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Let's talk about Guilt

Today I am going to talk about that guilty feeling that we often feel when we are living in the moment. If you're like me, you might experience guilt when you are enjoying yourself, relaxing and getting what you need.

Well Dr Janina Fisher spoke about this in a recent seminar and she said that when we feel guilt, it is often because we believe, even subconsciously, that we have broken a rule. So if you feel guilty for having a day off, chances are somewhere in your past and probably in your childhood, you were taught that there is no quitting! You keep going no matter what.

Of course this rule might have been beneficial for us at one time but actually, is it beneficial now? If there's something that you really need to get done then yes, you should stop reading this article and get on with it. Guilt is a good thing if it encourages us to better ourselves, but if it is holding us in rules that no longer fit then it might be time we start to work out a new rule book and throw out the old one.

A classic example of this is mum guilt. The idea that as a mum/dad/guardian we must give our children the best of everything is absolutely riddled with rules to feel guilty about. To put this into context I am going to talk about a made up scenario of a client who experiences this type of guilt. We will call this person Sheila.

Sheila feels guilty because her children only ever eat Golden food - i.e. chips, chicken nuggets etc.

I ask Sheila what the rule is that she has broken.

Sheila believes that her children "should" be eating vegetables and that by not enforcing this rule she is not a "good" mum.

I ask Sheila where she thinks this rule could have come from.

Sheila thinks for a moment and says that when she was growing up her mum would always make her eat her vegetables.

Throughout our work together, Sheila has spoken often about her relationship with her mother and how she felt that while her material needs were often met, her emotional needs were neglected.

I pause for a moment and then ask Sheila, do you think that your mother always got it right?

Sheila responds with a firm no.

From this we explore Sheila's beliefs about what makes a good parent.

Sheila responds that growing up she wanted her mother to notice her and see the needs that were not being met and that actually a good parent is more about listening than telling.

This helps Sheila shift her guilt by questioning her own rule book.

Sheila decides that actually while wanting her kids to eat more vegetables is not a bad thing, she is actually not required to follow this rule just because it was taught to her as a child.

This scenario with Sheila is just one of the ways that exploring guilt can help us to understand more about ourselves and our own beliefs about rules. Actually, when we look at it in this way and spot the rule that we feel we are breaking we can actually challenge the rule to see if it still makes sense today.

I therefore challenge you to think about your own rule book and maybe write down some of the things that you were told you "should" or "shouldn't" do. Are they still relevant? Or do they belong in the past?

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