All of us feel guilt at some time or another. But if you think that guilt’s a purely negative thing that you ought to be avoiding at all costs, pause. I believe that guilt can actually be an incredibly useful emotion, and if we learn what it’s trying to tell us we can absolutely learn how to stop feeling guilty, as well.
As a mother, it feels that guilt is almost something that’s inbuilt into my life – so you’ll have to excuse me if this blog is a bit mum-centric as I share my personal experience. Because guilt’s absolutely not a feeling that’s limited to mothers.
Whether it’s an awareness of our impact on the environment, the amount of time we spend with our partners, our choices about what we eat or how we behave, there are plenty of things to potentially feel guilty about in the modern world.
So how on earth can this actually be something that’s helpful to us?
Guilt: a personal story
When my first child, James, was born, I was fortunate to be able to take a big chunk of time off. So the classic “Mum guilt” didn’t have such an impact on me. But when our second child, Rosie, came along, that all changed.
As our vision has evolved over the past few years, I’ve fallen more and more deeply in love with this work and our amazing community. More than just a job, this is my soul calling – my true purpose in the world. So when Rosie was born I knew one thing to be true: I didn’t want to stop working with One of many just at the point where it felt our mission was really gathering momentum.
That means my work has grown alongside my family. Rosie’s been coming along with me to events since she was 5 weeks old. Of course, I made some changes to accommodate my needs as a new mum, but halting my contribution to the team completely just wouldn’t have felt right.
And there you have it, the perfect recipe for guilt: two children for whom I am the sun, moon and stars, and a business that I’m absolutely clear is my soul purpose.
James is old enough now to be able to ask me outright: “Why do you have to go to work today – why can’t you pick me up from school?” Cue the guilt!
Don’t get me wrong, I know how lucky I am. For so many mums, doing the school pickup is never an option, let alone being able to work from home and spend time together during holidays and breaks.
And then there are mums like our team’s amazing Wendy, who almost lost her life after the birth of her third child. Seriously ill, it just wasn’t possible for her to be there in the way she wanted to for her newborn baby – and yet the guilt was still there!
Whether you’re a mum or not, I don’t think guilt is something any of us can escape from experiencing, but it’s really important we pay attention to it: and here’s why.
Why guilt can be so destructive
If we find ourselves doing guilt a lot, it’s often because we’ve slipped into the disempowering archetype of the Martyr. This is often associated with the role of mother, whether or not or you have children. If that sounds confusing – being a Mother when you don’t have kids? – let me explain.
In our Women’s PowerTypes™ tool, Mother is one of the powerful roles that all of us women can choose to step into. Along with Warrioress, Queen, Sorceress and Lover, it’s a PowerType we can draw on from time to time.
Regardless of whether or not you have children of your own, Mother is our nurturing, compassionate, deeply loving side that sees the best in everyone and is always there to offer comfort and support.
It’s also an aspect that, when over-expressed, can slip into feeling guilty, and ultimately become the Martyr, endlessly exhausting herself in the service of others.
When guilt become destructive
It can be tempting to try and fight feelings of guilt with more action. To take another example, perhaps you feel guilty about not spending enough time with your friends – and book in drinks on an evening when you’ve already done a full day of work, made dinner and done all the evening chores at home. You meet your friend feeling tired, ratty, and utterly uninterested in hearing the latest saga in her ongoing feud with a colleague.
That’s when guilt can lead to resentment, and start to become really destructive in our relationships. We start telling ourselves that everyone else gets attention before we do, and forget the importance of really giving to ourselves.
So why do we feel guilt?
If we can’t get rid of guilt by doing more, what’s the solution?
The whole issue of guilt starts to make a lot more sense when we get to the bottom of the real reason we feel guilty.
Guilt is an emotion that prompts us to take a look at whether we’re really living according to our values.
So, when you feel it, the important thing to do is to stop. If you know what your values are, you can do a quick check in – are you living in alignment with them right now? If the answer’s yes, you know you can let go of that guilt.
For me, I know that self-expression is a really high value for me. Contributing through my work is the impact I am here on this planet to make, and so I’m able to recognize that, although my instincts as a mother create feelings of guilt from time to time, they’re not something I need to hold on to.
How to let go of guilt
If you’re clear you’re living up to your values, and yet you’re still finding it really hard to release any guilty feelings that come up, it might be a sign that you’re hanging on to an emotion from the past that it’s time to let go of.
That might even include guilt you’ve inherited from someone else. If your own mother felt a lot of guilt, you might have been brought up hearing things like “it’s selfish to think about yourself”.
In our members area we have free resources to help you release emotions, including guilt, which might be holding you back. You can click here to join our community and get access to all of them, including a free audio recording all about emotions and how to manage them.
Guilt and you
Guilt’s such a common emotion that it’s really important we gain the understanding we need of why it occurs and what we can do to shift it.
Whether it’s taking the time to look after yourself – so your Mother doesn’t slip into Martyr – or dealing with residual emotions that are no longer serving you, addressing guilt is a powerful way to create change in your life.
And the effect on those around you, if guilt is something that’s been a big presence in your life, can be immense.
How about you? Does guilt play a big part in your life, or is it something you’re pretty confident you know how to handle? Share your experience in the comments.
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