I’m writing out the marketing materials for some talks I’ll be giving in London soon to businesses called “Lunch and Learn” bite sized talks for 45 minutes on a wide range of topics as parenting is such a vast subject isn’t it, and one of the many that I cover is, “GUILT – The “BIG G” and gremlin of parenting !
I’ve lost times how many times I’ve worked with Mums in particular about their overwhelming feelings of guilt – whether they are working Mums, stay at home Mums or part -time Mums . Women seem to be programmed with it and it just holds us all back, keeps us stuck and is really anger turned in on ourselves as we find it difficult to ask for help, delegate parenting jobs or share our needs with others. It’s also about wanting to be a perfect parent – who only exists in Hollywood film I’m afraid !
I remember when my mum was ill in hospital with emphysema a few years ago and no matter how many times I went all the way to the Mayday Hospital during a week – it never seemed to be enough and if I brought her prawn sandwiches she would want cheese – and if I brought cheese she would want prawn . I could never seem to please her and I felt enormously guilty about how much time I spent with her, how many times I went and how I never felt I did enough and then I battled feeling guilty about leaving the kids to do their homework without me, rushing back to prepare my lessons for the next day as I was Deputy Head and class teacher too at the time.
I felt torn and pulled into many pieces and I felt guilty no matter how hard I tried to do what was “right” for everyone.
So I know first hand all about the feelings of guilt!
So what is guilt?
Guilt is often a message from within that you have violated your own high standards or others try to make you feel guilty as they may want to have a hold over you even unconsciously.
I work with many parents who suffer from what I call “The BIG G” the gremlin of GUILT and it can come from working parents feeling guilty about their work- life balance, to parents feeling guilty about losing their temper, not playing enough with their kids, to feeling guilty about not spending enough time with their partner, their elderly mother, or feeling guilty about being separated or divorced or having to leave work at 5.00 instead of 5.30 to pick up their child from After School Care.
The list is endless.
Guilty feelings can come from within or be handed down to you from parents, teachers or people of influence when you were young or can come from lack of self esteem or from controlling partners or ex’s –
Guilty feelings can also be tied up to feelings of remorse, regret and feelings of responsibility for others, or for situations that you find yourself in.
Guilt is also a feeling of struggling with what you “should,” “ought” and must” do and it feels like a battle between what you “want to do” or “what you’d like to do” or “what you’d like to choose to do”.
The feelings of guilt, regret and remorse are among some of the strongest and most powerful emotions that we most want to avoid as they are so painful. They keep us stuck, keep us trapped and keep us eddying around feeling like a victim because they are so negative.
Guilt can make you become over responsible, striving to make life “right” for everyone and can make you feel exhausted and overwhelmed.
It can make your resentful, frustrated and helpless and can lead to depression, drinking too much or to great anger or rage.
It’s also sometimes about not feeling worthy or deserving enough and can lead to being a martyr.
Whatever brings up feelings of guilt for you – it keeps you stuck, disempowered and blocked and it often won’t go away by itself – it just grows, and gets stronger and can mislead or misdirect you about moving forward in your life.
Often underneath the feelings of guilt are irrational limiting beliefs that need to be shifted – things like:
I don’t deserve to be happy.
I am responsible for my family’s (spouse’s) happiness.
There is only one “right” way to do things.
My children should never suffer in their childhood like I did in mine.
My kids should have more material things than I did.
It is my fault if others in my life are not happy.
If my kids fail in any way, it’s my responsibility.
It is wrong to be concerned about myself.
People are constantly judging and criticising me and what they think is important to me.
No matter what I do, I am always wrong.
Some parents suppress it, some wallow in it and stay helpless and stuck, and some use it as a huge level for positive change.
Here are my suggested steps to overcome guilt.
• Acknowledge that you have it
• Take control and don’t keep going over and over it again and again inside your head -let it go. Go for a walk, bang a pillow, scream in the garden, hit a round of golf and get it out of your body once and for all
• Don’t allow it to turn into feelings of inadequacy.
Grab a piece of paper and a pen and just reflect on the role guilt is playing in your life at the moment by choosing a current problem and answering the following questions:
• What problem is currently troubling me?
• Who is responsible for the problem?
• Whose problem is it, really?
• What have I done to make this problem worse for myself?
• How much guilt do I feel about this problem on a scale of 1- 10? ( 10 being the highest)
• How much does the guilt I experience exaggerate or exacerbate my problem?
• If I felt no more guilt what would my problem look like then?
Now just relax and breath deeply and slowly and imagine I have just waved a magic wand and made the feelings of guilt disappear. What do you see now, hear now, and feel now?
Now just ask your unconscious what small change you need to make to feel more in control of your life this week.
• Ask yourself does this problem have more than one solution?
• Do I just need to express my frustration and ask for support, help or a helping hand ?
• Whose problem is it, really?
• Is it my problem or actually someone else’s?
• Am I taking on another’s responsibility and not allowing them to experience being independent ?
• Am I trying to keep another from experiencing pain, hardship or discomfort?
If you discover that the problem is really someone else’s, give the problem back to the person to solve and to deal with. It’s not your responsibility.
Now imagine that “guilt” as an object that you can take out of your body and can package up in a lovely box. Give it a colour, texture and feeling and now imagine climbing to the highest mountain you can find and throwing it off a cliff for good.
Feel lighter? Good – now every morning and evening just before you brush your teeth – look in the mirror and say some positive affirmations to yourself regularly to build your confidence and empowering muscles and say things like:
I am grounded, centred, positive and happy with myself
I make good decisions for the highest good of everyone – including myself
I deserve to solve this problem positively
I deserve to be kind and forgiving of myself.
I deserve to do my best and feel good about my decisions
I deserve to have other people be good to you, too!
If you learn to see guilt as a way to help you towards making changes in your life – then it has a positive intention. Guilt is there to allow you to learn from your mistakes, to take control of your life and to help you keep up to the standards and values that you have set for yourself in life.
So master its message and move forward driving forward in your life – not looking back in the rear view mirror.
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About the author
Sue Atkins is a Parenting Expert who offers practical guidance for bringing up happy, confident, well behaved children. She is also the author of “Raising Happy Children for Dummies” one in the famous black and yellow series published worldwide and the highly acclaimed Parenting Made Easy CDs. She regularly appears on BBC Breakfast and The Jeremy Vine Show on BBC Radio 2 and her parenting articles are published all over the world.
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Sue Atkins the Parenting Expert
T: 01883 818329