generous. If you see someone in your orbit struggling, help them. Be sensitive to the circumstances of other people. Give generously to charity.


2. Make friends with rich people who don't concern themselves with such things. I'm dead serious.
posted by Ashley801 at 3:53 PM on May 8, 2011 [5 favorites]

Best answer: I had some trouble discerning what your actual question is, so I hope this answers it.

I find a great deal of comfort in this:

"Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly, now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it."
- Rabbi Rami Shapiro
posted by i_am_a_fiesta at 3:59 PM on May 8, 2011 [16 favorites]

Response by poster: I wasn't talking about money re: "there's enough to go around"
posted by goalyeehah at 4:00 PM on May 8, 2011

Best answer: Do what feels right for you and that is what your partner would have wanted. As for friends that object to what you do: get new friends.
Giving back--volunteering etc a good way to feel "giving."
posted by Postroad at 4:01 PM on May 8, 2011

Best answer: Goalyeehah, could it be that you are also suffering from a bit of survivor's guilt - and maybe also guilt that you haven't grieved "enough"? This, combined with guilt over your inheritance/freedom/good life/cheerful disposition and Catholic background could play merry hell with peace of mind...

My grandmother used to say that unless you used guilt as fuel for action, it was a waste of your soul's time. She said you either do something about it, or you cut it out. Anything else is stupid. And you know what? She's right.
posted by likeso at 4:10 PM on May 8, 2011 [22 favorites]

Before you had this money you were better off than some and worse off than others. Now that you have this money you are still better off than some and worse off than others.
posted by ian1977 at 4:17 PM on May 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

(Mind you, this was my paternal grandmother, who could be a bitch on wheels. At the time she gave me this gem, I thought she was being very harsh and insensitive. But I have to say, this has proved to be one of the single most practical bits of advice I've ever been given.)
posted by likeso at 4:20 PM on May 8, 2011

Best answer: There are a lot of people in crushing poverty, but that's because resources don't get distributed fairly. There actually is more than enough food to go around.
posted by randomname25 at 4:31 PM on May 8, 2011 [4 favorites]

Best answer: It's ok and noble to do what you love. Making yourself poor won't change the world. Actually, the great art and inventions and revolutions that improve the human condition usually come from people doing the projects that they love, not from people doing what other people think they should do. It sounds like you're doing that-- pursuing projects you care about. Basically, I think you deserve it: I'm happy you have the money to retire and enjoy a nice standard of living. I hope you choose to do something great and beautiful, because I think living an excellent, productive life will make you happy.

Don't be guilted into thinking there is *not* enough money. Wealth is created by people, especially people whose wealth is protected by good laws and who have the freedom and drive to become smart. Yes, there are terrible problems in the world today, but there are more happy and prosperous people today than at any other time in history. The problem is not that you're rich, it's that everyone else is poor. And it's not your fault. As long as people are mortal and usually experience joy/pain based on changes in wealth rather than absolute wealth, everyone (regardless of wealth) is bound to a short life with a mix of joy and pain. So, the problem is not that you're rich, it's that people are wired to spend most of their time wanting things.

Do make sure you have good financial advice so you can stay free/retired permanently.

Do also hang out with more rich people and don't talk about your freedom with jealous friends.

Lastly, if you're so inclined, do the training you need to do your personal projects better than anyone has done them before. That pursuit, not giving away what you have, is what is morally praiseworthy.
posted by sninctown at 4:31 PM on May 8, 2011 [2 favorites]

Be grateful. You are, and keep it up. If you say "I'm grateful that Partner was generous, but I'd give it all up and then some, for one more day" it goes over better.

Be generous. Give to charity. If a friend or family member is in real need, help. Don't hem and haw, either help or don't help. People are crankier after negotiating and losing than after just losing.

Invest as wisely as you can, then don't talk about it. Live a little below your means, don't be flashy, don't talk about the burden of survival or the burden of dealing with wealth. They may be legitimate burdens, but no one will share your struggle.

Schedule a trip to a conference that interests you or for some other purpose, like seeing Michelangelo's David, or visiting a friend. It will help you get moving.
posted by theora55 at 4:34 PM on May 8, 2011

Your partner got her money by working: doing something for other people that was worth more to them than the money she received. Or maybe she inherited it herself, in which case the same thing applies for her own relatives. If we lived in a world where we couldn't enjoy the fruit of our labor and share it with our loved ones, then we'd all be poor because no one would work.

Most systems of ethics are about acting in a way that would make for a better world if everyone did it—not just making things better in the present. Altruism and self-sacrifice are a huge part of being an ethical person, but you are allowed, if not obligated, to let yourself enjoy some of the rewards of the value you create, and of the value created by others who cared about you. Maybe you should give away 80% of what you have, maybe 10%, maybe 1%—that's one of the hardest questions there has ever been—but at the least, you should keep enough to make yourself a happier person, and never be guilty that you did.
posted by abcde at 5:05 PM on May 8, 2011

Best answer: I try to remind myself that guilt helps literally no one, and that it generally results from my own narcissistic presumption that I'm more significant than I am. This way, I get to chastise myself (stop being so narcissistic!) into going easier on myself (stop feeling so guilty!). It works with my psychological makeup.

Then I try to get my thinking back to basics, which are: First, do no harm. Second, if you're going to do good, do good. Third, if you're not about to go help someone right this second, then go do something good for yourself, because otherwise you're just being a net drain on the world's happiness reserves.
posted by dixiecupdrinking at 5:17 PM on May 8, 2011

This blog about wealth redistribution may interest you.
posted by southern_sky at 6:21 PM on May 8, 2011

likeso's grandmother was a very wise woman.

Use the money wisely; invest some, be generous to the charities you like, take care of your family and yourself, and refuse to feel guilty just because you inherited money. That will honor your partner in the best way.
posted by aryma at 6:59 PM on May 8, 2011

You have to find a balance. If you give until you have none, then you will need to be in live to receive to survive (this goes for money, food, emotional support, whatever). Therefore to truely give as much as you can, you need to first maintain yourself so that you have the energies to do your best work and giving.
posted by WeekendJen at 7:51 AM on May 9, 2011

*in line
posted by WeekendJen at 7:51 AM on May 9, 2011

Best answer: I have found that the people I know who do best with large amounts of money are the ones who were raised with the idea that they are stewards of it, like you would be for a forest or some other resource. You take care of it. Make sure it serves the common good (of which your wellbeing is part!) and generally use it to make the world a better place. What defines "the world" is up to you. Some people fund microloans, some people just make sure their kith and kin are well kept, and some view a particular group as their responsibility. For my own part, I think they're all noble causes.

I grew up with people who put principles before their own family, funding causes and not their kids' college or general well-being, and in the long run I think they may have done more harm than good. Had they put more resources into their kids, their kids would have been able to be more effective ambassadors for their values. Or maybe their kids would have turned into evil people. It's a crapshoot, and you have to decide for yourself. My point is that I don't think you can be all things to all people.

With this in mind, I think it's useful to think of yourself as a corporation. (This is true even if you have no money.) Come up with a mission statement. Come up with a five year plan. You're not stuck with it- you can change it when new information becomes available. But stick with it enough that you don't feel guilty when you don't give money away to something that's not part of your mission. The Audobon Society doesn't feel guilty about not giving money to the Astronomy society. Astronomy is not its mission. Sending your second cousin to college (or whatever) may not be your mission.

Fair or not, you have resources and power that other people don't have. Doors will be open for you that aren't open for other people, and oddly, it will very likely not cost you anything- just having the money is enough to open them.

And don't leave yourself out. You cannot serve your mission nearly as well if you're on welfare. Giving it all away might be simpler but it is NOT the responsible thing to do, if you take your position as steward seriously.

If you have a real chunk of money, there are groups that help with this. You're in a position that most people won't sympathize with, but it really carries its own stressors and responsibilities, as you're finding out. There are also therapist who specialize in this. It might be worth a session or two to help you figure out how you want to see yourself in all this.
posted by small_ruminant at 11:44 AM on May 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

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