How much of your time do you spend feeling guilty? Guilt seems to play such a part in how we feel as women, we feel guilt for the things we’ve done or haven’t done and we constantly beat ourselves up for these things.
As we go through the menopause and our hormones change a lot of women report feeling less focused on others needs and more on their own. This article “Confessions of a Menopausal Mother” sums it up perfectly as her family have to come to terms with their Mum saying “I’m not available”.
This change in how we feel can be coupled with immense feelings of guilt. As women we often spend a lot of our time focusing on everyone else. Menopause is often a wake up call to say No! I need to focus on me. It can feel like we’re being selfish but it is ok!
What do you feel guilty about?
I’m not talking about “big” guilt for the big things in life – that’s a whole other topic where forgiving yourself and facing up to things plays a major part. Here I’ve tried to really focus on the types of things we feel guilty about on a daily or even hourly basis. I’ve created a typical morning based on conversations with a variety of clients:
“Wake up at 7am. I should have got up earlier to go for a run. I get dressed, there’s still a bag of clothes I’ve not taken to the charity shop. I wake up the kids, they should have gone to bed earlier as they’re now grumpy. One of them asks where their clean shirt is, I’ve not put the clothes away so it’s not in their room. I make breakfast but there are no eggs or milk left so no-one has what they want including me. I see a missed call from my Dad and think I must call today and see them but the whole week is packed. I look at my phone and see 2/3 messages I haven’t replied to and feel like a bad friend. We’re now running late for school and work so I end up shouting at the kids to make sure they get the bus on time …” And to many of us this is an example of an alright kind of morning.
So it’s not even 9am and how much guilt have you faced already?
So what is guilt?
Guilt is, first and foremost, an emotion. You may think of guilt as a good way to get someone to do something for you out of a sense of obligation. Guilt is not a very good motivator. It’s more accurate to think of guilt as an internal state. In the overall scheme of emotions, guilt is in the general category of negative feeling states. It’s one of the “sad” emotions, which also include agony, grief, and loneliness, according to one comprehensive framework (Fischer, Shaver, & Carnochan, 1990).
We often experience guilt because we’re convinced we’ve caused harm. In cognitive theory, the guilt of emotion follows directly from the thought that you are responsible for someone else’s misfortune, whether or not this is the case. We looked at cognitive distortions recently and guilt can often be caused by mental processes like catastrophising (making the very worst of a bad situation) or overgeneralising (believing that if one bad thing happened, many more must have as well).
According to a recent poll, these are the things we are most likely to feel guilty for:
- Giving in to a craving
- Not calling family and friends often enough
- When you fail to stick to your healthy eating plan,
- Not going to the gym
- Wishing you’d listened to your own advice
- Leaving a pet at home
- Hitting your snooze button every morning
- Staying in your pyjamas all day on the weekend
- Not recycling
- Pretending you’re working when you’re actually watching something on your computer
- Booking a holiday on your credit card
- Getting a cleaner instead of doing it yourself
- Not finishing a book
- Checking emails while you read with your children, affecting mothers twice as much as it does dads
- Getting a taxi instead of walking or getting public transport
- Ignoring friend requests on social media
- Not using your juicer
- Hiding your online shopping delivery before your partner gets home
- Exchanging unwanted Christmas gifts
Which ones resonate with you? Some you may think you’d never feel guilty for – guilt is a very personal feeling.
What struck me most about this list is I know I’m guilty of feeling this for some of these but if a friend told me any of these I’d say she shouldn’t feel guilty at all. We’re back to that thing of us being so much harder on ourselves and giving ourselves a hard time.
How do you lose the guilt?
Personality and Behaviour Psychologist Donna Dawson suggests asking yourself the following questions:
- Have I hurt anyone?
- Is this a situation that I can’t rectify?
- Have I done permanent harm to my body?
- Will someone be emotionally scarred by what I’ve just done?
- Have I inconvenienced anyone and, if so, should my needs come first?
A few other tips:
- Should you feel guilty about what you’ve done/haven’t done? If so what do you need to do to fix it?
- Recognise unhealthy/unproductive guilt – this is guilt about things out of your control that don’t serve you and make you feel bad
- Identify what you feel guilty about – make a list and be honest with yourself
- If guilt is an issue for you, try writing it down – journaling can be a really useful tool
- Apologise if necessary
- Reflect on the situation – how can you prevent it from happening again. This is particularly true with guilt around food. We spend so much time focusing on what we shouldn’t have eaten when that energy would be better spent focusing on how do we nourish our body better going forwards. Let go of the guilt!
Guilt is a normal emotion but when it is misplaced or constant it can cause us problems.
Something that we feel bad about is augmented by feeling guilt about it, this cycle of negative emotion can leave us feeling exhausted.
Something that makes us feel good, the joy can be lost if we let guilt take over.
Guilt and Menopause
Menopause is a time where we need to look after ourselves, this may mean prioritising our needs above others. Many women have reported that as they move through the menopause they actually let go of a lot of guilt they’ve held on to. This is a time in our lives we need to let go of the things and feeling that don’t serve us and guilt is one of those feelings.
Our minds are so powerful and it is so important we try and keep them positive. Guilt is a very negative emotion so if we spend a lot of time with this feeling we will feel worse. Negative emotions can have a huge impact on how we feel both mentally and physically and we all want to feel stronger, healthier and happier.
The next time you feel guilty about something, take a deep breath and stop beating yourself up. Instead, say something like, “I made a mistake, but that does not make me a bad person.”