Sunday, March 13, 2011

Got guilt?

My friend Amanda and I met for a yoga class recently.    "Great class," I said afterwards, as we walked to our cars.

"It was," she agreed.  "But I feel so guilty for leaving Jon with the kids.  Here I'm at yoga having fun and he's giving the twins a bath.  I feel so selfish."

Guilt involves a painful feeling of self-reproach or criticism based on the belief that you’ve done something wrong.  There are different types of guilt:

Self-guilt: the guilt you feel as a result of actually being or existing in the world, for having any needs.  The sense is that by needing anything – food, nurturing, comfort, security, love  – you are exposing a deficiency in yourself, that it is fundamentally wrong to have needs. This often involves a sense that your needs/wants will be burdensome to others.  You go out of your way to put the needs of others before your own.

“I shouldn’t be so hungry/tired.”   
“I’ll go to whatever movie/restaurant/vacation you prefer.  It makes no difference to me where we go.”
“Sure, I’ll babysit for you tomorrow night.  It’s not a problem to cancel my plans.”

Depletion guilt:  the guilt you feel when you think that by meeting your needs, you are doing so at the expense of someone else.  This involves a sense that if you do something for yourself or meet your own needs, you are taking something away from others, depleting them in some way.   In my friend Amanda's case, by going to yoga she perceived that she was burdening her husband with childcare duties (otherwise known as fatherhood, ahem).  Some other examples:

“If I leave my husband, he’ll be miserable.  I can’t do that to him.”
“I’m turning down that great job in Chicago.  My mom was so upset when my sister moved to New York, I’ll stay in L.A. no matter what.”
“I want to be an artist but my parents will be so disappointed if I didn’t go to law school.  They’ve been counting on me to join the family law firm since I was born.”


What is it like to ask for what you need or want? 

How do you react to compliments, gifts or attention?

Do you often feel as if you’re taking too much (of anything)?

Are you more comfortable being a “therapist” to your friends than talking about yourself?

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Legal Disclaimer:  The content on this site is for educational and informational purposes only.  It is not intended as psychotherapy or as a substitute for psychotherapy advice, diagnosis or treatment.


Josie Tuttle, MA said...

Great post. Guilt is such an overwhelming force in people's lives -- and most of the time they don't even know it! Guilt and shame were the ruling forces during my eating disorder years. How amazing it was to let them go and truly believe that I deserved to be kind to myself!!

Anonymous said...

Excellent blog post, Nina. Our society is riddled with excessive shame and guilt on so many levels and the only way to conquer them is with awareness and clarity.