Why are the words ‘mother’ and ‘guilt’ so readily attached to each other? It’s a phrase that we mum’s use loosely - like it’s natural to feel it (yes!) but as with any negative emotion, if left and not released, is unhealthy and at worst, can become debilitating.
So do we arrive at this place of motherhood and become magnets for guilt? Or did we grow up believing that we had to be perfect; there was always a ‘right’ and ‘wrong’; and our job was to avoid doing anything ‘wrong’? As we are programmed at a very young age (most of our beliefs are formed between 0-6 years), this guilt we experience as mums is not a new thing. It just intensifies when we take on this role.
So becoming a mum certainly highlights and magnifies what we may or may not be doing right! From the moment we fall pregnant, we are told what we should and shouldn’t be doing and consuming. Then as we approach the delivery of our baby, we are given plenty of advice as to what is the ‘right’ way! Once our beautiful babes are born, there are daily opportunities to focus on what we are doing or saying or feeling that is “wrong”. Add to that an unhappy or ‘troubled’ child and the guilt increases exponentially. “What could I have done differently?” we ask ourselves.
My story with “Guilt”
The challenge for ‘us’ mothers is that we often take on the sole responsibility for the emotional wellbeing of our children which is HUGE. And when things don’t go “right” (whatever that is), we beat ourselves up with our inner dialogue. How do I know this - because I have been there.
I am now fortunate to have 3 healthy boys but for a couple of years I was desperately trying to fall pregnant. After many failed attempts, I went on IVF. By this stage I was even more desperate to prove that I would be an incredible mum - as if I had to prove it! I had eyed off many mothers I considered to be less than capable and deserving. And I was damn sure I was going to be a great mum.
That would have been fine if my idea of what constituted a “great” mum was not based on an impossible list of traits and behaviors one must display and ultimately be. Unfortunately for me, my criterion wasn’t simple and it definitely wasn’t achievable.
So along came the guilt in buckets. Not only were my twins born 3 months early (gulp - if I hadn’t suffered from an eating disorder, they would have been born full term), one of the boys was severely developmentally delayed and the rest is history. The reason I share this is because I know there are many women who experience this debilitating guilt but don’t talk about it or don’t want to give it any more energy. The problem is that it won’t miraculously vanish unless we acknowledge it and then find ways to really let it go.
For me tapping (EFT) and meditation have really allowed me to let go of so much of the guilt that was keeping me stuck in the past. Guilt still arises but the beauty of mindful practices is you become more aware of when you have headed down the ‘guilt road’ so you can then gently change directions.
Does this resonate with you? Do you feel guilty more times than you’d like to admit? Just know that there’s a way out and a way forward. It’s time to forgive yourself for choosing to see what you’ve done wrong. Each time you catch yourself feeling guilty is another opportunity to begin hardwiring a new story - one of forgiveness rather than guilt.
So when you notice this feeling of guilt, here are some questions to ask yourself. Often by the end of this process I am able to see how ridiculously unkind and almost ‘tyrant like’ I have been towards myself. I trust this will be the case for you too.
So firstly and most importantly, when you notice the guilt, acknowledge how you feel in that very moment.
Then gently ask yourself:
“What is this guilt about?”
“What do I believe I have done or said wrong?”
“Did I intend to hurt, upset, aggravate, anger or let this person down?”
“What ‘should’ I have done or said?”
“How would I judge my best friend if she had done/said this?”
As you answer these questions, you will become more conscious of what was really going on. By gaining greater clarity on the situation you may then discover how harshly you had been critiquing yourself!
So hear these words. The words we are often happy to share with friends but not ourselves.
“You are doing the best that you can in any given moment. Your best is your best. Be kind to yourself. Forgive yourself as often as you can. You did nothing ‘wrong’ and there is nothing ‘wrong’ with you.”