Why do I feel guilty when successful...?

Why do I feel guilty when successful...?

By Andrea Osvárt

June 07, 2022

Today I am writing about a serious topic: Guilt.

These two things: shame and guilt, occasionally travel through my mind at such speed that I am almost unable to tell them apart. So how can I know for sure which one I experience and for what reason? I am also a linguist, so let’s see what we have here:

Shame: painful feeling, humiliation, or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong behavior, a regrettable or unfortunate situation or action.

Ashamedfeeling embarrassed or guilty because of one's actions, characteristics, or associations, reluctant to do something through fear of embarrassment or humiliation

Guilt: the fact of having committed a specified or implied offense or crime

Guilty: feeling culpable of or responsible for specified wrongdoing, justly chargeable with a particular fault or error.

What pops to my eye first is that three of these are feelings; only guilt is a fact. This leads to thinking that I should not feel guilty if I have not committed any “thing” wrong. The second is that in the definition of ashamed, the word "guilty" is included…so these two are cousins. At this point, we can conclude that: 

SHAME IS WHEN I FEEL THERE IS SOMETHING WRONG WITH ME (INTERNAL), AND GUILT IS WHEN I FEEL THERE IS SOMETHING WRONG WITH WHAT I’VE DONE (EXTERNAL).
 

So why do people feel guilty when they succeed? Is there any wrong-doing in succeeding?
 

A few years ago, I was planning a new project as a producer and already felt the burden on my shoulder of how difficult that would be to realize. I remember telling my father about it, and he asked me: “Why do you do it? Haven’t you had enough? Who do you need to prove yourself to? Can’t you just enjoy what you have?” I couldn’t answer that question right away, but it kept going in my head: What is the drive, the purpose, the need? Why do I always want more and can not yet be satisfied? I have achieved a lot more than an average person performs in their entire life. But for me, as if I consciously wanted to overload myself with more hard work. Of course, nobody forced me to do it. Still, I couldn’t tell why I needed it. Is it creativity? Is it productivity? Is it an addiction? Deep inside, I knew my father had a point, and, back then, I could not stop just yet. And then I realized: it was guilt.

I’ve been successful since I was 15 years old. I was first on a magazine cover while still in high school and bought my first apartment when I was 22. I graduated from university with ease and had a look that helped me sustain myself for long years. I was thriving among boys and could do whatever I wanted. While becoming known and successful, my family kept living a regular life, having typical jobs and everyday problems. But for me, I went too far -in every sense. I first went to Italy, then to Hollywood, persuading my dream of becoming an actress, and I did not come back without having achieved that. I simply wouldn’t allow myself to return home, not succeeding. So I did. -In a sense-. I came back home with a ton of experience after two leading roles in American productions. I was called the first Hungarian actress to make it in Hollywood after Zsazsa Gabor (although we have huge differences). I returned to Hungary famous, on the money, and having not much to do. But I could not enjoy what I had. 

Let me give you an example of that. A few years ago, I bought a run-down apartment in Budapest and planned a complete renovation. I decided to visit my family in the countryside on the weekend and took my little notepad with me. While chitchatting with my family members at the dining table, I was doodling floorplan ideas of how I would want my new apartment’s layout to become. At one point, my mom asked me to put my drawings away before our cousins arrived for lunch. Why? -I asked. “Because they will never be able to afford to buy their own apartment,” - she replied. I became pretty angry. I asked my mom if I should feel ashamed and guilty for having bought an apartment out of the money that I earned with hard work and now enjoying its fruits. I explained that it was not easy to make that money after years of sacrifices, loneliness abroad, and endured injustices. What is wrong with enjoying and sharing my endless joy with those I love and trust? She got even angrier than me. She said I should be more considerate to people having less than I do and that what I was about to do, is brag. I was dumbstruck. It felt like a punch as if I should be ashamed of what I had achieved. It was not only hard to reach where I was, but now I can’t even enjoy their fruits. I did not know what to do. I was so happy to could share my latest joy with my cousins, but I got insecure if my mom was right. I honestly don't remember what exactly happened after, but I remember what I felt: I felt rubbed and treated unjustly. It just was not fair. Great achievements should be rewarded, and acknowledged, not invalidated. I could not enjoy doodling anymore. 

Not without my beloved ones and family. My flourishing financial situation created tension and even arguments with part of my family, but I am not going into details out of respect. I remember trying hard for years to level us up, be equal, have the same shoes, enjoy the same holiday, and so on…. it did not work out. The harder I tried to belong to my roots, the further away I felt from them. Yes, success brought me far. Not only geographically but also emotionally. Far from the ones I used to grow up with, from whom I admired as a child and whom I knew better than myself. 

I felt at fault. I started to feel the injustice of having more than them, so I tried to diminish and belittle my success. Just be closer to them. To feel I still belonged there. I felt like I abandoned my loved ones or put myself above them, which disconnected us. 

I am not the only successful one in the family. However, my success came faster and sooner than for my siblings. Today, we are almost at the same level in terms of education, professional reputation, and recognition in our industry.

  • I WAS THE FIRST IN MY FAMILY TO ACHIEVE A HIGH LEVEL OF SUCCESS.
  • MY SUCCESS TRIGGERED ENVY, SO I FELT TERRIBLE FOR GENERATING NEGATIVE FEELINGS IN PEOPLE WHO WERE MORE TALENTED BUT LESS SUCCESSFUL.
  • SOME BELITTLED MY ACHIEVEMENTS, SAYING THAT IT WAS BECAUSE I WAS PRETTY.
  • OTHERS SIMPLY SAID I WAS LUCKY, TAKING AWAY ALL MY MERIT WITH ONE WORD. 

    SUDDENLY, I FOUND MYSELF UP AGAINST THE WHOLE WORLD, TRYING TO PROVE MY WORTH.
     

I did not know back then that these voices had nothing to do with me, but they led to a sense of guilt because they made me question if I deserved to make multiple times as much money then my family with months of work. I knew my friends were still struggling and that they were just as talented as me, if not more, and worked just as hard as I did, but still, they couldn’t find success. This is difficult to process and can make you question whether you are truly deserving of the success you're experiencing.

By putting hard work on my shoulders, I was trying to “deserve” and prove to all these people that I deserved what I had.

I WISH I HAD UNDERSTOOD THAT SOONER… I WORKED THROUGH THESE NEGATIVE EMOTIONS THAT DID NOT SERVE ANY OF US.

If you are struggling with fame or success guilt, I do mentor successful personalities coping with negative emotions. 

You are not alone.

Love,

Andrea

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