Guilt has been on my mind lately. We are all plagued by it in one way or another, but do you feel like guilt is playing too large a role in your life?
Do these scenario’s hit a chord?
A friend asks you to an event for a cause that she supports. You feel guilty saying no, so you go even though you would rather be doing something—anything—else.
You are in a conversation with a girlfriend and make a negative comment about a mutual friend. Later you are wracked with guilt about how the remark was taken and what the person you were speaking to might think.
You miss a family get together because you have had a different party on your calendar for months. You feel tremendous guilt for not being with your family.
Your son has a baseball tournament at the same time you have planned a spa day. You feel so guilty for not being with the team that you aren’t able to fully enjoy your day of relaxation.
Do these sound familiar? Of course they do. We have all been there. Some of us spend too much time in this place, always feeling bad or uncomfortable about situations. Always feeling like we have not lived up to expectation.
Because that is what this feeling is about. Expectation: an unwritten rule inside ourselves that says we are supposed to do all these things; a rule that says we have to be all things to all loved ones. Even though, realistically, we know that this is impossible.
In her book Sacred Choices, (which I can’t recommend highly enough) author Cristel Nani identifies two kinds of guilt. She defines true guilt (or what she calls sacred guilt) as when you have taken a life or betrayed someone. Healing from sacred guilt is deeply personal and not our subject today.
What most of us call guilt, is not guilt at all. It is the uncomfortable feeling we get when a battle rages inside us between what we think we are supposed to do and what we want to do.
It really is that simple. But so many of us have been brought up to be “good girls” that we end up denying ourselves what we want for what we feel obligated to. Or on the flip side, we choose what we want and then feel crazy guilty about it.
I am not saying that certain obligations don’t play a role from time to time. Of course they do. But if you are living with constant “guilt” as we have just defined it, you are not listening to your true nature. You are living life on other people’s terms. This will always lead to dissatisfaction and a life not lived to its fullest potential.
The reason we are wracked with this “guilt” is often because of things we were taught as children. What Nani calls tribal beliefs. These are beliefs taught to us by our families, teachers, coaches and clergy that we have taken to be facts. We take these beliefs on without examining whether they are true or fit into our lives. We act upon them as though they are law.
From the examples above, these might be the underlying tribal beliefs:
A good friend is always supportive.
A good person never makes a negative remark about someone not present.
A good daughter always attends family events.
A good mother always watches her child’s sporting events.
The way out of this “guilt” is to rewrite our beliefs. Sometimes the rewrite is easy and obvious, but other times it is tremendously difficult. In fact, sometimes people are willing to go to their grave before they go against their tribal beliefs. The example that comes to mind is people who refuse to leave a bad marriage because of the underlying belief that marriage is forever, no matter what.
A gentle way that Nani suggests rewriting your belief is to use the words “It is reasonable to believe”. This is a way for our subconscious to deal with a new way of looking at things. So even when your gut reaction screams “no!” you can look at it from a detached perspective and think “maybe”. So for the above, it could be:
It is reasonable to believe that a good friend can be supportive without attending every function that they are invited to.
It is reasonable to believe that a good person can make a negative remark about someone not present if the remark is true and made without malice.
It is reasonable to believe that a good daughter can miss a family get together.
It is reasonable to believe that a good mother can take care of her own needs without damaging her children.
In her book, Nani addresses tribal beliefs around love, friendship, marriage, money, career, families and health among many others. She clearly points out the beliefs that are holding us back and causing us to feel torn so much of the time.
The biggest a-ha I had about my own tribal beliefs and what was causing me unhappiness was my belief that:
A good mother always helps her children.
A good mother raises happy children.
A good mother can motivate her children to change.
What I have rewritten is this:
It is reasonable to believe that a good mother sets boundaries.
It is reasonable to believe that a good mother sometimes raises children who choose to be unhappy.
It is reasonable to believe that a good mother shows that change is possible by changing her own life.
Rewriting those beliefs and taking the pressure off myself has been HUGE. Until I examined it I didn’t understand why I always felt so horrible when my children were unhappy and not choosing to change. Intellectually I knew that I couldn’t make the choices and change for them, but a deeper part of me felt responsible.
This was my tribal belief talking and when I examined it I realized that it simply wasn’t true. I now see it differently and don’t always feel that it is my fault or my responsibility to fix things when my kids are in a low spot.
So what about you? Do you recognize that your tribal beliefs may be holding you back? In what part of your life is guilt running the show? Are you ready to have that be different?
Leave a comment below and tell me where you see this showing up in your life.