Have you ever wanted to eliminate the feelings of guilt you carry around as a parent?
When my daughter was born, I spent the first 12 months of her life racked with feelings of guilt and inadequacies. Was I looking after her well enough? Was she healthy? Was she happy? Would she be OK if I went off and studied one day a week or I left her with my mother in law for a couple of hours while I got my haircut. It completely consumed me and left me exhausted and doubting my abilities.
When my daughter turned one, I felt a shift in me. I looked at her, she was happy and healthy. She slept and ate (pretty) well and I decided that I must be doing something right. I made the decision then and there that these feelings of guilt needed to go. They weren’t serving me as a parent in any helpful way and just getting in the way of me enjoying being a mom. So I let them go. I followed the 3 step process I’m outlining in this article and as the hours and days went by, the guilt disappeared and I felt so much better. Since that day, I’ve been really keen to show other parent’s how to let go of feelings of guilt.
What is Guilt?
Guilt seems to get in the way of us living our lives and stops us becoming the people and parents we’d like to be. What purpose does the feeling of guilt serve? Perhaps it lets us know if we’ve done something wrong. Wouldn’t it be far more useful to simply reflect on the experience and accept the decision we have made?
Guilt that is not worked through or reflected upon can turn to shame where we see ourselves as somehow faulty. We don’t have to be perfect, in fact there is no such thing. We need to see ourselves as humans, with all our gifts, wisdom and strengths
I know we’ve all looked at other people and thought they had all the answers or seemed to be so much calmer, organised or more with it but they aren’t you and I’m sure if you spoke to them they would admit they don’t get it right all the time.
So my invitation is to stop and breathe and know that you are acceptable and lovable as you are. Take a moment to reflect upon these questions
- What would my life be like if you were able to let go of the guilty feelings?
- Do you think you could be more present to your to yourself and others if you let go of guilt?
- Do you think you could find more compassion for yourself and let it go?
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, but guilt is not a very good motivator. It’s more accurate to think of guilt as an internal state. Guilt is an emotion that people experience because they’re convinced they’ve caused harm. These thoughts then cause the emotions. 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.
People who experience guilt on a chronic basis mistakenly suffer under the illusion that they have caused other people harm. Their negative emotion follows from their tendency to misinterpret what happens to them and not to question the logic of their conclusions.
Becoming aware of guilty feelings
Awareness: The first step is awareness. How often do guilty thoughts enter your mind? Spend today, simply noticing when they arise. Initially, don’t attempt to change the thought, just become aware of it. See if you are able to identify when these thoughts become more common. Is it when you grab an unhealthy snack on the run or skip the gym? Is it at night when you are relaxing and beating yourself up about all the things you should be doing? If you like to keep notes or a journal, go ahead and jot down when these feelings arise.
Choose a different path
Once, you’ve become aware of these feelings, then you can address them. If you feel yourself having guilty thoughts, then calmly thank the guilt for showing up and listen to its view. This is an important step, if you don’t acknowledge the feeling it will persist and just get louder.
Then choose another thought to replace it. For example if you start feeling guilt about grabbing an unhealthy snack, simply ask yourself if there might be a better choice for you. This will get your mind thinking about possibilities. Are there healthy snacks you love to make? Could you make a batch on the weekend for the week or could you buy some healthier alternatives to have on hand.
If you find yourself getting upset or yelling at the children or the partner, take moment, pause and remind yourself that there may be other ways to deal with this. Brainstorm ideas, such as taking a deep breath and counting to 10 or walking away for a moment to centre yourself. You might like to use affirmations “I’m a loving parent and next time I get upset, I will find a more loving approach.” I’d love you to try having a guilt free day or even begin with something smaller, say an hour and build up to a whole day.
Every habit takes a while to break. If you get through an hour, wonderful, try a day then a week. I invite you to gather some support from a friend or family member. When we have some support and accountability we also do better breaking habits.