Is Guilt Selfish?

Old Shoes.jpg

Hear me out on this.

I’ve been trying to look at emotions and behaviors from a different perspective recently. Understanding common human responses can shed light on why people operate a certain way. It also helps me to be more self-aware and move toward a more enlightened state.

Although not reserved just for working moms, guilt comes up in our conversations a lot. We feel guilty if we need to do something for work that may take time away from our family. We feel guilty if we do something with our family that takes time away from work. We feel guilty if we do anything for ourselves that may take time away from work and family. We feel guilty if we don’t volunteer enough. We feel guilty if we volunteer too much. We feel guilty for not spending more alone time with our spouses. We feel guilty if we spend alone time with our spouses. The feelings of guilt never seem to end.

Guilt is an important emotion. Guilt is that little reminder that I messed up and need to set something right. Maybe I get that twinge of guilt when I am a little too harsh with my Mom on the phone. That little feeling is the signal to me that I need to apologize. Maybe I get that twinge of guilt when I promise myself I’m not going to eat sweets but finish off two slices of cake anyway. Guilt will remind me that I messed up – whether it’s toward another person or toward myself.

But, this is not the guilt I’m referring to.

It’s the guilt that begins to morph into martyrdom that I think starts to get us into trouble. When we use guilt to increase our significance it becomes manipulative and dangerous. At this point, guilt becomes a self-centered pattern that traps everyone involved.

Feeling guilty for doing something for your business or your career because it takes time away from your family doesn’t serve anyone. It doesn’t serve your family when you use them as the excuse or as scapegoats. And it doesn’t serve your career because you aren’t giving it the attention it requires. And it certainly doesn’t serve you because you begin to become resentful. Resentful in the sense that you seem to be the only person giving things up for the sake of everyone else. Here is where martyrdom steps in.

I noticed myself doing this not so long ago. Don’t laugh, but I’ve had the same pair of tennis shoes for almost 10 years (please see them in the pic above). These shoes have been through a lot over the years. Oh, and they are also my yard shoes. To say these shoes are in bad shape is an incredible understatement. I’ve been complaining about needing a new pair for several years but have never purchased any. Stay with me. I promise this story is going somewhere.

I never buy a new pair of work out shoes because I feel guilty that I’m spending money on me instead of my family. See, I have it in my brain that if I’m spending money for something I need, I’m taking away from something they need. (I could spend a whole article on abundance right here but that’s not the point of this story.) I will even go as far as saving money to buy my new shoes and then end up spending that money on something that my daughter wants. This is usually followed by a big production about how I was giving up my shoe money AGAIN for someone else. See the martyrdom coming out of me?

Here I am, poor ol’ Stacy, sacrificing once again, the things that I need for the sake of others. The sacrifice could involve money, time, or emotional needs – it doesn’t matter – I dwell on the fact that I’m always the one sacrificing. The aweful thing about it isn’t that I feel I’m always sacrificing. The aweful thing about it is that martyrdom feeds my need to feel significant. And because it serves me, by making me feel more significant, I keep manufacturing more ways to turn guilt into the act of martyrdom. This type of guilt is selfish because it’s all about me. Even when I try to convince myself it’s all about them.

How many of you can relate to what I’m trying to say?

A few weeks ago, I caught myself playing the martyr card again with my daughter. Then I stopped. It dawned on me that I was teaching my daughter to be a victim through my selfish behavior. Not a victim of others, but a victim of myself. I have become a victim to my use of guilt to feed my need to be a martyr to feel significant. I was teaching her that the “poor, pitiful me” story could serve her in the future because it was serving me so well.

What if I changed that story? What if instead of allowing guilt to escalate to a self-centered pattern, I replace it with a feeling of appreciation? Would that open a flow of emotion and allow us to create a stronger bond? Would coming from a place of appreciation instead of a selfish level of guilt allow me to feel even more significant? I answer that question with a resounding “YES”!

Once you stop using guilt as an excuse to limit yourself and start using appreciation as permission to take care of yourself you grow. Not only do you grow professionally and personally, but your relationships grow. They grow because they are built on a foundation of appreciation and respect, not on a self-centered emotion.

Give it a try. If you struggle with allowing your feelings of guilt to feed your significance try shifting that feeling to one of appreciation. I bet you will feel more significant than you ever have and your relationships will grow beyond measure.


PS: I bought a new pair of tennis shoes last weekend. And I didn’t feel guilty about it at all!

New Shoes.jpg


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