I Feel Guilty When Good Things Happen to Me

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Image by zeevveez / CC BY

Life might be a great deal simpler if I were one of those people who feel like I’m owed good things. If I were a person who thinks I’m special by default and therefore should be granted kindness, comfort, and care.

But I’m not. And instead, I find it all too easy to feel guilty when good things happen to me. Even if it’s something I actively worked for, something I suffered for on my way there, I’ll still experience phantom pangs of guilt.

Pangs of guilt that whisper, “Not everyone gets this, you know.” Or that question, “Why should something nice happen to you and not literally anyone else?”

It doesn’t matter what it is. There’s something within me that makes it so I have a hard time enjoying successes. Or feeling like I deserve them.

It’s funny. I can look back and see the seeds being planted. A self-centered mother who was forever irritated if attention were shifted from her. A childhood environment in which any of my accomplishments were perceived as ego threats. A time in which my mother primarily viewed me not as her caretaking charge but as her competition.

I had a mother who would seem put out if I did something good or stumbled on a bit of luck. Because it could have gone to her. (And in her estimation, it should have.)

It’s all so obvious why, even now, so many decades later that I immediately feel guilt when good things happen to me. It’s a feature. Not a bug. Installed within me at a very early age by someone with a very specific agenda.

It’s silly. Transparently unhelpful. And yet… I feel it. It still happens.

Anxiety and Sleep Maintenance Insomnia

I’m having trouble sleeping again. I fell asleep for a half an hour and then woke suddenly. Now I can’t get back to sleep. And I have a whole night ahead of me and a whole day tomorrow in which I have to function. Normally, I can slip by undetected, more or less, since my bed partner is such a heavy sleeper. But tonight he’s insisting on cradling my body, cuddling me. And I’m not doing a good job pretending I’m asleep.

I’ve been trying for hours to relax myself into unconsciousness. But no luck. My brain just won’t shut up.

“How can I help you?” he asks, realizing I’m awake and that I’m anxious.

“I’m sorry,” I reply. “I’m messing with your sleep.”

“No,” he replies. “I’m just worried about you.”

“Don’t be,” I say.

Eventually, he gives up trying to cuddle me into unconsciousness and falls back asleep himself. A relief.

When he does, I give up on sleep altogether for a bit. Read an entire book. And then try again. This time I do manage to fall asleep somehow.

I Don’t Feel Like I Deserve a Good Relationship

In the morning he has questions. “You said you were anxious,” he says. “What about?”

“Do you really want to talk about it?” I ask. I remind him that he might not be able to instantly fix whatever’s bothering me and get frustrated because of it and that the tension between us (from his disappointment) might cause a bigger rift, one I’m not feeling up to tackling.

He tells me it’s fine. And that knowing the risks going in will help.

I talk about feeling like I don’t deserve him again. It’s an old brain weasel story. But I tell it with new metaphors, new analogies. My brain has come up with a new angle.

Anyway, underneath the rebranding, the foundation hasn’t changed: I can think of all the ways that I could fall short of being a good partner for him. And I can think of an infinite line of people who deserve him more than I do.

I don’t feel like I deserve a good relationship — with anyone… but least of all someone as wonderful as him.

He’s supportive. We talk about truth and lies, concretion and abstraction. I’m working on a new book (called Minerva the Liar), so I’m thinking in those metaphors a lot. It’s kind of a weird leap of logic, but he comes with me. For some reason, we talk more easily through the veil of metaphor. We’re saying the same thing as always, but it seems further away, translated into a less potent form.

No one gets offended.

Even a Stranger Can See He’s Just as Happy With Me

Later, he takes me to a long overdue eye appointment (not only is my prescription out of date, but the finish came off my lenses and my glasses are falling apart), helps me pick out new frames. The lady behind the counter is chatty, friendly. Towards the end of the transaction, she says, “You are a really cute couple.”

I thank her.

“You seem like you like each other a lot,” she adds. “Like you’re really fond of one another.”

I thank her again, affirm that we do, that we are.

And as she sets me up with the instructions for when my glasses come in, the warranty, how to pick them up, etc., I find myself ruminating on how ridiculous my pervasive self-doubts are. It’s so easy to feel like I don’t deserve to be happy, to have someone good in my life. It’s so easy to convince myself that I’m hurting him by being with him — and yet any old person off the street can see that he’s happy with me. That he doesn’t look like a man who’s trapped or unfulfilled.

I have the time of my life with him. Even a perfect stranger can tell it’s mutual.

Damn brain weasels.

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Books by Page Turner:

Dealing with Difficult Metamours

A Geek’s Guide to Unicorn Ranching

Poly Land: My Brutally Honest Adventures in Polyamory 

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2 Comments

  1. I can’t thank you enough for your ongoing writing on this subject. I, too, grew up with a narcissist that did a real number on my ability to have good things or to attach securely. I find myself two years into the very best relationship of my life, and the better it gets, the less I can relax. In the wee hours of insomnia-induced brain weasels, I am totally waiting for that other shoe to drop any day now, and trying so hard not to be so anxious that I force it to happen. It seems everyone can see how happy and solid we are but me.

  2. I relate SO much to what you’re writing here.
    It’s so strange knowing the cause and that making so much sense and yet you still feel it and it still happens, as you say.

    And I feel exactly the same about what you write when you can’t sleep and he tries to help you but you rather have he falls back asleep. I have this with so many things, when I’m struggling and people try to help me. First it’s because I don’t think I deserve it and they should focus on themselves or try to help someone else instead and then comes the feeling of guilt when they try so hard but it doesn’t help me. I feel like I should be ‘better’ because they invested all this time in me and therefore it’s better to suffer alone.

    I’m so glad that you can get out of this too and can feel like you deserve it and be happy with him. A bit cliche to say now, perhaps, especially as you might not feel like you agree and it becomes a struggle to accept it, but I think you deserve all the good things. You’re allowed to be here, receive help and be happy

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