Thursday, August 03, 2006

Guilty or Not Guilty?

I lived much of my life relatively guilt-free. I don't mean remorseless; I mean free of unproductive self-flagellation about choices I've made. I sort of assumed it was a combination of nurture and nature; my mother was never a guilt-tripper, and I was naturally fairly obedient to my super ego. I felt bad if I did something wrong, sure, but if I'd made the best of whatever situation I faced, I didn't beat myself up over things.

Then I gave birth. The instant HellBoy was laid across my stomach, looking bluish and stunned, a tidal wave of guilt crashed over my head. I wasn't good enough at giving birth; it had taken too long; I might have hurt my baby!

The guilty feelings continued sloshing around for weeks. I was starving him because I insisted on breastfeeding; I was going to roll over on him in my sleep because I selfishly wanted him in the bed with me; and on and on. Gradually, thank heavens, the tide receded a bit, and I was able to gain some perspective. But I never went back to my blessed pre-baby guilt-free state.

Lately I've been suffering from it a LOT. I feel guilty about going running when my son wants me to play with him. I feel guilty about NOT running when I've blogged about how frickin' important it is. I feel guilty about blogging instead of working. I feel guilty about not blogging. I feel guilty about snapping at my husband when I'm too tired to see straight. I feel guilty about driving to work and polluting the environment. I feel guilty about air conditioning. I feel guilty about not wanting to hear about the conflict in the Middle East. I feel guilty about saying it's not too hot to run and then watching the thermometer go into the triple digits.

It's as if all my years of not feeling guilty left me peculiarly impaired for handling it now.

I need some sort of method for dealing with this before it drives me crazy. A mantra or something.

What do you feel guilty about? And how do you handle it?


Anonymous said...

I have always to some degree suffered from guilt but since becoming a wife and mother the guilt factor has done up tremendously.

Usually I just need to talk through it with my husband but sometimes it just takes me repeating over and over to myself that I am only human and cannot be everything to everyone.

I really love your blog! I don't think I was too much help but I hope others have some good suggestions that I can borrow :)

Anonymous said...

Oh... the things -- to name a few:
Wallowing in self-pity about my fertility struggles when others have it much worse
Going to the gym when I should be with my family
Ignoring my hubby because I am too damn tired
Macaroni and cheese for dinner again!
Getting bored when hanging out with my kid
Blogging when I should be working
Commenting on blogs when I should be working

Sherry said...

Guilty about:
- not having a job yet so not earning
- having to ask my parents for money to pay grocery bills
- having a boyfriend who won't let me pay for dinner out because he knows I'm not earning
- for not eating as well as I could/should

But then I make chocolate beer cake and my boyfriend tells me he loves me being at home (not much longer my friend), I see how happy my dad is when I take an interest in the family business, how happy my mom is when I look after my sister for two weeks and when I book my flight home and I get over it. I might not eat enough fruit and vegetables but everybody who is involved in my guilt loves me so it's okay.

Gosh, that sounds sappy. (And to think I only came to look for the running posts!)

Anonymous said...

not wanting a sex life and
not knowing how to tell my husband and not knowing if its normal or how to fix it and not caring

not doing the list of chores

not living within my harvest

Cat, Galloping said...

i feel guilty that i'm upset about all kinds of things from the environment to politics but i don't actually *do* much to make a difference.

Anonymous said...

Things I feel guilty about:
<>Time not spent w/kids/husband/pets.
<>My house is a horrible (nasty, even) mess.
<>Wanting to move away from my home town to get away from my parents and the second set of kids they're raising.
<>I'm no longer attracted to my husband who gained 40 lbs while I was pregnant and though I'm at my pre-preg weight that's 20 lbs overweight for me. Apparently it's OK for me to be chubby but it's not OK for my husband...I feel guilty for my double standard.
<>I'm undiscplined/impulsive.
<>I don't always buy organic or locally grown food.
<>That the polar ice cap is shrinking and the Polar Bears are eating each other.
<>That I no longer seperately wash/dry and IRON my 6 mo son's clothes.

So how do I free myself from this? I give thanks for the things I have and the things I don't. And I get alone someplace quiet and I let it GO! I cry, gnash my terrible teeth (and roll my terrible eyes), and FLING my guilt to the winds. Guilt is inhibiting.

Then I feel guilty for feeling guilty in the first place. (sigh)

Anonymous said...

That's so interesting thgat you avoided guilt until Hellboy. I'm trying to think of a mantra.

How about:

There's this technique I learned that is sort of interesting for things like this. You try to remember what is like to feel compassion--for anyone, even if you can't feel it toward yourself--and then when you feel the guilt you try to summon up that feeling of compassion to accompany it.

I suppose on an intellectual level it is useful because compassion is a kind of blame antidote. You can probably blame someone and feel compassion for him/her but the compassion blunts the blame. Guilt is partly a kind of self-blaming.

If you can't feel the compassion, you can just say in your head, 'compassion.' The word. That's a possible mantra.

When you get a minute to think, it might work to remember that guilt is our useful regulator to ensure we do what we should. It might occur a lot now because on some level you don't trust yourself to do what you should. It might be good to remind yourself that you will do what you should. The extreme guilt is unnecessary. It's not motivating you correctly anyway. You have other reasons for doing what you are supposed to.

Toddlers are a pain in the ass. (Of course, they are also the most wonderful things on earth.) It requires motivation to attend to them adequately. What is adequate is ambiguous. We are pulled in other directions--especially, maybe moms with professions they care a lot about who waited a long time to have kids. Maybe we fear the old self will take over and we'll forget the baby on the bus. But then we want to spend all this time with them. What about our careers?

There are about three seconds in the day when I'm not fretting over one or the other. God, then I fret over what I fret over.

Can you believe I hate the traditional way therapy ideas think about things? Boy, the stuff's in the water and I have apparently imbibed quite a lot of it. Maybe I need to get off my high horse and just admit those people sometimes know what they are talking about.

There's not enough space here to even scratch the surface of all the things I feel guilty for. But what about all the things I *should* feel guilty about? I feel guilty abou them if I don't feel guilty enough about them.

Guilt rules my life some of the time. The thing is--I feel sure none of you have any reason to feel guilty. But trust me, I do!

OMDG said...

We feel guilty when we imagine what others' reactions would be to our behavior. To avoid it, when I start feeling guilty about something, I justify my actions to myself saying that I HAVE to do what I did in order to make myself happy. Because goodness knows that if I fail to make myself happy, then God help you if you're around, because I will probably unleash on some innocent bystander.

That, and I remind myself that other people have weak moments too. Also, what Ozma said.

And stop feeling bad about not running. Everyone needs a break from time to time, and you know you'll start up again once the weather gets cooler, right? It's like beating yourself up for not eating your vegetables. Pointless!

Now, you'll have to share with us what YOU did to avoid the pre-baby guilt. I need help getting past that one.

chanceofbooks said...

Great topic! I am the Queen of Type A guilt. I feel guilty because I have these unrealistic standards for myself and then I feel guilty when I don't reach them. I also struggle with feeling like people judge me. I feel guilty for teaching, not practicing law. I feel guilty for choosing kniting over housework. I feel guilty for not cooking more. I feel guilty for feeling too tired and sick to do the above. I feel guilty for having chronic health problems. I feel guilty for feeling bad about the above when so many people have it much, much worse. I have been working on not feeling so guilty, but it is a hard battle. One thing that helps me is taking away the choice aspect, telling myself that this was the only choice I could have made or that others would have made the same choice. I really enjoyed reading others comments too--nice to know we are not alone!

Artemis said...

Wow, another great post. I have a friend who once stated that she wore guilt like underwear (and she NEVER went commando). I'm not quite that bad. I do feel guilty about all that's been mentioned above, but mostly about enjoying my job so much when I have 2 kids at home and "should" be a stay-home mom. But when I think seriously about that as an option, I feel guilty about the amount of time and money invested in my education -- am I supposed to just "throw it all away"?

The mantra that I've found that works for me: "Tomorrow is another day and I'll try again."

Hang in there!

Anonymous said...

Ooooh, I can warm to this theme! My first baby arrived in my early 30's after a mere 3 years of trying and a fistful of Clomid. Then came the quest for #2...7 years, 7 IVF's and a whole lot of guilt surrounding the hostility of my uterus. Cue dramatic scenes of "just leave me for a fertile woman; I'm not worthy". Funnily enough though, the big guilt didn't hit me until I was finally knocked up. Fast forward to birth of microscopic baby at 34 weeks ("she's just a wee doll"), breastfeeding on SSRI's, leaving small person at nursery whilst I work part-time...yup, guilt tripping is alive and well over the Atlantic.

How have I handled it? At times, badly.

#1 - great psychiatrist (never saw one before). Finished with her now.

#2 - marvellous antidepressant meds - off them now too.

#3 - relaxation CD's

#4 - exercise

#5 - accepting that some of it is part of being female. Why don't men carry around as much?


Anonymous said...

Oh my god --- were ALL of you people raised Irish Catholic? I didn't realize there were so many of us in the world. I can feel guilty about almost anything --- mostly I've learned to ignore it ("oh, there you are again") but sometimes it waylays me. It usually helps for me to talk out loud about it to someone --- for some reason actually hearing what I'm saying allows me put it in perspective, which usually means recognizing that I'm overreacting again.

I also want to reply to the other Anonymous(sorry, Doctor Mama, I know this is your blog, but this is an issue for me). Though I'm a very healthy person physically I, too, have completely lost interest in sex since menopause, and for me it's a relief. Sometimes it was pretty good, sometimes it was horrible, mostly it was just OK and not much to write home about regardless of my partner. Actually it's mostly a relief --- I'm totally content with things the way they are, but I know my husband isn't so happy with the situation (even though he has a pretty low sex drive himself). Given that I've always been the one to bring up touchy subjects in our relationship, and given that I really have no interest in bringing this one up, we never talk about it. And every time I start to feel guilty and sorry for him, thinking I should do something about it, some part of me rears up and shouts "NO!" Anyway, it's good to know I'm not the only one out there.

HP said...

I feel guilty about the impact my illness has on my family (even though I try to minimise it), I feel guilty about not understanding my mother more...I could go on and on and I'm sure that's true of most people.

I try to pull myself up when I feel myself experiencing this because it's a wasteful emotion, particularly when your resources are limited. I might remind myself that it's okay for me to feel the way I do about certain is okay for me to take time for's okay for me not to all things for all one can do that. If I neglect or fail to self-nurture myself, pretty soon there'll be nothing of value left to give to others.

Anonymous said...

I feel guilty in the grocery store. I worry that I'm buying the wrong foods... organic from California or conventional but locally grown (Ca is very, very, very far from DC).

I feel guilty about being impatient and intolerant and judgmental.

I feel guilty about not being able to keep up with politics and then do something when I'm frustrated about how out of control it has gotten.

I feel guilty that I don't use the new treadmill very often.

I feel guilty that I hate my job and wish I didn't have to work...but that would mean DH would have to carry the whole burden and how is that fair.

I feel guilty that I can turn guilty feelings into a full blown anxiety attack with a dash of depression.

How to handle it? Read blogs, cook, call for the cat to sit on my lap and figure out how to get him to purr up a storm, meds. Oh, but then I feel guilty I wasted so much time!

Kristie said...

I have no idea how to handle it either. i am in the same boat as you, i think. i never really felt "guilt" before my son was born, and now i find myself feeling guilty for many of the same things you listed. I just try and do my best and not think about it too much. i dont know how effective that is, but its all i got for now.

Anonymous said...

Do some lists, get some persepctive, meditate, drink wine.

Everyone feels guilty about not doing wonderful things - I guess it helps everyone prioritise.

Anonymous said...

Mantra: At least I'm not Bush, At least I'm not Bush

Guilty: That I want sex SO MUCH MORE than my husband and that I sometimes make him feel bad about it (although he does have a healthy sex drive, mine is over the top, i.e. "is 3-4 times a day to much to ask?"

That I sometimes leave work early to spend time at home alone and then pick up my son from day care at the last possible minute. That I am not a stay-at-home mom. That I secretly want to be a stay-at-home-mom. That I don't run and never will because of my e-nor-mous, droopy, milk-laden, heavy breasts. That I don't have a blog.

Surgeon In My Dreams said...


The thing that helped me most with guilt (and my list would be much shorter if I named what I did NOT feel guiltyabout), was when I heard a preacher speak about guilt and asked the question; "Do you hold OTHER people at as high a standard as you hold yourself?"

Those of us who are the type who feel guilty for everything we do including breathing someone else's air, are usually very nice and forgiving of others, but we have a hard time treating ourselves with the same kindness. We have to be nice to ourselves too...just like most of us would go out of our way for others.

Anonymous said...

To be really non-PC...I should've been born Roman Catholic with a Jewish mother! I feel guilty if it rains. I feel guilty if my friend chooses a restaurant, orders her own food, and then doesn't like it. I feel guilty about EVERYTHING!

But...feeling guilty, like feeling embarrassed or angry, is (barring clinical depression and mental problems) a choice.

Just as I have to force (and I do mean force!!) myself to excercise, I have to force myself to turn away from guilt. I am worth spending time on--in the gym, in the tub, with a good book. I am worth spending money on--for my OCD meds, for bath salts, for a gym membership.

I make the choices I can. I buy free-range eggs, because I know what they do to caged chickens. Yeah, the eggs are double or triple the price, but that's a choice I can make. I cannot choose not to drive a car right now...but I can choose the most environmentally-friendly car I can afford. Some folks would say I'm terrible because I'm not taking the bus and eating solely as a vegan. It's all about choices.

Easy to say, but really hard to do--I make the choices I can, and do my very best to live with those choices, and to accept that I am worth the choices I make.

Anonymous said...

I feel guilty...
That I am away from my kids all day but when we get home I feel as if they suck the life out of me sometimes and get annoyed with them (she's five, he's six months)...that I am not tending to my marriage as well as I should...that I am soooooo effin' tired each and every day....that I am not setting a good example with food choices and exercise for my daughter...that my house is a horribly disorganized mess...that I cannot seem to take care of myself.

What I don't feel guilty about...turning in my resignation last week so I can be a SAHM-WAHM (hubby's business) mommmy!


Unknown said...

I feel guilty about the financial beating we are taking due to me finishing law school in 4 years instead of 3.

I feel guilty that I spend too much time of the phone with my BF.

I feel guilty about not doing much housework even though I'm home a lot, reading blogs. In fact, I might load the dishwasher right now.

Anonymous said...

I won't say how or whether you should deal with your guilt because it's different for everyone. I will say, however, that once my psychologist helped me understand that guilt is just another way for unexpressed anger or sadness to get out, I was able to manage my guilt much better. I just said to myself, "What does this guilt really MEAN?" (or the equivalent) and tried to understand what I was actually sad about.

It took some time, but I don't feel a whole lot of guilt these days.

Leah said...

How about: "I'm so lucky to have a husband, job, and son who are wonderful. Life is short - enjoy every second." I say that every minute of the day, and I'm done feeling guilty. Yes, I got incredibly lucky. But I'm not going to give it all back, so I have a responsibility to enjoy all of it. I spent 3 hours at the park with my son today, and my house is a mess. I'll reheat something for dinner, and we'll all be happy. Life is too short, and I am too blessed, to waste time on guilt.

Gregory House, PA-C said...

I don't think I feel guilty enough. Maybe I feel guilty about not feeling guilty. Actually, no, I don't really care.

I've never really been distraught over guilt. But I am easily persuaded to do things. (being a tool for friends) I suppose I do them out of guilt sometimes. It normally works so fast that I can't even realize why I'm doing what I'm doing.

But I don't think I ever feel too guilty about things I have or have not done. I'm pretty good at justifying my reasoning. I just look at everything as one step at a time and that there's no point in getting worked up over things you can't change.

Orange said...

I'm gonna save my most coherent thoughts on this for an upcoming guest post elsewhere (I haven't had the coherent thoughts yet, but I plan to assemble them soon). I'm pretty close to Dr. Wannabe—thoughts and behavior that might leave the average person racked with guilt feelings, meh, I let 'em roll off my back. Am I a selfish bitch or startlingly emotionally healthy on this front? Dunno.

Susan said...

I feel guilty that I cannot give my dog all of the attention that he wants. DH works too many hours to be involved with the dog. No kids. So it's just me. And I need quite a bit of time to veg.

I solved it by bringing him to doggy camp 2xs per week where he loves the other dogs and the counselors so much.

I feel better about it but I still feel like I fail him in some ways.

Anonymous said...

If it feels good do it. If it doesn't, don't. (Words to live by.)

I allow myself to feel good (mantra).

I cannot control everything (mantra).

These are my recent coping mechanisms.

Anonymous said...

How about feeling guilty about feeling guilty?
Haven't found a way out of that one yet.

Anonymous said...

I'm a third year medical student one week into my first core rotation, OB. I feel guilty about being away from my two year old for over ten hours a day. I feel guilty about not being on the OB floor more than ten hours a day. I feel guilty about driving my car too and I feel guilty about using plastic diapers because I can't get it together enough to unpack the cloth ones. Sometimes I feel guilty about being/mooching on the planet. What do I do? Get home, have a beer and stare into my two year olds beautiful blue eyes and try to get lost.

Anonymous said...

Oh my, I could write a book!

I feel guilty:

- that I don't feed my children better

- that I sometimes don't really like being a mom

- that I have visions of causing bodily harm to my MIL while screaming "shut the f up!" (she's visiting from FL right now!)

-that I don't like to bring my children swimming

These are just a few on my mind right now!

Anonymous said...

I feel guilt when I go to work. Even if the kids are at school and their dad is there to welcome them home.

I feel guilt over the past 2 months I spent working my ass off at a position I knew was going to end with the end of July. I barely saw the kids and when I did I was too emotionally drained to really be there for them.

I feel guilt that I want to go back to work soon.

I feel guilt that I am doing all I can to quit smoking, bad influence of the kids. I feel guilt I love white wine!

I feel guilt one of my dogs is overweight, in the past few months the walks have been next to nil.

Guilt. Gotta love it. NOT.

Anonymous said...

For what it's worth, I think you put too much pressure on yourself. You are a wonderful everything (doctor, mom, wife, etc). Just try your best. You act with kindness and compassion. If you make a mistake, learn from it. Tomorrow is a new day. A fresh start. You can't possibly please everyone. And please don't worry about the people out there where it's hot. They'll use common sense.
As far as running when your son wants you to be happy, it's okay to take time for yourself. It will make you a better mom. I knowing running calms me and gives me an outlet to take out my aggression. I always feel better when I run, more patient, and then when I get back, I want to play with the kids.
Sometimes I do feel guilty. I do make mistakes. It's kind of like studying for me. I hate studying and I get anxious about tests, which keeps me from studying. I have to force myself to stop worrying and just study. Feeling guilty is almost like a waste of time. It doesn't accomplish anything. It keeps you from enjoying the time you do have. Instead of focusing on the things you worry about, think about all of the good things you do do. Think about all of the lives you have touched through your practice. Think about all of the people you have inspired to run and be healthy. Also, kids are very forgiving. They don't tend to hold grudges.


Anonymous said...

Meant to say, when your son wants you to play.

Anonymous said...

I grew up Catholic, and even though I dropped the religion, the guilt stuck. I feel guilty about everything!

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said:

#2 - marvellous antidepressant meds - off them now too.

#3 - relaxation CD's

Hmmm. What are these? For future reference!

Kungfukitten said...

*Puts on elaborate shaman hat, grabs wand made of rowan wood encrusted with sacred jewels* I hereby absolve you of all guilt! No longer will you be plagued with these annoying and unhealthy thoughts. I decree that you are worthy of a stress free, guilt free, happy joyous life! So be it! *Dances around in elaborate dance, shaking wand and ass* There, that ought to do it.

Anonymous said...

My mother was the master of the guilt-trip. She'd sigh, paddle around the house, say things in a downtrodden voice like, "Well, if you won't come see me next weekend, I guess I'll find something else to do." Sigh.

As a result, I've always felt guilty about everything. The worst was when I got a new job and they gave me a desk in a smaller, satelitte office in the county where most of my work was centered. But they didn't care if I actually went to the office, and no one monitored just how often I did. It was a 35 minute commute to do a job I can do very well at home. So... I rarely went, choosing to work from home. And I felt like shit about it each and every day. I'd spent the entire morning playing a game called, Should I Go, or Should I Stay? Then I'd choose to stay home and cry in bed from the guilt of being such an enourmous slacker.

Anonymous said...

Sometimes in order to be a better mom we need to take time for ourselves. I feel guilty about putting my daughter in daycare all day and then taking her to the gym for another hour with a different babysitter while I go to yoga. But after yoga I am a relaxed mom and ready to tackle the rest of the evening with the energy I need. Remember a stressed out and overworked mom is no fun, take 30 minutes for yourself and your child and husband will thank you for it.