Dwelling in guilt is like living your life with an anchor tied to your ankles, dragging you down.
I struggle with guilt. There. I SAID IT…Well, I’ve typed it anyways. And that did make me feel a bit better.
Iyanla Vanzant said it best: "Guilt is a wasted emotion." I’ve been fighting with guilt for as long as I can remember - yes, even as a child - and until a few years ago it was like I was moving through life with a weight tied around my neck. I am definitely better about it now, but in all honesty it will most likely always be something I’ll have to work on. However, it’s about me understanding this emotion and managing it as best I can.
So what exactly is guilt? Well, its technical definition is an emotion that has you feeling or believing you’ve done something wrong or you’re responsible for something bad, as well as leaves you stuck on thoughts or feelings that you haven’t lived up to your ideal self or earned something you deem worthy. The sources of guilt are as expansive as your imagination. Close your eyes, point in any direction, and you can find something to feel or be guilty about.
So much of the guilt we deal with as women is self-imposed – just look at the definition - but also by society. Women feel guilty about pretty much EVERYTHING. A study done by Columbia University's Institute for Research on Women, Gender, and Sexuality ("IRWGS") showed that 95% of women between the ages of 23 to 59 years old had felt guilty at least once in the previous 24 hours. So it’s not surprising when I think of all the things the women around me feel guilty for.
One night stands and unsuccessful relationships
Not being good enough mothers or spouses
Not being ambitious enough at work
Not looking like that model on Instagram and being too obsessed with their looks
Not being assertive enough or being a pushover
Being angry or not being angry enough, loud or not loud enough, forgiving or not forgiving enough…
In short, we're walking around feeling guilty for and about everything…AND its opposite. It’s like we’re walking around feeling guilty for even existing at all!
And of course it makes sense we’d feel this way. We are treated in ways that suggest we SHOULD feel guilty. Like when you speak up too much in class and are called a know-it-all, or later on in life when you dare open your mouth in a work meeting and your male colleague interrupts you; when sex is based on his orgasm and your pleasure is, well… after the fact and secondary; or when you look at billboards and magazines and the only women looking back are tiny and airbrushed yet people give you diet tips so you can emulate them. As you grow up you learn you are not entitled to take up space, not entitled to an opinion, and not entitled to sexual pleasure. Women feel like they are constantly asking for too much. And for women who are queer, trans, not white or from a lower socioeconomic class, those lines are tighter and the guilt is stronger.
One of the most difficult things I've had to do, and often revisit, is learning to deal with and accept the sting of guilt, no matter what it is or how deserved it may be. And I think as women we've been raised to just accept the various feelings of guilt about our actions, thoughts, and emotions as a normal part of our internal lives.
Look, there's so many ways to explain, justify, or psychoanalyze the guilt we deal with as women, but it is much more important for us to learn how to deal with it in a healthy and positive way, such as through forgiveness and understanding.
Giving ourselves permission to feel at peace with our past actions is one of the MOST positive steps we can take toward living a life free from regrets, disappointments, and guilt. The more we are able to remind ourselves that the true path to a peaceful mind and heart is through acceptance of every part of our lives and actions, the more harmony and inner joy we will experience in all aspects of our lives.
What guilt are you currently dealing with that you need to let go of?