Do you make decisions in your life based upon your best interests?
Or do you sometimes make decisions that are not in your best interest due to feelings of guilt that may arise?
For example, let’s say a friend asks for help after work with her resume. But you’ve had a busy work load and haven’t been able to work out lately. So you had previously planned to take your favorite spin class and take a little time to take care of yourself after work. But instead you say yes to your friend because you would feel guilty if you didn’t help her.
To avoid feelings of guilt, we may choose to self-sacrifice, as laid out in the example above. To act out of obligation. To imprison ourselves with people-pleasing and worry that we might make someone feel bad or perhaps even feel negatively toward us.
In allowing guilt to guide us, we allow the needs and expectations of others to dominate the choices we make in our lives.
We sabotage our practice of self-love.
In this post, I share the three-step process I use when I’m faced with a choice that could evoke feelings of guilt. This process helps me determine what I want without being unduly influenced or derailed by guilt.
What is Guilt Anyway?
Did you know that most men do not suffer from feelings of guilt the same way women do? That’s right! I found this incredibly eye-opening when I first began researching this topic.
Research shows that men tend to experience feelings of guilt when they eat or drink too much, while women worry far more about hurting others, and then turn their guilt and shame into anger at themselves.
When we feel guilty, we judge that something we have done (or are thinking of doing) is wrong or bad. We see it as an indication that we are going against our moral code.
But, more often, what I’ve learned from experts in the field of Psychology, we feel guilt when we go against a programmed belief, behavior, or conditioned social or gender expectation. Especially for women, feelings of guilt can arise when we change (or think of changing) a behavior pattern.
Let me break down this example that I often hear from other women: “I feel guilty when I take time to do something positive for myself.”
– Many of us were taught that putting ourselves first is selfish and that this is not how “nice girls” act
(this is societal/gender programming)
– We have believed this idea for most of our lives (we have not challenged this societal/gender norm)
– The first time we prioritize ourselves before others in our lives, we feel guilty (we are going against a programmed belief, behavior, or conditioned societal/gender expectation).
We may feel guilty when we choose to spend our time, effort, and money how we want – instead of using these resources in the ways that others want or to please or take care of others.
We can make one of two choices in this situation:
1. Allow the guilt to guide our behavior. Option 1 keeps us stuck in our programmed lanes. We will make decisions about our resources based on what others want, what we fear they will think or say, and what we have been conditioned to do – even though it’s not what WE want to do. We default to our conditioning. We abandon our needs and desires. We sabotage our self-love.
2. Practice self-love. Option 2 gives us permission to prioritize our needs and wants in how we spend our time, energy and resources. This is pretty straightforward, though it does take practice.
I urge you to not choose Option 1. Guilt is fabricated inside the mind, and it can keep you stuck in self-sacrificing and people-pleasing patterns.
Instead, I strongly encourage you to practice self-love. Choose Option 2.
I can hear your inner voice saying, “But Jenna, I have responsibilities. I have people who depend on me. If I choose Option 2, it feels selfish!”
I understand this. I often share that practicing self-love can feel uncomfortable and even painful on occasion. It is going to feel very uncomfortable at first. But if you want to transform your life into one that is filled with more joy, more peace, more happiness and more success, you will have to push through these feelings of discomfort.
How Do I Let Go of Feelings of Guilt?
Guilt can sabotage our practice of self-love. How can we lessen or eliminate the impact of guilt in our lives when we choose to prioritize our needs?
1. Respond, don’t react. When faced with a choice, I try to give myself time and space to make a smart, considered decision. Example: A friend asks me a favor that I’m not sure I can or want to do it. So, to think about my response, I buy time by asking to let her know later.
2. Trust your intuition. I tune in to my gut feeling about the situation. What is it telling me? Am I feeling happiness or discomfort? Do I really want to help this friend with her request? Maybe yes, maybe no. I rely upon my intuition to guide me to my answer.
3. Acknowledge feelings of guilt, but do not allow them to decide for you. If feelings of guilt come into play with a decision I will make, I observe those feelings of guilt and I ponder it. What is causing me to feel this way? Is it a rational reason? I acknowledge that, if permitted, the guilt might lead me to a different decision from what my intuition is telling me. I then tune back into my intuition again to aid in my decision.
I explore topics such as the many saboteurs of self-love in my book, “I Love Me More: How to Find Happiness and Success Through Self-Love”. In this book, I share many lessons that I have learned on my journey from self-loathing to self-love.