If you asked me what one of the dominant feelings I have is day-to-day, I’d have to reply with “guilt”. Not joy. Or even stress. In fact, in the past few days alone I’ve felt guilty about hundreds of things. Big and small.
Guilty because of the 2-star rating I gave my Uber driving for being, well, a less than 2-star driver. (My guilt level after submitting the rating was a 5/5, FYI).
Guilty because I promised myself I’d try to exercise more this year and I’ve already failed.
Guilty because I’m missing a lovely friend’s hen’s this weekend because I have another social commitment.
It’s ridiculous. I know it is. Yet I can’t shake the feeling that personally, professionally and emotionally there’s always something more I could be doing and there’s always someone I’m letting down by not doing it. (Post continues after video.)
Dr Margo Orum, Principal Psychologist at Life Resolutions, says that rather than acting as a catalyst to drive us to improve ourselves, guilt actually leaves us worse off. Yeah, I can relate.
“Guilt is not a good motivator. It’s a human emotion that gives you a sense that you don’t like what you are doing or feeling or thinking. That can be handy feedback temporarily, but it’s better to make a decision that you are going to do something about it and not let the situation happen again, than to stay stuck in paralysing guilt,” Dr Orom explains.
And if you’re someone who’s grown up trying to please your teacher/parents/partner/friends/colleagues/barista, chances are you’ve found yourself in the guilt rabbit hole too.
Dr Libby Weaver explains in her book Rushing Woman’s Syndrome that this prevailing guilty feeling comes down to our rush to be appreciated and loved. (Post continues after gallery.)
“[We tell ourselves] that we aren’t tall enough, slim enough, pretty enough, brainy enough, on time enough. Because who we are is not enough, we spend our lives trying to please everyone around us, putting their needs ahead of our own. We rush around and do all we can to make sure that others love and appreciate us, so that we never ever have to feel rejected, ostracised, unlovable, criticised, yelled at, or like we’ve let others down.”
Talking to friends and colleagues recently has made this point as clear as if it were written on billboards and bus shelters everywhere I turn.
We’re all competing in the Guilt Olympics. And bragging about our training regimens, too.
“I feel utterly exhausted but I’ve got a dinner on with my old work friends that I don’t really see anymore. Should I cancel? I feel terrible, I’ve been stressing about it all day,” said one friend recently.
“I’m definitely getting the flu but work is so busy and I literally can’t take a sick day, I don’t know what to do,” says another snotty-sounding friend.
Our lives are overloaded with friend get-togethers, family commitments, time with our partners, work pressures, financial pressures, fitness goals and more. We know we’re probably going to bail on that dinner with old work friends or that gym session at the end of the day, but rather than accept that these things happen and move on, we decide to torture ourselves rotten about it.
Ludicrous, isn’t it?
“It can be an automatic response for many women, who value caring for others as a good thing (which indeed it can be), to jump to attend to others' needs first and not give their own needs equal or comparable importance,” explains Dr Odom.
“However it’s true that we need to give ourselves respect and equal treatment, just as if we are an adult or parent, looking after our own inner child.”
It’s a cliche, sure, but “treat yourself as you’d treat your best friend” is a handy adage when it comes to trying to curb guilt.
While it’s sadly a struggle, it’s time to put ourselves first. Numero uno. If you’re exhausted and emotionally drained because you’re trying to please everyone and do everything, you’ll start feeling guilty about not being happy enough.
And we can’t have that.
Do you often feel guilty?