After 10 minutes of feeling guilty about staying home from work, I had a massive realization.
I guess my guilt programming goes really deep.
As I sat there waffling back and forth on my decision—should I or shouldn’t I?—I realized how absurd it was to even feel guilt over this decision.
Why should I feel bad for staying home from work when I need to, especially when I was going to be doing work while at home? It’s not as though I was playing hooky and sitting on the beach while telling everyone I was sick! Now that’s something to feel guilt over—lying.
Guilt exists to let us know when we’ve done something sh*tty to someone else that goes against our morals and values. It should not make us feel bad for doing something morally and ethically acceptable to care for our needs, just because it goes against the grain.
We should feel guilt when we actually do something messed up. The other guilt, the one we’ve been taught to carry, is a distorted version of this. We can examine why we feel the need to live by someone else’s standards when we feel guilt over being true to ourselves.
The craziest thing is that holding on to this type of guilt will make us sick and miserable.
Let me explain.
We all know our society is built around the belief that we have to work hard to get what we want. We’re taught (falsely) that a successful career looks like this: 40 or more hours per week in the office, a salary, job satisfaction, few to no boundaries about personal time when it comes to getting the job done, showing up early, staying late, being a yes person at work even if the required task is well outside of our job description—and the list goes on and on.
We aren’t taught to think outside the box. We aren’t taught that the system needs cogs to keep it running, and that our society in America is nothing more than this—a cog in a machine.
We go to school, we go to college, we put ourselves in massive debt to get an “education” that often does absolutely nothing for our career advancement. We graduate with all kinds of degrees attached to our names and often—not always, but often—find that they do nothing for us.
The high level job we went to school for six-plus years to land tells us we don’t have enough experience. The entry level job tells us we are overqualified for the position. So we take whatever we can get because we’re in debt, and we all know that if we don’t have a career then we’re failing at life.
When I finally realized how false this narrative was, I started to view life and the workplace differently. I stopped placing the needs of my employer above my own. Because what good am I to anyone if I’m not caring for me? How can I do my job as a writer if I’m burned out? I can’t.
So I started practicing boundaries in the workplace and in my personal life. I’m the type of person who will take on everything from everyone around me because I want to do a good job and I want to be helpful. People like me fail to see that we’re any employer’s dream. If we’re willing to bury ourselves under a massive workload, why should anyone stop us?
We often take on so much without anyone realizing it, so we end up suffering silently, resentful toward everyone around us.
Realizing this is a huge step forward, but the challenge comes when we actually start acting upon our realizations. Such actions are well outside of our comfort zone.
Take me, for example. I’m doing nothing more than taking my boss’ suggestion that I take a day out of the office to make up for a 10-day business trip during which we worked nonstop. The trip was a blast and didn’t seem like work to me, so I actually started to object when she suggested I take a day.
I heard myself saying, “Nah, I don’t need to, this was great, it wasn’t even like work.” The more I think on it, the more absurd it is. For my own sanity and well-being, I need a break. And so I decide to take a day and complete some work from the quiet solace of my own home, and I find myself feeling guilty.
It’s madness, yet I know we all fall into this. Especially us women.
Let’s talk a bit more about guilt for a moment.
“Guilt—a feeling of having done wrong or failed in an obligation.”
After reading the definition, I had to ask myself why I felt like I was failing in an obligation by working remotely. The only answer to come back was: I’m conditioned to believe that if I’m not showing up in the office day in and day out against my own best well-being, then I’m somehow failing in an obligation to my employer.
The next thing I had to ask myself was, Why do I feel more obligated to them than I do to taking care of myself?
I really had to sit with that for a moment and absorb it. I came the conclusion that although my guilt conditioning was kicking up, I actually do feel more obligated to care for me before anything else, which is why I ultimately went ahead with my remote day.
Whew, that was a relief to see, because it meant programming can be undone. I was glad to see mine was unravelling thanks to the last few years of hard self-work.
Guilt is a life sucker. It will eat us alive—physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. And it’s such a challenging one to work with, because we’re taught to feel guilty about everything.
We feel guilty when we say no and when we say yes. We feel guilty when we don’t meet the high demands and expectations of those around us, including the unreasonable ones we place on ourselves. We spend so much time creating beliefs around what is “right” and “wrong,” and then more time beating ourselves up for the “wrong.” It’s an endless, soul-sucking vortex.
I say, forget right and wrong, and just live well by a moral code that suits you.
In the face of our feelings of guilt, we can ask ourselves these simple questions:
Have I done something bad?
Am I doing something that goes against my inner belief system (the one that aligns with my heart and soul)?
Why do I feel guilty?
What is my guilt trying to tell me?
When we examine guilt before taking action, we can make a rational decision about the best course to take. When we feel guilt and immediately react in whatever way makes the feeling fade, we remain a prisoner to it; we don’t give ourselves a chance to do what’s best for us.
Do you relate to guilt programming? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below!
Author: Lindsay Carricarte
Editor: Toby Israel