For all of us guilt-prone women, feelings of discomfort are a close and constant companion. But unlike a close friend, guilt doesn’t feel great to hang out with.
For many years I felt guilty about everything!
I felt guilty for working and then guilty when I wasn’t working. I felt guilty for doing too much for people and not doing enough. I felt guilty for having my own needs, and when I’d do things to take care of myself. I felt guilty for not exercising and then guilty when my husband looked after the kids while I exercised.
After connecting with so many other women, it was comforting to know that I wasn’t alone and that guilt is a given in most women’s lives.
Why are there so many of us guilt-prone women?
Guilt is the emotion that results from being “other person focused.”
Guilt-prone women genuinely and deeply care about other people. Combining this beautiful, caring quality with the fact that we’re encouraged to believe we should put others first and have a deep desire not to be selfish, we’re creating the perfect storm for guilt to brew.
Guilt happens when we believe we either have or are about to do something wrong.
Since guilt is so common in women, you’d think we’d be experts at dealing with it, but unfortunately, we’re not.
How do we let go of guilt?
I don’t think we do let go of it. I believe we transform guilt into an emotion that fuels our growth and reclaims our authentic power. Trying to let go of guilt is like pushing on a rope. It doesn’t work. Or, at least, it hasn’t worked in my own life.
Transforming guilt, and using it as a source of wisdom, now that’s where the miracles happen.
To transform guilt, we have to look at it head-on and get a better understanding of the nature of our own guilt.
I find it helpful to divide the feelings of guilt into two categories: soul guilt and conditioned guilt. Soul guilt arises from our inner wisdom and fuels nourishing decisions. Conditioned guilt often spirals into sadness, depression, and shame.
Soul guilt is the guilt you experience when facing a decision that invites you to connect with your moral compass and values as a person. This type of guilt invites you to make a decision you know deep down feels “right” for you. For example, if you value being compassionate and a situation triggers a response that doesn’t align with your value, you’ll experience soul guilt.
This soul guilt or the anticipation that you’ll feel guilty if you behave or don’t behave in a certain way can be used as a source of inner wisdom, guiding you so that you won’t have any regrets. This guilt is healthy as it fuels us to align with our true selves and what we value.
On the other hand, conditioned guilt is not aligned with our true selves and weighs us down. It drains our energy and leaves us depressed and feeling lousy about ourselves.
Conditioned guilt creeps into our lives when we don’t love ourselves enough, and as a result, we act out of a need for approval. It is often associated with “I should.”
It stems from countless subconscious beliefs about what it means to be a “good” and “worthy” wife, employee, sister, friend, parent, and human being.
Conditioned guilt is toxic.
It is problematic in our lives because it hinders our ability to give ourselves permission to care for ourselves and nourish ourselves. It also robs others of learning to take responsibility for their lives and happiness.
How, then, can we navigate through the mind field of guilt?
Turn Towards Your Guilt
When you are experiencing guilt, turn towards it rather than trying to turn your back on it and avoiding, numbing, denying, or suppressing it.
Tend to your guilt as you tend to flowers in your garden – with attention, love and curiosity. Notice how it feels in your body and become curious about it. Does your guilt feel like anxiety, sadness, or something else? How intense is the feeling? How long does it last? What triggers it?
You’ll notice that the feeling often dissipates when you bring loving awareness.
Look For Meaning
Begin to investigate what this guilt means and what it is telling you. This is where it’s helpful to identify whether this is soul guilt, intended to ensure your actions are aligned with your values, or whether this is conditioned guilt that is destructive to your well-being.
As you look more deeply into the origin of your guilt, ask yourself: What action wants to emerge? Does the action arise from a feeling of what you “should” do or from a place of love and alignment with your deeper values?
Soul guilt arises from love, while conditioned guilt arises from fear.
Regardless of its source, it will not release its hold on you until you’ve used it to fuel your growth, expansion, and love. Or, in the case of conditioned guilt, you give in to the “should” and take action that leaves you feeling resentful or like you’ve compromised yourself in some way.
Take Inspired Action
If soul guilt arose because we didn’t act in alignment with what we value, we are meant to own it by taking steps to make amends and ask for forgiveness if that is required. We then take the next step and forgive ourselves. This is where the power and vibration shift from something destructive to healing and expansive, and the transformation of negative energy.
To transform conditioned guilt, we may need to seek help or talk with a friend to get some perspective.
It’s often about learning to set healthy boundaries, develop greater self-love, say no, and create space to nourish ourselves without feeling guilty.
The natural gift of guilt is that it creates an opportunity for us to bring subconscious beliefs into our awareness. Through awareness, we can transform our thoughts into ones that nourish ourselves and others.
Guilt-prone women can transform their guilt experience by agreeing that they will wrap their entire experience of guilt in a big, warm, loving blanket of self-compassion, NO MATTER WHAT. The last thing you need when feeling guilty, regardless of what triggered it, is to be hard on yourself and further amplify your guilt.
One of the most significant challenges of being a woman is transforming guilt from a destructive feeling that erodes your happiness to powerful energy that fuels you to step fully into your true self.
If you feel called, please leave a comment below. Our community would love to hear from you!
Thank you so much this has been very helpful. Although I learned much during my past years of Counselling and Psychotherapy, it’s invaluable to have a reminder such as yours and very clearly given.
Thanks so much for your feedback! I’m glad it was helpful.