is Good, Part I
What exactly is guilt?
According to Webster’s
dictionary, guilt is defined as: “1. the act
of committing an offense, especially against the law; 2. a feeling of responsibility
OK, on the assumption that your vacation plans don’t include robbing any
banks, it seems obvious that the sticking point lies in the last half of the
definition—feeling like you’ve done something wrong when you haven’t.
So, how does something good, something positive, like taking time to kick back
and recharge, bring up feelings of guilt?
Why do I feel guilty?
There are probably two
reasons we’re so susceptible to guilt. The first
reason is cultural. The United States boasts the world’s strongest economy,
but in comparison to other industrialized nations, we also enjoy far less vacation.
Europe, for example, puts such importance on long vacations, that in many places,
August isn’t even on the calendar! Maybe part of the reason for this
drive is that our country is not only capitalistic, it was founded on the protestant
work ethic which says that a one’s value is connected to how hard one
works. We’ve heard all the proverbs: “the early bird catches
the worm; you snooze, you lose; strike while the iron is hot; nothing succeeds
You get the message: the world belongs to those who go out there
and make it happen—and thanks to cell phones, text messaging and email-- things are
happening 24/7. But working too hard, too much, and too long can have all the
negative fallout of any addiction. Yet, ironically, it is the one excess that
our culture seems to condone—and even reward.
The second reason is a personal one. Many of us come from families
where we were made to feel like we were doing something wrong if
we took care
or put ourselves first. The essence of healthy boundaries—taking care
of one’s self while being in relationship with others--is something a
lot of us never learned, so it’s easy to fall into the trap of making
everything and everyone more important than ourselves.
So now that you have a better understanding of what guilt is, and where
it comes from, what do you do about it?
In my next newsletter, I’ll
give you specific ways to recognize your own guilt signals, and steps
on how to transform these signals
to move forward.
For right now, though, here’s some homework for you—simple homework
(cause I hate homework!) Just notice the times you feel guilty. Is it when
you want to take time off for no specific reason? Is it when you want to say “no!” to
a request but your guilt forces a “yes?” If you’re so inclined,
you can even keep a journal of those times. Now don’t try to change anything—just
notice when it happens. Soon, you’ll see why guilt is good.
Until next time…