Getting to grips with guilt

A pink square, divided in half horizontally. To the left a photo of a dark haired woman sitting cross legged in a glass cage, her back to the camera (photo courtesy of Hybrid on Unsplash); to the right a bright pink shape featuring the words "getting to grips with guilt" and the logo and web address for Ceryn Rowntree

Guilt seems to have been the word of the month recently, I’ve heard SO many people talk at length about just how guilty they’re feeling. But let’s talk about that, because guilt is not a feeling.

I know, you’re furrowing your brow and looking slightly baffled right now, but think about it.

Yes you might feel sad, angry, frustrated or afraid (so often it’s that last one), but guilty?

That’s not actually a feeling in itself.

Guilt? Well that’s just the belief that’s brought about whatever you’re feeling; a belief based on something you think you “should” be doing.

But here’s the thing about shoulds... they’re often not real.

  • “I should be working harder but I’m just so tired.”

  • “I should be spending more time with my friends.”

  • “You should be saving more money.”

  • “I should be .....

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How many of those can you tick off? And how many other shoulds do you hear from yourself and the outside world day after day which leave you feeling churned up, less than enough and generally bloody shitty?

For me the answer used to be loads. Time after time over the years I’d have conversations with professionals or very perceptive friends who would comment on how often I used the word guilty.

And I’m not even Catholic (wink, sorry Catholics!)!

The guilt came from listening to all of the things society had told me over the years, and from my belief that I wasn’t enough and never would be unless I ticked every one of those boxes.

Then a little while ago, something changed... I came a big realisation that I was enough.

And with that came the acceptance that I could make my own rules.

Now obviously with that I’m not talking about the big rules of society... I’m not suggesting we go out and kill someone or steal things here; but I do think there are some rules that can be broken.

No matter what our culture of instant gratification tells us we don’t have to reply to messages straight away.

Regardless of how long they’ve been in your life there’s no must when it comes to continuing a friendship that no longer feels right to you.

And while of course looking after yourself and staying fit and healthy is important, there’s really no need to sweat it out in a gym if that isn’t something you enjoy.

The rules I try to follow instead? They’re a lot more flexible...

  • They mean following the choices that allow me to fill myself and my energies up in the best way.

  • They mean allowing myself to miss deadlines or cancel plans if they really don’t feel right for me.

  • And they mean seeking out balance in everything I do - putting a focus on that and on swinging the pendulum back to centre rather than forcing myself to push fully to one side or the other.

And of course each of those rules, and all the others I’ve imposed on myself are OK to be broken too... because there’s no need to feel guilty about the things I do and don’t do.

Don’t get me wrong, there are still times I feel bad - when this lactose intolerant lady falls off the wagon and has a bar of chocolate from time to time it doesn’t exactly feel great. But the difference now is that I no longer recognise that feeling as guilt, or beat myself up about it; I feel a bit silly for having done something that makes me feel physically ill, accept it as a reminder of why I don’t usually dairy, and move on.

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I know so many people who spend their time consumed by guilt without ever stepping back to unpack that word and where those feelings comes from... So many in fact that I’ve come to the conclusion guilt is one of the most widespread plagues of the patriarchal way of life.

But when we’re sick, we look for the cure... and in this case that means sitting with our guilt, listening to the true feelings underneath it, and then working to understand those feelings.

Oh, and it also means giving a big two fingers to the shoulds and musts we’ve come to think of as real simply because society likes to throw around like confetti; something that personally, I’m more than happy to do!

#selflove #healing #mentalhealth #counselling #fear