As I said goodbye to my daughter and little grandson yesterday, I felt a nagging pang of guilt. It was strong, almost overwhelming. To the point that I nearly rang her and asked her if she was okay.
Why? It had been a lovely day, they had been at the house with me all day and we had enjoyed a warm-hearted, fun afternoon. My grandson delighted me as always. We’d shared a home-cooked dinner and laughs like a mother and daughter do. So why did I feel so guilty?
Because, in the late afternoon, I said that I would need to do some work, with no insistence or stern tone of voice. My daughter had very gently replied that it was time for her little boy’s bath, and so they went… maybe an hour earlier than they might normally have left.
And then they were gone. In the silence, left to get on with my work, I felt a gnawing guilt from gently nudging them out the door so I could work for a couple of hours in peace.
Does this sound familiar to you?
I sat for a while and revisited the lovely day we’d had. I’ve been there for them so much, and I always will. I love to help her. Slowly, over time, the guilt started to evaporate away, and I got on with my work with a happy sense of entitlement to do so.
When I later reflected on my reaction, I realised there was another feeling mixed in with that emotion. It was almost like loss… and then it struck me that it was just that. Loss of my role. As a mother and a carer, needed and necessary with a job to do.
But now it was just me, at the keyboard, just working for myself, for my own benefit. The feeling is so unfamiliar when you’re happy to give a lot to others, that giving to yourself is actually stepping wa-ay outside your comfort zone.
Guilt is one of the denser, heavier emotions, in that it doesn’t serve you or others at all to feel it. Its only use in evolutionary terms is to make sure that when you do something bad, you don’t do it again! It has a negative impact on your life and your thinking.
It’s much easier to be in that comfortable role of giving to others, and not ‘taking’ for yourself. That way you don’t have to start thinking about what your own needs really are. Because this may involve negotiation, or some form of assertion. Even asking for what you want can be daunting to one who finds it just plain easier to ‘go with the flow’. If we’re not careful, it can become a very convenient excuse for not getting on with your own life.
“I feel so guilty” can almost sound like a noble sacrifice, can’t it?
Taking control over the guilt
So how do we prevent guilt from becoming the driving force? How do we stop it from becoming an invisible brick wall keeping you in your comfort zone and stopping you from fulfilling your own dreams and destiny? You could go on forever in that mild discomfort zone, living through the achievements of others, and never really know what it feels like to smash through it and experience the exhilaration of freedom that lies on the other side.
There are five golden rules that will open a gap in that wall, leading you onto the path of your own dreams:
1 Being a little bit selfish. It’s not about taking more than your fair share, it’s taking exactly your fair share – no more, no less. You have permission to do this, as much as you recognise that others have permission, too. Imagine it was one of your loved ones asking for what they need… you would give it in a heartbeat.
2 Forgiving yourself. Yes, really! Because when we don’t prioritise our own needs, we send the message to ourselves that we’re not worth it.
Forgiveness will help you gently let go of the feeling that you’ve given too much to others and denied yourself the chance to shine. Take some time out to sit with any resentment you may have from the past. Where does it come from? Gently tell yourself that you are forgiven… in fact, there’s nothing to forgive.
3 Taking a look at the bigger picture. Australian nurse Bronnie Ware wrote a book called The Top Five Regrets of the Dying. Based on her experiences working in end-of-life care, she saw a recurring theme. The top regret her patients had in their lives was not being true to themselves.
At the end of the day, this is your life, and your loved ones are part of the journey. Try this simple visioning exercise… go forward 10 years and imagine the happiest you possible, content, fulfilled and living a wonderful life. What have you done for yourself over that 10 years that has made you so happy now? Conversely, you could go forward to a time imagining you hadn’t had the courage to step outside your comfort zone. How cheated would you feel? What delights would you have missed out on?
Regret is a terrible thing, so don’t set yourself up for it.
4 Remembering that a little bit of pain means a lot of gain. It’s a natural reaction to run away from painful emotions and reactions, an impulsive response but one we can change if we choose. When you feel the discomfort of the old default emotions around guilt, just notice that is what is happening right now. No need to act on it, just observe how it feels. It’s amazing how quickly that emotion ‘transmutes’ into a positive state. Merely sitting with it will allow you the natural insight to begin to let it go, leaving behind a stronger sense of what’s really driving you, and how to tackle it.
5 Listening to your gut instincts. That little insistent voice… it never gives up. You’re dying to learn a new language, or write a book, learn to knit – and if the voice keeps coming back, it’s your intuition talking.
We’re all given an amazing set of our own unique tools, and it is our destiny, our right, our duty to begin to learn to use them, to delight in our accomplishments, to achieve our own dreams and goals that we set for ourselves.