Guilt is something many women experience. ‘Mum guilt’ is so common that it has its own term, but many women (not just mothers!) experience guilt unnecessarily. Guilt for things like:
- Saying no to someone or drawing a much-needed boundary
- Prioritising yourself
- Taking time to do something enjoyable
- Not spending every moment of every day attending to your children
- Eating the ‘wrong’ foods
- And more.
Unwarranted or excessive guilt is also a symptom of depression and post-traumatic stress, and can appear in anxiety too.
As an emotion, guilt is for when you do the wrong thing. It tries to make you feel uncomfortable enough to motivate you to do the ‘right’ thing instead, like make an apology, make amends, or change your behaviour. It’s pretty effective, except when the guilt is unjustified- when you aren’t doing anything wrong at all.
Women experience unjustified guilt more often as we are socialised to value and care for other people. We are socialised to value looking thin, to look young, to be passive, and to behave cautiously. So the moment you break an unwritten rule (e.g., Don’t hurt anyone’s feelings, even when they’re hurting yours!), it can feel like you’re doing the wrong thing. All the thoughts about what you ‘should’ be doing kick in, and the guilt can appear or even spiral, even when you logically know that you’re doing the right thing.
One way to overcome the unjustified guilt that so many women experience is through ‘Opposite Action’. You keep doing what makes you feel guilty over and over again, knowing that the guilt will weaken with time. Things like:
- Saying no
- Asking for help
- Taking time for yourself, whether that’s creating alone time or doing something enjoyable.
- Parenting ‘good enough’, rather than perfectly.
And yes, you’ll have thoughts about what you ‘should’ be doing instead.
Consider where rules these come from and if they’re actually valid.
(Would you apply that standard to anyone else? No? Then it just proves again that the guilt is unjustified).
P.S. Here’s a previous blog post about some of the judgements and unwritten rules that women come up against, and their impact. It’s not just guilt that you can experience!