How to Stop Feeling Guilty All The Time

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Guilt...that oh-so-common emotion that is a daily burden for the majority of women.

Does any of this sound familiar?

“I hate that I have to finish up this project for work on the weekend!  I’m not spending enough time with my family!”

“I shouldn’t have spent that much money on myself.”

“I feel bad that I slept in this morning instead of getting up and cleaning the house.”

“I should’ve checked in again on Aunt Martha (even though I’ve already called her three times already!).”

“I shouldn’t have had dessert last night.  Now I’ll have to skip lunch today, or work out longer at the gym if I can actually make it to the gym tonight!”

“I never do enough for my family.”

Feeling guilty is at an all-time high for midlife women (women over 40).  Unfortunately, all this guilt is preventing us from taking much-needed time for ourselves to recharge, address our needs, explore our curiosities, and alter our course as we see fit.

When we approach our 40s, we’re hit with the midlife transition that can feel like our world is flipping upside down.  We recognize that something needs to change in our life, but to get to the bottom of things, we need time (and maybe money) to dedicate to ourselves to stop the craziness and find some inner peace.

But, for many of us, guilt stops in our tracks.

We feel guilty for wanting something different, we feel guilty for being “ungrateful,” we feel guilty for taking time for ourselves when others “need” us, we feel guilty for spending money on ourselves, we feel guilty for wanting “more,” etc.


We know we shouldn’t feel guilty, but we also feel helpless to the power it has over us.

But, if we’re feeling a deep desire to change some things in our life, we have to face this guilt and release it.


WHAT IS “GUILT”?

At its most basic, guilt is an emotion (obviously!), and it’s one of those “sad” emotions (loneliness, grief, despair, etc.).

Guilt serves as a sign that our actions (or inactions) have negatively impacted other people (or we think it might have).  “Other people” can also be ourselves, if we feel we’ve let ourselves down or went against a personal promise or our morality.  The actual or perceived impact could be physical or emotional.

To put it bluntly: when we feel guilty it’s because there’s a disconnect between what we did (or thought we did) and what we believe we are supposed to do (or not do).  Within that gap is where we feel we’ve let ourselves, or others down.

But, guilt, while unpleasant, is beneficial:  it alerts us to appropriate action. But, as with anything, too much of a “good” thing can be detrimental.

For women, feeling guilty happens significantly more often than for men, and this is a problem that we need to fix.

But, why is this?  Why does unnecessary guilt plague women more often than men?

Women are seen as the caretakers in our society.  We’ve been taught - directly and indirectly - to put ourselves last to take care of everyone else’s needs.  To do otherwise is seen as selfish, and being selfish is the last thing any woman wants to hear!

So, it’s no surprise that women feel overwhelming guilt for most of our existence!  Because of what we’ve learned throughout our lives, and the messages we received from society, we don’t feel we have a right to put any personal time, dreams, or desires ahead of anyone or anything else.


It’s time we right this incorrect belief:  yes, women are excellent caretakers, but we’re not robots.  We’re human beings with desires and needs. It’s not selfish to put ourselves first when we need to take care of ourselves, or just have some fun!

Like everyone else we take care of, we too deserve to enjoy life, feel recharged, take time for ourselves, and chase our desires.  We cannot feel guilty for making ourselves a priority!

WHY YOU NEED TO STOP FEELING GUILTY

When it comes to guilt, the objective isn’t to eradicate it from our emotional toolbox.

If we’ve done something wrong, or let someone down, it’s natural to feel guilty.  The absence of guilt in these types of situations would signal a deeper psychological issue.

But, where guilt leads us astray is when we feel guilty for things that we haven’t done wrong, or that doesn’t support the need for feeling guilty.  

In other words, we feel overwhelming guilt for things that aren’t true or haven’t happened.

Carrying around too much guilt acts like a pebble in our shoes and prevents us from being fully present in our daily lives, and it blocks our ability to stay focused.

Guilt also keeps us from taking needed action because we {incorrectly} assume the action will harm those we love.

When all of that happens, we don’t live a full life, we turn down joy, and we walk away from opportunities to expand our lives.

HOW TO TURN DOWN THE GUILT

So, you’re feeling like you’re carrying around too much unnecessary guilt and you’re ready to turn down the dial and release it, but how exactly does one do that?

If you only feel guilty from time to time, then it’s not likely guiding your choices for your life. But, if you feel guilt on a regular basis (i.e., multiple times a week), it’s time to get a handle on it since it’s more of a burden than a helpful trigger.

WHEN YOU’VE ACTUALLY DONE SOMETHING WRONG

Let’s start with situations where you have truly hurt or harmed someone else (or yourself!).  If that’s the case, feeling guilty indicates you’re normal (congrats!).

To release the guilt in these situations, acknowledge what you’ve done (or said) and apologize.  Then, move on. You can’t change the past, and you’ve made amends, so it’s time to release the burden of feeling guilty.

WHEN YOU HAVEN’T DONE ANYTHING WRONG

But, if you’re feeling guilty for something you *think* you might’ve done, but there’s no evidence that you’ve harmed someone else, your threshold for what triggers guilty feelings may be too low.

This means you greatly misinterpret people’s disapproval of you when it doesn’t exist.

Also, bear in mind that it’s not your responsibility to make everyone around you happy and comfortable.  They bear the burden of that job, not you.

To that end, it’s your responsibility to own your happiness and comfort in life.  If others are preventing you from achieving those key factors of life, then it’s your job to establish boundaries and not feel guilty.


A big part of releasing guilt is to beef up your self-worth and know that you are entitled to address your needs, take time for the things that bring you joy, and take care of yourself in the manner you see fit.  

Until you recognize yourself as an individual whose needs and desires are valid, you’ll continue to feel guilt elevating yourself to a higher rank on your priority list.

One tip to help you release the guilt is to pretend that you have no choice in taking the action that is making you feel guilty.  Guilt can come from feeling we have a choice, and we’re making the wrong one (at the detriment of others), but when we feel we have no choice, the guilt usually goes away!

MOM GUILT

A conversation on the guilt women feel in their 30s, 40s, and maybe even early 50s, wouldn’t be complete without addressing a big one:  mom guilt.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard moms express feeling guilty for taking the time to do basic things in life: going to get their hair done, buying themselves new clothes (or anything, really!), enjoying a night out with friends, traveling for work, etc.

Part of this is due to the assumption that your kids need you every single minute of their lives (they don’t).  Part of it is due to your desire to not miss a second of their lives (you’ll smother them if you’re glued to their side every single minute).  And, part of it is society telling you that you're a “bad mom” if you don’t spend every minute with your kids and/or you dare to take a minute for yourself (all total B.S.).

As a mom, you’re still first and foremost a woman and a human being.  You not only deserve time away from your kiddos (newsflash! they need time away from you, too!), but you will be a better mom for it!!

Showing your kids that you’re human and you have needs and desires that are worthy of your time, teaches them a life-long lesson about honoring other people’s space and needs.  It helps them to become more empathetic to others and allows them to be inspired by your independence, so they grow up more self-sufficient and capable.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Guilt is one of the hardest emotions to conquer.  Again, the goal isn’t to eradicate it and to never feel guilty, but the objective is to dial it back and rein in the unrealistic expectations that are causing excess, and unnecessary, guilt.

Boost your self-worth by recognizing your needs and desires are just as important as everyone else’s and make yourself a priority in your life.

When guilt rears its ugly head, remind yourself that you are indeed worth whatever it is that you desire, and release it.  When you carry around the guilt, you’re carrying an emotional burden that is taking a toll on you, whether you realize it or not.  You don’t deserve that!