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One day I was sitting eating my breakfast watching the view and I realized that I was content with me. I wasn’t overly happy and I wasn’t overly sad, just pure vanilla. I had never experienced this vanilla mood prior. My emotions were always on a roller-coaster of great highs followed by great lows. When I wasn’t either of those, I was always feeling guilty. By the time I was 34, guilty was my middle name. I felt guilty about everything and almost everyone. It was my default mood.

In high school I would feel guilty if I didn’t get good grades. For college I felt guilty if I didn’t go to the big named University my father wanted me to. After attending my freshman year at the college he wanted me to go, I finished my Associates Degree at a Community College, I felt guilty I didn’t get a Bachelor’s Degree instead. When I decided to move to CA after graduating college, I felt guilty for leaving my family behind. When I lived in CA I felt guilty I couldn’t get a job in the Silicon Valley with my degree and instead ended up working at Kinko’s.  When I moved back to NE from only one year of living in CA I felt guilty I didn’t stick it out longer there and try to make it work. When I moved to FL I felt guilty once again leaving all my friends and family in NE.

I always felt guilty for not helping my dad more in his Real Estate business. Though, the more I got involved the guiltier I felt. I wasn’t doing enough or I needed to do more, even though I had a part time job at the same time. When I was on the clock with my part time job, my dad would call and want me to do something for him. I would drop everything and do what I was told. Then I would feel guilty that I wasn’t dedicating myself to my part time job. If I didn’t drop everything at once to help me dad, then I would feel guilty about that. When I was married to my ex I felt guilty about everything. Guilty if I didn’t buy groceries that day, if I didn’t do the dishes, if I didn’t iron his work shirts. So I started taking his shirts to the dry cleaners, then I would feel guilty if I didn’t pick them up on time or if I made him pay for them.

The only emotion I seemed to feel was guilt. Sometimes happiness or depression would filter in-between the guilt. I would feel so guilty at times it would turn into depression.  I always felt guilty because I was always trying to please everyone besides me. I put everyone else first, all their needs, all their emotions. I put my needs and my emotions on the back burner. I left nothing for myself. You never please everyone all the time, though I was trying my hardest.

During the four years of my relationship with my ex-husband I was working at my part time job telecommuting for a technology company in Tampa. Meanwhile I was still managing and helping out my dad within his Real Estate Companies. On top of that I was being a housewife; doing all the cooking, cleaning, shopping, paying the bills, laundry, dry cleaning, party planning, taking trips to Miami every other weekend to see his son, taking care of my autistic step-son when we had him full time, and somehow managed to still workout at the gym five times a week. Since I worked from home, my husband didn’t see it as though I had a job at all. So he would guilt trip me into doing everything else around the house. Since he worked “9-5” in an office, he had a real job and I did not. Then he would make me feel guilty if I slept in til 9:30 (I didn’t clock in til noon) when I was freaking exhausted! I would try to get up early and get household chores done, or go to the gym. At night time then of course he wanted to stay up late watching Spike TV, then want to have sex at 1am. Then I would feel guilty because I didn’t have the energy to have sex, or if we did he said I wasn’t into it. Gee how I’m I supposed to be a sex goddess on top of everything else I had to do that day?!

After our divorce was finalized and I was finally living on my own, with no distractions other than my cat, I finally was able to sleep. Four years of running ragged and pleasing everyone else had made me completely emotionally and physically exhausted. I slept for almost 2 months and it felt great. I slept in as long as I wanted for as often as I needed. I went to sleep when I was tired and didn’t get out of bed til I wanted to.  I didn’t feel one twinge guilty about it at all. I needed this rest, my soul needed it.  It gave me the energy I needed to finally get the nerve to break the chains of the hardest thing I had to do for my recovery. Breaking my co-dependent relationships with other people.

Once I stopped bending to the needs of everyone else and starting focusing that time on me, things started to get better. I practiced using healthy boundaries and saying no. I don’t think I had ever said no in my entire life. I would always comply with the demands that everyone else wanted me to do. I remember my boss telling me once that he liked that quality in me. That whatever he asked me to do, I would always find a way to get it done. Sure of course he did, because it was at my expense. I would try to get the impossible done. Most times I did too. Even if I spent hours, days or months grueling and toiling away, I would never give up. Sometimes things just can’t be done. If we spend a fair chance trying and it’s not possible, just give up and move on. There’s nothing wrong with accepting defeat when you have given it your all.

It wasn’t easy putting up boundaries with my father or others in my life. My default response was Yes, to everything. Though, after I said yes, now I would think about it and then really decide it if was something I wanted to do. 9 times out of 10 it wasn’t. Once I made that decision I didn’t really want to do that, I would politely call the other person and cancel. I would always give enough notice, but I did cancel. I started getting really good at canceling plans. I know it sounds silly, but it was those few months of canceling plans after the fact of saying Yes, that finally got me the courage to say No to the initial question. If someone asked me to do something I would look at it from all angles. Who is benefiting from this situation? Are we mutually benefiting from this? Or are they the winning team and I’m the losing team?  If I was on the losing team, I would say no.

One day I woke up and I realized what this vanilla feeling was one that I have never had in my life. I didn’t feel guilt anymore.

Once I started looking out for me, putting my foot down, setting and enforcing my boundaries against these codependent people in my life, that’s when I started living guilt free. It was a great feeling. It’s like an inner peace you have within you. You feel good. You know the decisions you are making in your life are healthy ones. You are not responsible for the actions of other people. It’s their life, let them live it and suffer the consequences.

It’s not easy especially with some people who keep pushing and pushing and pushing. You just have to keep pushing back. Sometimes you feel like a broken record. Saying the same thing over and over and over again to that needy, clingy person, it’s exhausting. The good news is, eventually they will get it. Some people need you to repeat your boundaries 20 or 30 times. Eventually, though they will listen. It’s grueling at times, I know, though you cannot cave in.  If you cave once, then they know your threshold. Oh she will say no 10 times, but the 11th one is the key! DON’T CAVE IN.

Tara Richter

Tara Richter is an Internet Dating Coach in Tampa Bay. She is the author of “The Dating Jungle Series” and an Internet TV Show Host.