And so it begins…The constant jockeying, bargaining, organizing, planning, and fretting that shows up every holiday season as we are bombarded with images of “creating the perfect holiday”. We struggle to meet the needs, wishes and expectations (and yes, sometimes, even the demands) of everyone in our lives. Realistically, we know we can’t please everyone (so you got to please yourself…), yet we still go at that long list of “should’s” with the tenacity of a dog with a juicy bone.

Louise Hay, author ofYou Can Heal Your Life writes that she wishes “should” just be abolished from our language completely! Why such a vehement reaction to this one little word? Because “should” actually takes away our personal power.  “Should” doesn’t address what we want to do, what we could do, or what we need to do. When we make a decision based on “should” we are making a decision based on guilt. We struggle between what we are programmed to believe and what our own experience tells us is healthy. An example of this is the huge holiday gift giving tradition which over years has evolved into a competition of who can buy the biggest gifts. If you are struggling financially, it makes no sense to participate in this old family ritual. Yet, guilt often propels people to act in unhealthy ways. So, you shop ‘til you drop and worry about the credit card bills in January.

Funny thing about guilt, it may be hard to define in words, but you know when you feel it. While the definition may vary from person to person, one aspect of guilt which seems constant is that gnawing feeling that you are doing something BAD.

Consider this: Often when we are feeling guilty, we are really being bullied. Unlike child/adolescent bullies who tend to be mean and vicious and obvious, adult bullies are master manipulators because they bully with a smile or a kind of martyr-like composure. Overtly, they appear to “just want what is best” (and may tell you so, when confronted). However, adult bullies are controllers who use guilt to get what they want and the stronger your tie with the bully the more successful the manipulation.

Holidays are a time when guilt runs amok. Suddenly all those issues which seem manageable for ten months out of the year come into play. For most people the holiday hot buttons are Finances, Food, and Family. Consider these statements, “I can’t believe you won’t chip in to buy dad that new wide screen TV he wants! How can you be so cheap?” Here’s another, “How can you deprive us of seeing our grandkids on Christmas? How many good years do we have left?” or “Can’t you just cheat a little on your diet? It took me hours to make your favorite chocolate pumpkin pie.” These statements may remind us of Marie on Everybody Loves Raymond and seem humorous, when the manipulation is coming your way it is powerful and upsetting and not the least bit funny.

The conundrum is this, if we go with our own belief system we risk feeling “guilty”. However, if will concede our own desires to those of another, we feel may feel regret and disappointment in ourselves–not to mention the very real possibility of negative consequences for our compliance.

Perhaps, the larger issue to consider is how healthy are these relationships? In healthy, flexible relationships, there is room to say “no” without retribution. The other person may be disappointed but can manage it with grace. Personal differences are respected. The child who doesn’t get his favorite toy may throw a tantrum as a way to manipulate you into giving him what he wants. Adult manipulators don’t throw tantrums; they quietly and precisely throw guilt.  We need to be mindful not to encourage or support that behavior. Sometimes we may want to “keep the peace” and other times the cost of our compliance is simply too high a price to pay.

The best holiday gift of all? Don’t “should on yourself”.

Tags: ,


  1. Shirley B on the 13. Nov, 2011 remarked #

    It seems that common sense goes out the window during the “holidays” with our society. I have had the occasional thought about “should” during this time, but a quick review of my values quickly takes a hold of what is best for me and my family in the long run. I eliminated the word “should” from my vocabulary a long time ago. It is guilt producing and doesn’t benefit anyone. I make sure I don’t use it either when asking for a favor of others, especially my children.

  2. CJ Golden on the 13. Nov, 2011 remarked #

    I want that gift wrapped in a big beautiful box that will sit on my desk forever!

  3. Maria on the 14. Nov, 2011 remarked #

    I recently went to a presentation in which the speaker addressed the topic of burnout. She touched upon some of the same issues you have, Donna, regarding guilt and trying to please everyone else but ourselves. My favorite suggestion of hers was that in order to honor ourselves and not feel guilty about saying “NO!” to someone else we should plan on dissappointing one person everyday. It made me laugh but makes great sense. In fact I started implementing it rite after her lecture when I backed out of some plans to meet someone just because I was tired and decided my day needed to come to an end.

  4. Maggie on the 15. Nov, 2011 remarked #

    It also may help alleviate the guilt to think of it not as saying “No” to another person but as saying “Yes” to yourself…says the woman who wrestles with guilt all too often. This year I will, I will, I will say “Yes” to myself…and enjoy a scaled-down holiday season.

Leave a Comment