Banishing Guilt

Please allow me to introduce you to Guilt.

I didn't meet her in a coffee shop, though she sure as hell shows up when I try and sit down for 15 minutes and drink a cup of coffee.  And don't even get her started if I deem it necessary to spend $5.00 on a grande latte with coconut milk from a non-local coffee conglomerate.

She also isn't part of my Badass Women Entrepreneur interviews, but she surely shows up as I pursue a career as an entrepreneur. She throws out precious little nuggets like “who are you to do this?” or “go and get a real job with benefits and a pension” or “you're working too much and it's taking away from your family” or “you're working too little and not putting enough effort into your business” or.... or.... or....

She's tricky, that Guilt. In fact, she's a pernicious little bitch who has something to say about EVERYTHING. Just this past Sunday morning as I was lying in my comfortable bed, my son had just come in to snuggle prior to getting up to watch some TV, the sun was shining, my window was open all night with a fresh breeze and I lay there thinking about Guilt. Thinking I should get up with the kids, that I should get into the garden to start weeding, that I should, should, should, should.

Because Guilt is never happy. Never supportive or appreciative. I've known her for as long as I've known life. She shows up as catholic guilt, mom guilt, daughter guilt, wife guilt, friend guilt, work guilt, running guilt, swedish fish guilt... I can literally think of any adjective, noun or verb and add guilt after it and I can nod and think, “yep, sounds about right – squirrel guilt is a real thing” (my dad does like to try and shoot them with a BB gun to get them away from his bird feeders and I feel kind of bad about that, but it's also really funny to see them jump and run away to come back 10 minutes later for the same treatment).

I have been on a mission for a while to banish the use of guilt from our language. I believe that unless you have actually committed a crime, you are not guilty.

Here is an email I recently wrote a few months back to a client and I think it's perfect to include here as I don't need to reinvent the wheel (see what I did there – I've just banned guilt so “I'm not reinventing the wheel” sounds a lot less sinister than “I feel a little guilty for not coming up with a new story, though literally only one other person has read this", right?)

March 1, 2017: So this morning, as my daughter came in to wake me up, talking excitedly about looking for what the tooth fairy had left her....  I felt this massive rush of Guilt.  Because, of course, I forgot to be the tooth fairy last night.  And then I thought, how could I be so horrible to forget that?!  Yesterday was a pretty traumatic day. Zoe had to get a tooth pulled at the dentist and the numbing shots had worn off (note to self: they say anesthesia doesn't work as well for red head's and they seem to be right).  By the time they got around to pulling her tooth she had tears running down her face, all the while nodding that she was OK.  Afterward, she told me that it really hurt and she could feel them taking out the tooth, but didn't feel like she could say anything (ps. that'll be a whole other post to introduce People Pleaser).

So needless to say, I felt a huge rush of Guilt that not only didn't I protect her at the dentist, I also forgot to be the tooth fairy.  

Per the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the definition of guilt is: 1 : responsibility for having done something wrong and especially something against the law. 2 : a feeling of shame or regret as a result of bad conduct.

But really, the only offense I committed was being a forgetful mom and an unreliable tooth fairy.  That's a pretty big statement of "guilt" or even "bad" to attach to being human.  So then, I stopped myself and asked what I was specifically feeling.  I was feeling sad that I let my daughter down, I am worried that she is catching on to the "tooth fairy" and I don't want this piece of magic of her childhood to end.  I'm angry with myself that I forgot. There's a bit of fear in there as well, fear that when she's 25 she's going to remember the disappointment of the missing tooth fairy instead of the fact that we cuddled all afternoon.

And then I started to forgive myself. Because I'm human.  Because I was absorbed in work until 11:30 at night because I had sat with her all afternoon on the couch watching Open Season instead of working so that she could feel comforted.  

So I write all this to show that though my immediate reaction was Guilt -- there was actually a lot more underneath and by dissecting it, I am able to be a little bit more tolerant towards myself.  I still feel sorry about forgetting the tooth, but I (hopefully) won't forget tonight - so it is also helping me change how I want to be in the immediate future as well.

So the next time you feel "guilty" for something, ask yourself if you in fact committed an offense, crime or bad conduct.  And, if not, then break down what emotions you are actually feeling.

I'll take one more scenario of my "guilt": laying in bed on this sunny gorgeous Sunday morning while writing this and feeling guilty.  If I could attach some other words besides guilt as to how I am feeling it would be: comfortable; appreciative of Matt making the kids breakfast and who just brought me a second cup of coffee; a spark of inspiration; exhaustion after a very busy Saturday of hiking with the kids down to the beach and then a Mariners game until 10:30 at night; a little anxious to get out into this gorgeous day that we've had too few of here in Seattle; some contentment that, though I can hear the TV, I don't need to be “mom” right now, or in reality, I am enjoying the solitude of no one talking to me. Doesn't all of that sound so much better, more forgiving than “I feel guilty because it's 9:30 am on a sunny day and I'm still lying in bed”?

So the next time Guilt rears her or his ugly head in your life. Take a minute to think if you have actually committed a crime or an offense? As long as you haven't robbed a bank, stolen a candy bar from the drug store or had sex with the neighbor (without your partners approval), than give yourself a break. Think about what emotion you are actually feeling and honor that. Are you feeling tired, anxious, frustrated, resentful, impatient, annoyed, lonely, distressed, fearful, alarmed, powerless, nervous, worried, vulnerable, exhausted, bored, pessimistic, uncomfortable, suspicious, puzzled, embarrassed, hurt, fulfilled, relieved, grateful, sexy, thankful, joyful, proud, hopeful, confident, ecstatic, adventurous, invigorated, silly, fascinated, intrigued, curious, astonished or focused?

I actually have a whole list with many more emotions listed, so if you'd like a copy just let me know, so that the next time you feel guilty you can dissect the actual emotion and tell guilt to go take a hike and honor the emotions that you are actually feeling, while giving yourself a little break.

Let's banish guilt together.

Practicing what I preach:  The attached picture is my actual bed this morning.  Sometimes I enjoy making my bed and sometimes I don't.  This morning I didn't - so I didn't.  

Jessica McClure