If you are someone who often finds yourself feeling guilty (like me), then this post is for you. I think that guilt has its place. As Brene Brown says, it highlights where we have failed to do something we know we should. However, I also believe some of us, perhaps the sensitive or lower self-esteem ones of us, are taking on guilt that isn’t ours to bear.
Here are my thoughts…
Firstly, there is a difference between blame and guilt. Blame comes from external forces, guilt is often internal. Guilt is an emotion, a feeling. There is also a difference between shame and guilt…
Brene Brown, “I believe that guilt is adaptive and helpful – it’s holding something we’ve done or failed to do up against our values and feeling psychological discomfort.
I define shame as the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging – something we’ve experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection.“
Therefore, perhaps, it’s shame that we are feeling a lot of the time. It’s shame that is hurting us on a much deeper level. And our Shame Triggers are being activated by certain situations in which we feel guilty, rightly or wrongly.
Let’s dive in…
Feeling guilty for your priorities
This is a big one for me. I often feel guilty about the things I see as important. Right now, my priorities are as follows:
- Work and financial stability
- Learning and growth (reading often, university work, being curious and research)
- Mental wellness
Now, the only reason I didn’t list my family or my partner as a priority, is because for me, at least, that goes without saying! I don’t need to put them on a to-do list or check them against my values or anything of the sort.
My family will always come first.
But let’s be honest, as an adult (with no children), I don’t really have to think about them. I still live with my sister and my mom. I see them every day without having to meet up or hang out.
So, why do I feel guilty about my relationship with them?
My sister and my mom have both expressed their upset about how I have little time for them anymore. This makes me feel guilty, naturally. I feel ashamed of myself, because I value my family and their happiness and I’d hate to contribute to their upset.
Is it my job to make them happy?
Should I drop what is important to me for them, when they don’t actually NEED me?
If one of them was sincerely struggling or upset, I’d drop everything. I’ve given them my ear and my time and my heart time and again. I offer advice. I’m their shoulder to lean or cry on, always.
But I can’t do that for them all, all the time.
I can’t let my life and my priorities slip to the side to hang out or talk about nonsense, when I could be doing something I need or want to do.
The same goes for you.
When made to feel guilty by others, ask yourself these questions:
- Do I genuinely neglect them?
- Am I there for them when they need me?
- Do I spend enough time on this relationship?
- Do they know I’m there for them?
- Do I treat them badly?
If you can sincerely answer these and it turns out that you’ve done nothing wrong, shed that guilt. Shed that shame.
Feeling guilty about what you want in life (your choices)
I want to be an international best-selling author. I want to see as much of the world as I can. I want to continue to learn and grow and be fascinated by the world. I want to have my own beautiful home and family.
I have every right to want those things, and so do you.
If you feel guilty about wanting certain things in life, ask yourself why? Where is that guilt coming from? Inside or from others? From a societal standard that you’re forcing on yourself? From a belief system or teachings from childhood?
As long as you’re not hurting anyone (or yourself), you can want and pursue whatever you like!
At times, my wants have affected others. I’ve pursued my writing, left jobs, or dropped out of uni and this has affected my mom and my partner. However, these things were never done selfishly. I always asked how they felt about my decisions first. And they’ve always supported me.
Because that’s the thing, the right people won’t make you feel bad for wanting what you want. As long as it’s appropriate, healthy, safe, or good, they should support you or at least help you if they can.
Don’t feel guilty for wanting lots of money or leaving family life behind. Don’t feel guilty for not wanting to get married. Your life is yours to live, don’t let anyone else dictate that for you, otherwise, you’ll resent them forever.
Feeling guilty about how others are feeling
Back to my mom and my sister, for example. I can’t feel guilty about them missing me. We’re adults; we won’t, of course, hang out as much as we used to. That’s life. I have a partner and my own life now, and no one should feel guilty for that. As I say, as long as you’re not neglecting your family, you needn’t carry that shame.
You are not responsible for how others feel.
And so, that’s not my burden to carry. It’s not your job to fix people. It’s not your job to make them happy. It’s not your job to make their life good. For us all, these are an internal duty of care to ourselves.
Feeling guilty about your beliefs and values
This is one that you should never, EVER, give in to. Don’t let others or the media or anything else jeopardise your values and beliefs. Again, as long as they’re healthy, you have every right to believe what you believe and stick to your values.
Values are important. They are a situation-independent guiding system for what you want and who you are. To then feel guilty or ashamed of that is ridiculous, and quite frankly, very sad.
I believe in and value: learning, creativity, spirituality, and empathy. There is nothing wrong with these things. There’s nothing wrong with putting them first.
I will not feel guilty for taking time to: write, read, meditate, yoga, journal, breathe, study, or anything else.
I shouldn’t feel guilty for more serious things, either, like not wanting to get married or have a baby just yet – things of which I have felt guilty about because my partner’s family are more traditional and therefore want that for us.
But that wouldn’t make me happy right now.
What others want you to do, believe, say, think, or prioritise is not your concern! Let them live by their values, while you happily live by yours; otherwise, you live an unhappy, inauthentic life (and no one wants that).
At the end of the day, it all comes down to being honest with yourself. If you are authentic, self-aware, and honest, then you and you alone will know and police your guilt. You will know whether it is needed or misplaced.
Hold up your hands when you are in the wrong, but goddamn it(!), put your hands down and don’t apologise for living your life if you are sure that you’re just being true to yourself for health and happiness.
Take care, guys