I’m writing this blog from the beautiful city of Luang Prabang, in Laos. I’m here with a group of 6 amazing women from Australia. Each day of the trip, we immerse ourselves in the culture of this country; meeting, learning and growing in our understanding and connection with each other, the local Laos people and other travellers. The initial purpose of the trip was to learn about development and the work that is done to assist local communities in poverty. However, this changed at the very last minute due to government restrictions. With only a window of a few days, we had to redesign the itinerary and focus. I love travelling for this very reason – it demands you to be flexible and continually stepping out of your comfort zone – which widens your map of the world. Only good can come of understanding yourself and others more deeply.
Each day on the trip, we have had a reflection about different topics that impact women both in our western context back home and the country of Laos. Within these deep conversations, there was an ever present issue that came up for us women again and again: Guilt. We found that many women struggle with identifying that they have personal needs and thus can’t grasp what it means to meet them. Sadly, the belief that women can’t prioritise their own needs or desires has been a common theme throughout the sessions, fearing that they would be judged as ‘selfish’.
With this on my mind, I have realised this needs to stop. We shouldn’t feel guilty for working on ourselves, in order to better thrive as women. We need to be on our A game so that we can help others. To address this, I have come up with three simple, yet effective strategies that you can apply to help you feel less guilty about identifying and working on your personal needs. I encourage you to give one or more a go to see if it can help you to be more free from guilt.
- Live a balanced life.
Many people live a life that is influenced by only a small number of things. These main areas tend to be a relationship, family or work. This focus works fine until you recognise it isn’t how you want it to be all of the time. You realise at some point that you actually want more out of life. This realisation might cause you to see that these areas you have prioritised for a long time are not used to having less of you They may suffer if you change.
Here, you are faced with a dilemma of choosing a new pathway, or sticking with what you know and feel comfortable with. As you wrestle with this, it is common to experience guilt – because you feel fully responsible for inflicting this change. Too often, you relent and suppress your own needs over the needs of others. Sure, that is required sometimes, but not at the constant expense of your own personal needs. If this happens, too often you become at risk of living in fear and holding resentment, as well as having disinterest and unfulfillment in life.
A solution to help you avoid guilt is to live a more balanced life. It means that your life does not consist of only a few elements but many (in Susan Jeffers book, Feel the fear and do it anyway, she suggests we should have 9). Each area of your life is important to set goals for and enjoy. This means that when you either remove or ‘reduce’ yourself from one area, the feelings and emotions of guilt are not as intense. Although it’s still really important to you, it will not be your everything, your whole world. It creates a more holistic life and one where all your eggs are not all in one basket.
When I was a mum of young children, the first few years of their life meant my life was consumed with caring for them. As a result, a lot of the time I felt like I was just keeping my head above water! After a while however, I realised that although my family was my highest priority, I was more than a mum. I had other things I could do too. The more I started to fill the needs in my life beyond that of being a mother, the better mother I could be. The more I practiced other activities and saw the rewards, the less guilt I felt when I engaged in those new activities. This was not instant, so I had to keep engaging and prioritising. So I began to set goals in other areas of my life, such as me time and other hobbies. I started doing scrap-booking, working on health and fitness (I completed my first fun run!), and volunteering at a home for young teenage girls. All of a sudden I was much more than a mum, and so felt less guilty when I set goals around meeting my other needs. This could be the same for a career, a relationship or any area of your life which consumes you.
Some areas that you can set goals/challenges around to create a more balanced and holistic life could be:
- Work, school or uni
- Alone time
- Personal growth
- Health and wellbeing
- Leisure or fitness
- Accept full responsibility for your life.
It’s really important to accept full responsibility for your own life. We all have the ability to choose how we react to any situation. You can’t always prevent things from happening to you but you can choose how to respond. Practice this in everything you do and allow other people around to do the same. Emotions and reactions are a choice.
‘Nobody can hurt you without your permission’ – Mahatma Gandhi
No amount of guilt can ever change history. Actually, no amount of guilt can ever change anything. It is a waste of time and energy to feel guilty. It robs you of joy and prevents you from seizing opportunities. You have the choice to feel guilty or not. In my eyes, why would you choose to feel something that brings nothing good into your life
- Speak to yourself like you would to a loved one.
What would you tell someone you loved in this situation? Would you tell them to deny themselves constantly and never meet their own needs, or would you encourage them to come to a compromise so that both their own needs and the needs of others were considered and respected? Your words are powerful, so be careful with what you say – not just to others but to yourself also. Just like on a plane that loses oxygen, why can’t we also in life attach our own ‘oxygen mask’ first before helping others? This is to ensure we have the air we need to actually help others better, as well as ourselves.
So give it a go. I am confident that by applying these 3 simple techniques, you will be empowered to live a life with less guilt! Surround yourself with other women who are trying to do the same and keep each other accountable when you are tempted to go down the guilt trip.
And, enjoy the freedom it will bring.