Does this sound familiar?
“I should be spending more time with my child/children, they are back in school soon, I feel terrible working all the time”.
Feeling guilty is a very common emotion and we all go through it at various times in our life. Research tells us, that women in particular, are prone to feeling guilty. A study carried out in 2009 and published in the Spanish Journal of Psychology, found that in particular women aged between 40 to 50 felt guilty the most. The main reason given by those women was having to juggle teenagers and elderly parents. In addition, the study found that women in particular feel guilty about doing work related activities outside their office hours.
One argument why women feel more guilt than men is that women have been socialized for generations to get along with everyone, not to hurt anyone’s feelings and take care of the family.
Guilt does not always have to be unhealthy. Healthy feelings of guilt can motivate us to live according to our values, which in turn may lead to healthy relationships as we want to treat people with respect and care about them. On the other hand, excessive and inappropriate guilt is described as a symptom of depression by the American Psychiatric Association’s diagnostic criteria.
If you are feeling the unhealthy kind of guilt, in which you are constantly beating yourself up for not doing enough, for example, for your family if you are juggling work and family, you can use the tips below to set yourself free from guilt. Please bear in mind that it will take time and practice, so be patient with yourself as you are going to change entrenched patterns and limiting beliefs.
1) What is the evidence
For example, are you feeling guilty because you think you are not doing enough with your kids during the summer school break? What evidence have you against that. Make a list of all the things you have done with your children since the school break. Keep this list visible so you can add to it over the next few weeks. Every time guilt hits you, read the list.
2) Ask the question
Ask the people you think you are neglecting what they think. Do they actually feel neglected?
How would an outside observer view your situation? If you conclude that you aren’t doing enough, have a chat what you could do together to balance the situation.
3) Appreciate yourself
At the end of the day, write down 3 things you did today that helped you achieve your goals or helped someone you care about. At the end of the week, read all your notes back. Guilt is often associated with perfectionism and that typically leads to focusing on what you didn’t do well. By writing things down that you did well, your focus will shift to your daily accomplishments instead.
4) Are you “black and white thinking”?
Are you maybe thinking in terms of “If I am not the perfect Mum/partner/etc , and give all my time to my children, then I am just the worst person and must make more effort”. Try and see things in more shades of gray, rather than black and white. This will give you more balance, and will help you judge yourself more in context, rather than thinking about having to be perfect.
5) Realise it is Ok for you to also take care of your own needs!
Sometimes women took care of others in the family growing up, such as younger siblings, grandparents etc. Now, as an adult, you may still feel your needs are less valid than those around you. Realise you have needs too and it is ok to take care of them.
Practice the above points and keep reading over them and in time you will notice you are feeling a lot less guilt about how you are managing your life.
If you would like to get help with any of the above issues, please get in touch at