On guilt and self-trust…

I’ve been having a bit of a think. About guilt. Guilt and self-criticism.

I’m really hard on myself. Like, all the time. I’ve posted before about living my life through “shoulds” and about my efforts to stop doing that. I admit to a bit of backsliding recently (and don’t get me started on the absolute ridiculousness of “should-ing” on yourself about the fact that you shouldn’t be shoulding on yourself…makes me dizzy just thinking about it).

The fact is, whether or not I’m saying or thinking the word “should,” I do feel guilty most of the time. For doing things like watching movies or eating chocolate. For not doing things like cleaning the catbox or doing the dishes. For staying up too late. For drinking tea. For my moods. For other people’s moods. Name something, and it’s most likely that I am feeling guilty for either doing it or not doing it, for doing it too late, or for not doing it all the way.

Is this normal? Using guilt to navigate your way through life? Because I’ve been thinking lately that it’s more than just a question of “shoulding.” Underneath the shoulds, there’s a genuine fear that if I let myself off the hook, if I stop with the guilt, I will spend the rest of my life on the sofa and never do anything ever again. That the dishes will go unwashed, the catbox uncleaned, the laundry will fester in unending piles around me, and Xander will be huddled in a corner covered in his own feces and howling for food.

Is that actually true? Where’s the line between doing something cheerfully because it needs to be done and doing something because you “have to” and beating up on yourself if you don’t do it right/on time/completely? Would the chores really never get done if I didn’t beat up on myself about them? Would I really not blog/dance/make steps on my business plan? And, finally, is the whole guilt thing really even working? It’s not like the chores get done regularly, even though I do guilt myself about them…

(Xander doesn’t seem to mind when the dishes are dirty…)

Today a friend of mine posted a guilt-related status update on Facebook. It began:
I’m not Catholic but I’ve decided to give up something for 40 days, too. Guilt. No guilt. About anything.

And I thought “WOAH! That is SUCH an awesome idea! I should try that!”

…and then I started musing. What would that look like? Would I even be able to manage that? Guilt has become my guiding light, my North Star.

(Really? Do I want my life path to be determined by the avoidance of guilt?! That seems kind of sad…)

What if there was another path? Could I choose to do chores and eat healthy and everything else because I want a healthy lifestyle and a functionally tidy home and not because I will be somehow an unworthy human being (or a bad mom/wife/whatever) if I don’t? Is that a shift that I could make and keep?

I’m actually asking. The idea feels so completely liberating and yet there’s that fear there…but then, the fear seems so completely ridiculous. If anyone else nagged me the way I nag myself or painted the “what-if” picture I just did I would be SO indignant. Because it’s a really mean thing to think. But it’s still there…

What’s your North Star? Do you have any guilt-related thoughts?



0 thoughts on “On guilt and self-trust…”

  1. Yo, I know exactly what you mean! I am so self critical, and I’ve gotten about 300% worse over the last year graduating into the world real life from the world of safe life (university). And I abuse myself whenever I dont do anything – if i don’t get round to e-mailing someone, if I didn’t do two hours of dance, if I still haven’t hassled that person, if I generally am not exaclty where I want to be – and man, it doesn’t work, as all that stuff that I do (which I do actually like doing) is associated with abuse and feeling bad and work. it’s something I need to make myself do when it doesn’t need to be, as if I had no guilt and no shoulds, far from sitting around on the sofa all day I’d tidy up and paint and dance, because I like doing those things (except tidying up, I just like there being space to do stuff in).
    I would LOVE to give it up for a month, but I really don’t know how – it’s turning into I don’t need to think about having to do anything to feel like crap, the sinking feeling now comes first and I have to pep talk my way out of it. gah!

  2. YES. That’s exactly it. I feel like this habit makes me lose sight of what I DO love to do because EVERYTHING feels crappy, even things that I actually like! And when you think about it objectively, that is equal parts ridiculous and very VERY sad.

    It looks like The Gifts of Imperfection deals with something similar to this in the second half…if I come across anything that helps I will definitely post about it.

  3. Ahhhh, this post came at a perfect time, especially since we’re losing an hour tonight for Daylight Saving. We’re always asking for more hours in a day, and now we have to deal with only 23. 😛

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