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?