The Guilt Trap from the Other Side

Hello friends.

Several recent posts have been about a guilt trap that I have often found myself in during the last few years of living with folks who are on the margins of survival.

Well, one of those friends saw these posts and replied. My dear friend Glenna Gillilan commented to let me know that she understands my need to say no sometimes. Since she’s a writer herself, I invited her to write a guest blog and explain a bit more about what this is like for her. To be in need… even homeless at times… and to still have to respect a friend’s boundaries. Here she is:


And here is what she has to say:

On July 14th I read and commented on Davis’s post “Freedom From the Guilt Trap”.

I met Davis a couple of years ago when he was visiting the Bonhoeffer House, and again last year in Asheville, NC, during the Missional Wisdom Foundation’s National Gathering. We’ve become good friends since he came to live at Bonhoeffer a year ago, so I was more than happy to accept when he asked me to write my perspective on setting, and just as importantly, respecting boundaries.

I’ve had my own experiences with the “guilt trap”. It can be hard to set boundaries and say no to people, especially people who you want to like you. You think, “If I say no to this person, maybe they won’t want to be my friend.” So even if I don’t want to (or can’t, for whatever reason) do what they ask, I still find myself saying yes — and becoming resentful because of it. (An emotion Davis admitted that he also feels.) But what I need to remember — and I’m still learning this — is that anyone who won’t respect my “no” (and thus will disrespect me) is probably someone I don’t want as a friend anyway.

I have also been on the other side of that equation — I was the one who disrespected boundaries, disrespected a friend’s “no” — and was told that I wasn’t being a good friend. Not that I wasn’t a good person, just that I wasn’t being a good friend in that moment. So I had to learn to respect the other person’s right to say no, even when I felt my request was for something I really wanted or needed and therefore justified.

Over the years I’ve had to learn that everyone has the right to say “no”, and that their “no” needs to be respected. As I mentioned in my comment on Davis’s post, saying “no” can be a form of self-love and self-care — and it can also be a way of showing love to the other person, by not giving them what they think they want or need in that moment.

Also, it’s okay to say maybe. If you need a little time to consider a request, you can absolutely take it without giving a hard “yes” or “no”. But there is nothing wrong or selfish… no reason to feel guilty… about needing to put your own needs ahead of another person’s sometimes.

Thank you for sharing, Glenna.


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