Guilt. We all live with it, coming in and out of our lives regularly. Shaking us down and saying “Well hey there, what are you doing? Are you sure that’s actually a good idea?”
Is it an important part of our experience or an emotion that is blocking our ability to live fully?
A dear friend of mine, who holds together her family of four kids and her busy working husband while the restlessness of her own dreams stir, is visited by guilt often. She felt guilty when she couldn’t take her kids to the beach because she had to pick up something for her husband, guilty when she couldn’t get the house clean because she was out with the kids, guilty when she didn’t feel like having sex with her husband, guilty for working, guilty for not working, guilty whenever she would take time away from your family to nurture her self. I tell you about my dear friend, because so many of us have been through something like this, in one-way or another.
So is guilt friend or foe?
Some researchers say it is positive, that it motivates us to change our situation and that it can reduces depressive symptoms. Yet other researchers say that it is a reflection of our own inner pain. So what is it for you? What role does guilt play in your life? Friendly angel on your right shoulder guiding you gently? Or little demon on your left shoulder that limits who you can be?
Here are 3 questions to explore guilt in your life:
1. What are your expectations of yourself?
Do you expect to always be a calm mother, a passionate lover, a wise helper, a skilled provider, a fun playmate and a responsible leader all wrapped up in one, or some combination of this? I often see mums battling with the guilt of not being able to do it all. Maybe you can’t do it all and be all things to all people all the time. And that is really ok.
If this rings true to you, you may like to look at what you are asking of yourself and assess how realistic it actually is.
2. Check in with your priorities
“Mum I need a drink!”
“Can you help me with my homework?”
Requests fly as you stir the pot on the stove, steam swirling and vegies sizzling.
“Mum can you paint my nails?”
“Where are my socks?”
There are a lot of times in your day where there are more demands on you than what you can possibly do. You only have two hands, but sometimes it feels like you need six. Over time us mums all develop our way of prioritising what needs to happen in that moment. One pattern I often see is mums tend to put themselves lower down on that list of priorities. And when they put themselves first, there is a huge surge of guilt.
What does your priority list look like?
What priorities trigger guilt for you?
3. Whose responsibility is it?
I remember taking time out for myself when my girls were little and going to one day of yoga. I felt really nourished and glowing at the end of the day. When I got home, my partner was feeling annoyed and frustrated. I remember taking that on and then feeling guilty about taking the day out for myself.
This is the one the really gets me. When guilt sneaks in the moment we take on the responsibility for how others feel. I wasn’t feeling guilty for taking time out for me, I felt guilty that he felt frustrated by his experience of the day. They were his feeling not mine but I made the choice to take them on and then feel guilty about them.
If this is something that happens for you, guilt can be an important trigger to see when you have overstepped your responsibility. When you have taken responsibility for how another people feels.
Next time guilt flares up in your life, that gritty heavy feeling, you may like to ask yourself:
What was I expecting of myself?
What was I putting as a priority?
Was it my responsibility?
Guilt is part of the juggle that we all have to maintain throughout life.
When you became a mother, you didn’t stop being all the other parts of who you are. You didn’t change to become just a mother, rather, you expanded who you are. Learning how to integrate all of that is a struggle. Exploring your relationship with guilt is a powerful way to discover more of the unique woman and mother that you are.
Please visit www.connectful.me/ to read more about developing your relationship with yourself.