I'd like you to meet two friends of mine. Well, they're not actually friends, they've just been there for a long time. What would you call someone that has been a constant companion of yours, but brings out the worst in you? Friend seems too kind. A pest? Perhaps, but pests are something to be eradicated and removed. This is more like a classmate or someone who is constantly turning up to find you at your worst.
Everyone, meet my Guilt and Shame. Don't wait for them to exchange pleasantries; they're much too good for that. They'll just keep reading the room and scoping for that opportunity to pop up when I least expect it.
You see, Guilt and Shame have been with me since the beginning. They were the ones that told me never to bring home the failing grades that I had in handwriting when I was in first grade, so that when the end of the year came my desk was a complete wad of scrunched paper. They were there when I failed various tests in school, stuck my neck out only to have it pushed back in by other students, taught me that fitting in was better than sticking out, and molded me into thinking that my best just wasn't good enough. They taught me that classical music was for squares, that my lunch box wasn't cool, and that computers were for weirdos. True, there were moments where I outran them, and when I did I knew that I was right and they could suck eggs.
As I've grown older I've realized that Guilt and Shame were just looking out for me and trying to protect me. They were the defense mechanism when I was being teased for not being like the others. That if I only tweaked my appearance and asked for things from my parents that I'd fit in better.
I was a good pupil. I learned to like metal music, and I dug deep into that to show that I could like cool music. I dove into video games and hung out with other video game collectors. I got to meet my heroes. I threw myself into drums because everyone loves the drummer, right? I became a computer programmer because I was interested in game development, but found myself working for car companies doing reports because I didn't have the skills to program the games I wanted. It kept me from learning things because I noticed others were doing way better than I ever could. It almost kept me from interviewing for one of my dream jobs, and it almost ruined me when I burned out.
Guilt and Shame can take you places, kid. They'll dress you up fancy so you can hang with the cool cats. All the while feeling like at any moment you'll be found out as a phony in an expensive suit.
It's taken me a while to understand what Guilt and Shame have done. It's taken me a while to realize their best intentions manipulate me into situations I never would have chosen on my own.
I've learned to stop listening to Guilt and Shame, or at least to quiet their influence. I'm tired of making space for ghosts and taking the opinion of others as gospel when my opinion gets second-billing.
Guilt and Shame will still visit me from time to time, but they don't live here anymore. I know what they're up to when they visit, and while I will sometimes listen I make it a point not to let them drive my life. They've had enough say as it is.