Okay, so I had been “ruminating” on the subject of guilt for a couple weeks and thought I could write this post in an hour. Who knew the subject of guilt could take longer than that??? (Yeah. Yeah. You and Brene Brown.)


So, a little bit ago a friend said that she needed to move her mom to assisted living. As kind of an after-thought, she mentioned that she felt guilty about having to sell her mom’s house while she was still alive. That got me thinking about why she would feel guilty and what she could do about it. Eventually, it occurred to me that the icky, negative feeling that is guilt results from the general pissed-off-itude you get when you give your power over to someone else. 


In my friend’s case, she had to make the choice between keeping her mom’s house (and the memories therein) or selling it (to preserve her own sanity, because she’s a mom, has a career, lives in a different state, and has her own life).


Yes, yes. ‘Stand in your own power, sister.’ ‘Don’t let anyone tell you what you think.’ …


But this is her mother. And that relationship should mean something. I mean, wouldn’t you want certain special relationships to mean something? (yes, guilt-trip. Use some of your brain power to think from a different point of view.) 


How do you combat guilt? IMO: Compassion. My friend needs to have compassion for her mom. But she also needs to have compassion for herself


On the mom’s side, she wants what everyone wants: validation that their life had meaning (that the stuff they’ve accumulated over their life has value). At some level we all know this; that’s why guilt in these situations is so automatic. On the friend’s side, she wants the validation that her choice is the “right” choice, no second-guessing, no question. 


In this example, my friend has the opportunity to own a retirement house that she could rent out until she is ready to retire herself. As with all real estate, there is a lot to consider: how much would it cost financially — to transfer ownership, to get a management company to rent it, to fix it, to stage it, to maintain it? How much would it cost mentally (bandwidth)? How much would it cost emotionally? Now that the details have been at least considered, there are no ‘what ifs’ to haunt her in the future.


Once that thought exercise has been run through, and maybe a couple calls made to prescient industry professionals, my friend can be satisfied that her choice – whatever it may be – is the right one. 


After the choice is made, the compassionate thing to do is to have a conversation. But here’s something to consider: emotional conversations are like non-newtonian fluids, the harder you press into it, the more resistance you get. In this example, my friend has to talk to her mom, gently expressing her choice in the matter and firmly not giving in. If it’s the choice the mom doesn’t want to hear, it’s on the mom to show similar compassion and accept that her daughter has made the decision that is best for her at the time.


Compassion is a little risky; the other person may not be as compassionate toward you. But some vulnerability is better than living with guilt. Check out Brene Brown‘s TED Talk on vulnerability.