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.
When 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.
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 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.