A Word About Guilt And Why We Need to Let It Go


It’s a word with a lot of negative connotations but one to recognise about guilt is that it doesn’t have to be self-destructive. It can make us think about using our time with loved-one on a more quality way, for instance, getting out and doing a bike ride together than sitting on the sofa playing on your phones. You can use it as a marker that says you need to give what’s going on a little thought.

girl with guiltHowever, for the most part, guilt is an emotion and belongs with the other sad emotions like grief and loneliness. There are many types of guilt…guilt for something you might have done, guilt for something you didn’t do, guilt for something you even just thought about, but let’s look at one type of guilt that I think has a strong pull when we can’t even take some time out. That is the guilt of not doing enough. Psychologists actually believe that this guilt is a sign of something called Compassion Fatigue which is a form of burn-out.

Compassion Fatigue

You can see compassion fatigue at work in black and white when you see someone caring for a dying relative. They may be doing everything in their power to ease the sick person’s distress, but it’s still not enough. Frankly it’s never going to enough is it? This desire to help their sick relative is never going to be alleviated and there is dissonance, a gap, between what they want and what’s happening. This causes a feeling of stress that can be felt as guilt.  Taken to an extreme,  this is now the stress disorder of compassion fatigue.

But we don’t have to be caring for someone in serious health to feel this way. Just keeping on top of looking after our families, being a shoulder to cry on for our friends, being open and supportive to colleagues, fitting in our partners…all these put together can feel overwhelming and make us feel that any time spent on ourselves is taking away from our responsibilities to them. It’s where being the good girl can seriously hold us back.

Tackling Guilt

The question is how do we deal with that feeling of guilt for taking time out for ourselves? We can attack it head on, use logic and remind ourselves that it is the gap between what we can do and we could like to do, nothing more. An emotion created by this dissonance. We can repress it, pushing past it and just getting on with our self-care anyway.

What could be a better approach is something of the two and try to look at the situation objectively, as if you were looking at a friend’s life. What would you sensibly expect her to do for her family and friends and what boundaries would you suggest she might draw the line? What combination of time and energy spent on others and on herself would you suggest?

This isn’t necessary a prescription for the actual feeling of guilt, but it may help to know that what you are feeling are emotions created by a desire to do more. A desire that can never be completely fulfilled in reality.

by Paula Gardner. Learn more about coaching with Paula here