Tell that Guilt Trip it’s Gotta Go!

Guilt is something I have been reading a lot about recently. On Jezebel I found this great article on how guilt disproportionately affects the psyches of women. You can see guilt manifest in all areas of life. Food is one area in particular where guilty feelings can seep in. Guilt can even find feminists with busted bikes as seen in Elly Blue’s post here. All of the articles really spoke to me. One of things I am constantly wrestling with is what “I should” do. What should I do to be good, a good feminist, a good daughter, etc…this creates a really long to do list.

guilt_woman-300x200When I am not doing something “I should be doing” suddenly guilt starts fill up my throat and my jaw clenches up. All the “should'” takes on a physical form. In your body it may take a slightly different shape, like shoulders creeping up or a deeply furrowed brow. The point is that we wear our emotions in our bodies. Thoughts shape the body and we begin to form particular habits. So the question is how do we break these patterns of guilt? Well the very first step is awareness. Catching yourself mid totally-unnecessary, “I’m sorry…” statement. Noticing the moments of self-judgement and coming back to neutral. You are just fine no matter what you had for breakfast. You are good a person if you made to yoga or not.

I am still very much in the middle of this whole feeling-guilty-for-no-good reason thing. But there are a few things that help me to feel better and carve out space for more important things.

Remember to  Breathe
Take inspiration from your breath. Your exhalation is the best tool you have to get rid of shit you don’t need. Take a big breath in and let out a big old sigh. Make whatever sound you need to. Lion’s breath is a particularly clearing breath. It is powerful, a little silly and very helpful. Take a big breath in through your nose and as you exhale stick out your tongue and let whatever sound come on out.

Story Medicine

My herbalism teacher taught me about story medicine. So much of guilt is woven into the stories we have about ourselves. To help get to the root of the situation, try writing about a time when you felt flooded with guilt. Set a timer and free write, with no sensor, for ten minutes. When the timer goes off stop writing and read what you wrote. Circle a few words that really jump out at you and again set the timer and write for ten minutes on your chosen word. Then again repeat circling words and unpacking the stories that surround them. You may unearth some of the hidden roots of guilt and you can illuminate them.

Yoga Nidra

Yoga Nidra is often called, “sleep of the yogi.” It is a conscious meditative technique that leaves you feeling refreshed. I would recommend taking a class at a local yoga studio, if available. Or check out some of these free recordings to guide you through the practice. The second recording deals primarily with emotions, but I recommend doing them in order.

Do What You Want

An important lesson I am learning right now is say, “Yes” when you really want to agree to do something and, “No” when you do not want to take on another project or pick up that extra shift. Developing clear boundaries is proving an important step for me to feel less guilty. Saying “No” helps me avoid burnout and also means that when I say, “yes” that I actually care about what I am doing.

Please feel free to provide any of your own ways of working with guilt in the comments.

2 responses to “Tell that Guilt Trip it’s Gotta Go!

  1. I really enjoy these posts, Kelli! There is so much insight here, it’s really great to read.

    I’m still learning a lot of thse lessons you’ve outlined, and I keep making the same mistakes… Part of it is that too often I place other people’s feelings (real or imagined) in front of my own, so I keep on short-changing myself, especially when it comes to making time to do things for myself, like working on my art or cooking healthy meals, or reading a real book instead of checking up on facebook! These are all things I am working on, and I’m trying to make at least one night a week a “date night with myself”, where I don’t schedule anything else so I can clear my head. It can be challenging sometimes, especially with so much happening all over the place and then trying not to feel too guilty for missing an event just to spend some good time alone. Taking time to focus and be creative is super important to me, but it’s still sometimes hard to not feel guilty about keeping my “Sylvie Time” unscheduled.

  2. First of all, love this post. Story healing in particular sounds really effective and lovely.

    As for my way: one thing I’ve learned from Tibetans this year is that when we’re faced with bad feelings in our hearts, it almost always helps to recognize the bigger picture of shared humanity. Generally this is in relation to the Buddhist concept of “suffering,” but I think it applies well to guilt and shame, specifically. I don’t mean this in a there-are-people-starving-somewhere-so-how-dare-you-feel-bad kind of way – the inverse, actually.

    If you think about our Earth’s billions of people – all their quirks, faults, wishes, failures, loves, struggles – then how can you feel guilty for eating an extra cookie, or for desiring a path that is different from what your parents intended? Think of all the people who have come before you, who made “mistakes” or disappointed someone simply because they needed to do their own thing. You are an individual, and all individuals have the same complex, imperfect selves. In this context, who has the right to judge you?

    Treat every living thing, including yourself, with compassion. It sounds like a line these days, but it’s actually very difficult and not at all simplistic. Compassion doesn’t mean passivity. But it does mean kindness.

    To summarize, and in celebration of Kelli’s recently learned lesson, here’s some Cat Stevens from the “Harold and Maude” soundtrack. Maybe it’s a cheesy thing to do, but hey, in the context of all humanity, why should I care?

    “If you want to say yes, say yes. / And if you want to say no, say no. / ‘Cause there’s a million ways to go, / you know that there are.”

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