I want to write about a topic that comes up recurringly in client sessions and conversations with girlfriends.
At a friend’s birthday party this weekend, I reconnected with an acquaintance I’d met several months ago at a business event. She has since then given birth to a beautiful baby and has quit her job to be a full time momma. She mentioned her guilt about quitting her job and choosing to be with her newborn full time and take time off to heal and bond. “It’s a double whammy” she said, “if I choose not to work and contribute financially, I feel guilty. If I choose to continue working and leave my child in daycare, I feel guilty.”
Guilt can be a damning thing. It’s subtle, insidious and very dangerous for a woman’s health, happiness and wellbeing. We internalise it up as we move through life, especially as children. We pick up on subtle messages that punish us for wrong behaviour and reward us for “being good”. The load gets heavier as these culturally-imposed ideas and judgments come flying at us from all directions and get seared in our psyche.
Here are some tips to deal with guilt, no matter what circumstances evoke it.
Sometimes we assume we’re being judged by others and experience guilt when in fact no one out there cares. Find out if this is the case? Byron Katie’s ‘The Work’ is a powerful technique of identifying and questioning the beliefs that bring us pain or unhappiness. One of the questions she urges us to ask is “Is it true?”
Ask yourself: “Does __________ (your belief) cause _________ (a certain reaction) from_______(my partner, my boss, my neighbor, the world).”
Then ask yourself: “Is it true?”
Is it really true that we’re being judged for our choices? Or is it something we’re assuming on behalf of others?
I want to share these words by Isaac Asimov:
“Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won’t come in.”
Own your choices
Visualise yourself moving through your choices and observing the feelings and bodily sensations in each scenario. What feels lighter? How would these choices feel if the heaviness of guilt wasn’t weighing on your shoulders? Each one of us is unique and our desires, dreams and circumstances vary from everyone else’s. Don’t compare your story with anyone else’s. What works for you might not work for someone else. What you need at this moment to feel healthy, confident and happy might never show up on someone else’s radar.
Understand that guilt isn’t a real emotion
In previous posts, I’ve written about how guilt is a secondary emotion. It has no real foundation inside of us. It doesn’t guide us or help in any possible way. Guilt is a learned response that indicates that we’re not following the rules. We all grew up being taught different versions of right and wrong behaviour. If we tread into the territory of “wrong” , we experience guilt. Once we understand this, we can dig deeper into the underlying emotions. What is our guilt indicating at? Do we fear being abandoned, rejected, ex-communicated from the tribe? Getting past the overwhelm that guilt creates and identifying the real emotions that it’s bringing up for us, we can truly heal and release ourselves from self-limitations.
Enlist your support system
Oftentimes women struggle with these issues all on their own, creating their own private hell which gnaws slowly but surely at their sense of well-being and peace. Having an objective, non-judgmental voice is extremely crucial to feel grounded and powerful. Have open conversations with your partner, friends and coworkers about the support you need. Hire help if you’re overwhelmed. Remember you’re never alone.
Cut out the toxic people
When I quit my social media practice to go back to nutrition school, several family members and acquaintances would ask me “So you’re at home now?” (implying I’m doing nothing). It was difficult not to be affected by the accusatory tones. I decided that for that period of time I’d cut down on my interactions with those who didn’t fully support and understand my decision. I needed to own my decision and protect it like a fierce mama bear to prevent being hurt or feeling disappointed in myself.
In the comments share: what guilt are you holding onto that can be released right now? What else would you add to this process?