We’re officially into the 12 Weeks of Self-Esteem of Self-Esteem Torment which runs from mid-November until just after Valentine’s Day when the fog wears off. The stress that people experience at this time of year about family coupled with the great number of people who agree to family arrangements with gritted teeth and who brace themselves for lots of drama, points to a great deal of acting from a sense of obligation. I empathise- my family are crackerjacks and decided to have an Alexis Colby and Krystle Carrington style showdown on Christmas Day last year, furs flying and all -but all of this family angst that so many of us go through got me thinking: Doesn’t all of this obligation that we pile ourselves up with cause us to come from a place of being forced and imposed upon? Doesn’t it say a lot about the way in which we see ourselves and our family when we say yes not because we want to, but because we feel that we have no choice and are fearing reprisals?
An obligation is where we feel morally or legally bound to do something.
It can also be that we experience something that causes us to feel a debt of gratitude, and of course debt is linked to owing which in itself creates an obligation to make repayments. The more obligations that we imagine ourselves to have (or that are imposed upon us), is the more that it begins to feel like a loan shark situation where no matter what we repay, the debt increases and leaves us feeling imprisoned and so duty bound to feel resentful.
Faux obligations are requests or expectations styled as obligations when they’re not. They’re duties and rules that aren’t actual rules that are treated as legitimate obligations, so they’re things we’re ‘supposed’ to do regardless of whether we want to or not.
We’re most likely to feel our strongest sense of obligation with family and this is regardless of whether we had a great, good, OK, bad, terrible or non-existent relationship with them. I can attest that in the past, I’ve felt loaded with obligations by family that I’d hardly spent time around in more than twenty years! Sometimes it’s them regarding and treating us as being in a ‘child role’ and sometimes it’s us feeling caught between a rock and a hard place where we in theory know that we’re an adult but we don’t want to ruffle feathers and invite criticism, conflict, or even rejection. We want to be ‘liked’ even though if we don’t have good boundaries, we won’t like us (or them for that matter…).
Most of the things that we feel obliged to do, family or not, are not legal obligations, so that means that when we feel obliged, we put ourselves in a bind because we feel as if the ‘house rules’ (read: family rules or even rules we’ve assumed) are principles about the “right way” to conduct ourselves.
These are a mix rules, norms and expectations that we feel fit our image of family as well as messages that have been directly communicated or inferred about what we are obliged to be and do. It becomes a question of us being right or wrong as opposed to whether we want to do something and whether what is being asked of or expected of us is fair and reasonable, or indeed even right or our responsibility.