Guilt. That feeling that can kick in for some, when we give to ourselves. Driving us to do what we “should” at the expense of doing what we want. Meeting other people’s needs at the expense of our own. Ladies, I think it’s time to let the guilt go and get selfish.
I facilitate a woman’s 8-week personal development course and one of my favourite conversations happens when the group comes together for the first time. I inform them that the intention of the course is to encourage them to become very, very, selfish, far more than they ever have before, to put themselves first and to reorient life around this. I then facilitate a ‘round’ inviting them to share their reactions. Can you guess?
Usually one or two out of 12 women are already in the swing of putting themselves first. One or two will often express that they are “so ready for this”. Most admit that the idea of this is scary and exciting but arouses feelings of guilt. Occasionally a woman will say that she is putting herself first, and immediately afterwards will confess that she still feels guilty doing it. What’s going on?
Our mother, through her own selfless actions, taught us that a ‘good’ girl/mother/wife is supposed to take care of other’s needs before her own. Those who experience the absence of a mothering role model also find themselves needing to step into the roles of ‘dutiful daughter, step in mum, step in house cleaner etc.’ Someone has to do it, right? And those roles usually fall on the woman.
We leave home to forge our own way in the world, find a partner, perhaps have children and the roles continue – ‘wife, lover, mother, healer, manager, cleaner, shopper, organiser, accountant… ‘ and the pattern of ‘others before self’ is perpetuated.
There’s also an inbuilt part in most women that truly desires to see the people we love be happy. Women are emotional creatures, sensing how the people around us feel, tuning in to what family and friends need and we find ourselves meeting their needs, often at the expense of meeting our own. We’re supposed to give, not receive, right?
Yet our bodies and souls long for time out and attention but there’s always something that needs doing first… Dinner needs to be made, kids need taxiing around and the big stuff – the car needs an upgrade, the house needs renovating…
What does it cost us, this ‘not prioritising taking care of our selves’?
We get depleted. Our body gets exhausted. We lose our energy, our motivation our ability to love. We get into a ground hog day existence. Where’s the meaning in life? Where’s the juice? We lose our zest for life, our sparkle, the connection to our creativity.
We cultivate resentment. I recall one course participant sharing that as a teenager she used to take a daily bath and she recalls her mother saying to her “who do you think you are… Lady Muck?” I share this story not to criticise the mother. Anyone reading this who understands what I’m talking about can sense that the mother craved more nourishing time for herself, so she objected when her teenage daughter took the time. I bring it up to encourage realisation that this behaviour is unhealthy role modelling for our daughters and our sons. When is it that it become the ‘right’ thing to do, to deny ourselves pleasure.
In yoga ‘guilt’ is referred to as the ‘demon’ of the second chakra Swadisthana. ‘Demon’, meaning ‘that which undermines’. This chakra develops between the ages of six months to two years, peaking at 12 to 18 months, when visual acuity allows the child to focus on outside objects and gain a wider visual perspective. As the child learns to crawl and walk, he develops the ability to move away from the mother, to separate and start to realise independence. As the child explores, she experiences her first distinctions as simply – good and bad, pleasure and pain, closeness and distance, self and other. At this point the child is all need, sensation and desire. Anything that blocks development of this chakra severs essential connections – the internal connection between mind and body, and the eternal connection that connects self and other, or soul and environment. Guilt undermines the natural flow of emotional and sexual energy through the body, and inhibits us from reaching out, diminishing emotional and sexual connections with others.
As the stewardess says on the plane, if the oxygen mask falls down, tend to yourself before you tend to your children. We need to take care of ourselves. We cannot give from an empty cup. It’s great to give and it’s important that we also receive. Balance is a natural universal law and when we send our energy outwards and cut off the flow inwards, our system gets out of whack. We may not recognise it mentally or emotionally at first so the body tries to speak to us by shutting down, by becoming ill, forcing us to take care of ourselves.
When we give to ourselves we overflow and there’s no longer an energy drain when we give. It feels joyful and abundant. That’s what it’s like when you come on retreat. You recharge the batteries. You feel the aliveness and excitement of treating yourself. You rediscover your sense of self, rather than play your day-to-day roles. You gain the opportunity to let go of the responsibility of whatever it might be to feel free, to find space and time to be and focus on you.
Getting away helps you make conscious decisions about what’s on track and what’s not on track. It’s about perspective. We need time away to reflect. When you step well away, you’re not in the machinations of your everyday life. You need to depart from your everyday life physically to reach the insight and it’s helpful to surround yourself with supportive others.
Sisterhood provides you with a safe space to speak your truth, to express your feelings, to show your vulnerability and to feel nurtured. Also to feel supported to find a way through. You step into relationship. You’re not alone with it. You feel supported and more comfortable stepping into the unknown, voicing your hopes and dreams.
Anodea Judith in her book ‘Eastern Body Western Mind’ offers seven steps to move through guilt:
- Put the guilty behaviour in context. What were the forces acting on you at the time?
- Examine the motives, drives, and needs underlying your behaviour. What were you trying to accomplish?
- Look for ways that the behaviour may have been modelled for you (My mother always handled arguments like this. That’s how I was taught to get the job done. My father never finished school.)
- See how your underlying needs can be more directly and appropriately filled.
- Take stock of any harm caused an find ways of making amends. If you are not sure of how to make amends, you can usually ask. If the person who received harm is no longer accessible, try to address the situation in a more global way. Give money or tie to a battered woman’s shelter. Pay for someone’s coaching. Help someone through school. Volunteer to help at a charity.
- Make a plan for the new behaviour.
- Forgive yourself and move on.
It’s also useful to examine your belief system. For example if time alone is selfish, where did you learn this? Is this true for everyone? Is this belief serving you? What could be a more empowering belief?
Guilt. One, two, three be gone.