Guilt is an emotion so ingrained in our everyday lives it’s a wonder why it hasn’t been certified as a disease. I myself am an avid guilt addict. It got me thinking how in today’s world we’ve become an expert on setting up impossible standards and so used in living on a deadline of desperation in each role we have in our lives. For example, have these thoughts ever crossed your mind:
I am NOT a perfect friend/son/daughter/parent,etc.
I am so bad at (insert your field / skill of choice here)
Why can’t I be more like_________
If I lose (2,3,4, (insert kilos here) then I will be happy)
If I can have ___ then I will be happy
If I can reach___then I will be happy
If ______ happens, then I will be happy
And so on
But why? It’ s so crazy!!! Even Barbie has given up on the idea of perfect (except for sarcastic socality Barbie, she is awesome!) .
Anna Wintour, the empress of fashion, whose entire job is to propagate perfection had even said that it’s a lost cause.
When did we forget that life is not a perfect instagram picture? It seems that everyone’s trying to be ‘iperfect person’ as if we’re filling some kind of perpetual catalog. Because in this world where 3 years old can sing like Beyonce and teenagers become billlionaire in a second, who has time to waste? ‘perfect is not real ‘ goes from one ear out to the other. But think about it, who wants to be friends with perfect? It will be like being friends with someone that you can never relate to because that person is well… perfect, what does he/she know about lashing out when you didn’t mean to? Or your frustration with the zits that just kept popping out of nowhere, or how heartbroken you are when you failed even when you’ve given it your best shot?
All of this guilt of feeling not good enough will only make us despise ourselves, whoever we’re trying to please and whatever we're trying to achieve.
Allow me to tell you my story of guilt;
When I was living in Indonesia it felt like I was living a double life. Being the first child in the family, I had to set an example for my siblings I suffered from the « not perfect child guilt ». I was trying so hard to mold myself into the image of perfect daughter/student/sister on top of whatever idea of « perfect» that I was trying to obtain, that I didn’t even knew who I was anymore. The older I got, the more restless and contradictory I felt. This separation of image about who I was and who I was supposed to be in the eyes of my parents and everyone else, was a ticking bomb of guilt waiting to happen. I was also very confused because I had a completely different idea about how I would like to live my life than how my parents had see fit.
My Parent’s View:
Birth>childhood>work>get married (the apogee of achievement) >children (the second apogee of achievement)> more children> end game
Birth>Childhood>find my life calling> travel> live on my own >own my own place > soulmate> fabulous funeral where my friends talking about how great knowing me as a person and how fun the funeral party was.
It might seem simple enough but in reality, it wasn’t. Why? Well in Indonesia it’s very common that a child, esp. a girl to live in their parent’s house until the day of the wedding and then to move to the husband’s house. It seemed to me at the time that I have to be this perfect child at all cost and suppress all my ideas, because:
1. My wants are wrong
2. My Ideas are impossible
3. I will Have to follow this fixed timeline to be happy, for my parents to be happy and to make them proud.
The more I felt that I had to conform, the angrier I became. The idea of a different life kept spinning in my head but at the same time, I felt guilty of wanting it. I felt guilt for wanting to leave the beautiful home that they have built, guilt for being an ungrateful child, guilt for not living up as the perfect daughter. I was so miserable to the point where I felt I was but an empty shell living on an autopilot. I also felt guilt for being angry all the time. it was guilt after guilt after guilt. I was not able to see the love that my parents had, nor that I believe that they would accept me as I am.
Sadly this also affected my parents, who felt guilt for not being the perfect parents, because how could they be when I was so miserable. And I felt guilt because no matter how good they are to me, I felt that I had to erase myself to make them happy. It’s a never-ending evil cycle.
Until the turning point,
I felt relief, freedom and hope. For once in my life, I was able to think without the voices of guilt following my every step. It gave me time to reflect and little by little patched my relationship with my family and with God. I was able to see that what we had was a difference in opinion. I found strength to dismantle myself and put myself back together piece by piece.
It all came full circle when my mom visited me for the first time in Paris.
I was scared shitless. Will we survive 10 days in a 18m2 apartment without fighting? Or worse; me hurting her with my words. How will we survive when in our house in Jakarta with so many rooms to escape to, we still managed to hurt each other.
But something wonderful happened.
This time, the roles were reversed, I was the ‘parent’ I managed to show her that I can handle the city, take care of us on all of our trips and enjoyed each other company. And this, in turn, made my mother see me in a different light. It boiled down to the last night when I was cooking her dinner for the first time in my life. At the end of it, she stared at me, looking so proud. I gathered up my courage wanting to apologize. How, how do you say sorry after causing all these wounds to a person, I stared at her... the words and tears started flooding, she took me in her arms and we just hugged there in silence for awhile. We found our peace, somehow, after all these years.
I will forever be grateful to my parents who had the wisdom and gave me the permission to go and supported me throughout, my friend Janice for being there to count on and also eased the mind of my parents to have someone there together in the foreign continent they know so little about. And mostly to God because through all of my journey till now, I have always been so protected despite everything that could have gone wrong.
So to all my brave friends who are reading this, I just would like to say, that it’s normal to feel lost, we all go through these periods together. We should never be afraid to shape our lives the way we want it to be or to give ourselves a break to revise and breathe. It is okay to not be the perfect self that we envisioned ourselves, we are all a work in progress all through our lives. If you think about it, there is no standard life manual. We go into these roles (parent, friend, child, etc.) without a clue, it’s like building a house when you’ve never built one, life is not an ikea furniture project. How we reach A to B to Z may not be as simple. We do it according to our knowledge and to our best abilities.
I haven’t completely figured out my life either, and there are days when I pushed myself down because of this feeling of lack, but I think the only antidote to this, is practice to be grateful. Cherish each breath, each laughter, and even each struggle . let's all strive to live in a world where ‘parfait’ is just a delicious dessert. Because who ever said that we can’t have our cake and eat it too? ;)
Words by Diana Rovanio, Illustrations by Thea Nalls
Custom Illustrations done by Thea Nalls. To check out her beautiful illustrations click here