I’ve been thinking a lot about guilt this week after attending Workfest 2016 a week last Saturday, where, as part of a panel discussion about ‘having it all’ Gaby Hinchcliff mentioned having a ‘guilt threshold’. At the time I thought it was a great phrase and over the week it bounced around in my brain (what we coaches call a ‘reverberating question’).
I initially thought about some of the things I am currently feeling guilty about:
- How much tv my eldest watches
- How often I’m glued to my computer
- How little we get outside
- How little time I spend with my partner
- What I am eating at the moment
- How little I exercise
And so the list goes on! I decided to put the question out into the community where I asked three questions:
- What do you feel guilty about?
- What (if anything) do you do about it?
- Where is your guilt threshold?
I got some wonderful responses:
“ I feel guilty when I have a ‘mum fail’ like when I only remember last minute that a form hasn’t been sent in or that shoes are suddenly way too small without me even noticing!”
“I feel guilty if I try to do other things when I know I have work to do.”
“ I feel guilty most frequently that the house is more of a mess, that I don’t always cook the best food, that I can’t afford everything for my daughter that others can and I feel guilty that I have/do let people down.”
“that I’m impatient with my 5 yo, I feel especially bad when I remember that his behaviour is completely normal and even his annoying behaviour is just him being a kid, and it’s me that has the problem.”
When it came to what to do about guilt the responses were similar, here are two that stood out for me:
“Well, I just reassure myself that most of the time I’m not doing so bad. Sometimes I believe myself.”
“I generally give myself a hard time for a while in my head but then stop and realise it’s not that big a deal, I just need to sort it not to take it as a sign that I am a terrible mother”
Question three seemed to stump people, with most saying they weren’t able to stop feeling guilty but this one resonated so much with me:
“My threshold for guilt is that I stop feeling guilty the moment someone tries to make me feel guilty and I start arguing the case for why I haven’t really done anything wrong!! Which just goes to show that I didn’t need to feel guilty in the first place because 99% of the time we (people in general that is) would never do anything that is deliberately hurtful or harmful or if we do, it is because it feels like the right decision at the time.”
I then received this one:
“I don’t do guilt. It’s such a waste of energy. If there is something I feel needs to change, I will work out the best way to change it and make it work a different way.”
These last two responses came in within minutes of each other in two different Facebook groups I am part of and they stopped me in my tracks. I took some time to reflect and for me, these two insights really hit the nail on the head. When we become conscious of whatever it is we’re feeling guilty about we make a decision – either it’s not important and so not worth feeling guilty about or it is and we do something about it, like change it.
Over the next few days I reflected some more and thought about some of the things I feel guilty about, many of them were insignificant and so didn’t warrant a feeling of guilt and some require a change, a change in my routine or perhaps in thought.
Guilt is a feeling, no more, no less and so changing our mindset can be beneficial. Many of the examples of what people feel guilty about comes from the ‘should’ factor i.e. I ‘should’ have a clean house AND a clean child; I ‘should’ eat better; I ‘should’ be more patient. These are coming from us, from our own perceptions of what others may think and are not the same as when we feel guilty for hurting someone else. ‘Should’ is a powerful word but it is possible to overcome it. Here are three things you can do to help shift your mindset and remove that guilty feeling:
- Forgive yourself. No-one is perfect and we all make mistakes, realise you are doing the best you can with the information you have right now (a mantra of mine!) – We can only learn from the past, we can’t change it so instead of getting caught up with ‘I should’ and judging yourself critically instead try challenging the thought itself – where have they come from? How could you think about it in a different way?
- Ask yourself “will this matter in 12 months time?” If the answer is no then you needn’t feel guilty about it. (Particularly useful when weighing up doing the cleaning vs going to have some quality time with someone you love). If the answer is yes then ask yourself “what are you going to do about it?” (deliberately ask in the second person as it helps your brain process the question without dodging it!)
- Practice kindness, particularly to yourself. Using mindfulness meditation or positive affirmations daily can help you give some quality time to yourself as well as improving resilience and changing your mindset to a more positive one.
I would love to know if this helps you in any way so feel free to comment below.