Let go of GUILT for good

It’s a modern-day problem that affects more women than men – sometimes it even threatens to take over our lives. But you can take back control…

Ahuge 96% of women find something to feel guilty about at least once a day, while for almost half of us, feelings of guilt can invade our daily lives up to four times a day. And topping our list of what triggers those guilty feelings? Eating unhealthily, followed closely by not spending enough time with family.

Let go of GUILT for good Photo Gallery

In 2010, a study published in the Spanish Journal of Psychology seemed to prove what many of us may already suspect: that women have a greater capacity for guilt than men. Researchers concluded that the female guilty conscience is a consequence of nurture, not nature. They claimed that, through socialisation and education, women are raised to be more conscious of, and anxious about, the feelings of others – a key factor in guilt. But extreme guilt among women – the kind that invades your every thought and complicates your every decision – is a truly modern phenomenon. It’s what happens when our guilty conscience collides with the endless choices that modern life presents us with.

The challenge of choices

For generations past, life was simpler, expectations were lower and choices – for women in particular – were limited. For instance, until recently, few women had the chance (let alone the choice) to pursue a career and a family life, or deal with the guilt that often goes with it. Today, every aspect of our lives – the clothes we wear, the food we eat, the schools our children attend, the things that we buy, the jobs we do, the relationships we’re in, even the TV channels we watch – presents us with so many choices to agonise over what is right and wrong, that it’s all too easy to feel permanently anxious and, yes, guilt-ridden. We are Generation Guilt. Guilt is clearly a symptom of living a complicated life, and not a symptom of being a bad person, according to Professor Windy Dryden, who is a counselling psychologist and the author of Coping With Guilt (SPCK Publishing). But it’s vital to keep it in check. ‘Guilt in itself isn’t a bad thing – it really depends what sort of guilt it is,’ he says. ‘It’s important to distinguish healthy “remorse” at having done wrong, from destructive guilt that serves no purpose other than making you feel negatively about yourself.’

The time issue

Situations that might give rise to guilty feelings are, of course, impossible to avoid. ‘Especially these days, when there are so many conflicting demands on our time,’ says Professor Dryden. ‘Perhaps you feel really guilty that you missed your child’s school play to visit a sick aunt (or saw the play instead of visiting your aunt) – either way, it’s always a tough choice, and you’re likely to feel a degree of guilt whatever you choose to do. Whether the guilt we feel is healthy or unhealthy is up to us.’ It’s an all-too-common refrain among working mothers: they feel guilty for leaving their children in someone else’s care while they go to work. But without the option of being in two places at once – at home with their child and in the office earning a living – a choice must be made. Feeling guilty about that choice helps absolutely no one.

Attitude change

Professor Dryden says, ‘It’s a common mistake to think that guilt proves how caring we are. Feeling guilty, and telling others that we feel guilty, has become a short hand for saying that we’re a nice, caring person. Among female friends, in particular, guilt has become a part of everyday conversation.’ So is it time to change our thinking? Know that it’s not always possible to do the ‘right’ thing, that doing the ‘wrong’ thing doesn’t always make us ‘bad’ people, that putting ourselves first isn’t necessarily selfish, and that it’s possible to care without feeling guilt. We’re going to try. And if we don’t succeed straight away? We won’t feel guilty about it.

How to get on top of guilt


Guilt is a choice. It’s self-inflicted pain. ‘Don’t think of your guilt as a cloud that follows you around,’ says Professor Dryden. ‘You made it; you need to take responsibility for it. No one can make you feel guilty: you either do or you don’t – it’s up to you.’


Take time to think of the ways that guilt invades your thoughts. While healthy guilt (aka remorse) can help you improve your life, unhealthy guilt can keep us trapped in unhappy situations (like a bad relationship) or prevent us from making good choices (like accepting a great new job) for fear of causing upset to others.


Develop a more flexible attitude towards life; if your behaviour isn’t ‘perfect’, work on accepting that it’s impossible to be perfect. If you catch yourself thinking that you’re a bad person because you fail to live up to the standards you set, it’s your standards – not your behaviour – that need to change.


Telling everyone you feel guilty about something doesn’t change the situation or prove you’re a caring person. It only confirms that we’re in Generation Guilt, so stop talking it up now.

Be kind to yourself

‘Every time you sit in front of the TV, you could ask why you’re not doing something more productive,’ says Professor Dryden. ‘The opportunities for guilt are limitless – unless you learn to give yourself a break.



FRONT OF THE TV. After a week’s worth of school runs, thinking about what’s for dinner and your work deadlines, you can treat yourself to a lie-in on a Saturday morning. You deserve some ‘me time’.


Women spend a lot of time trying to please others. Look at all the things you’ve done for friends, family and colleagues over the last month. If you’d said ‘no’ just a handful of times, would you be a bad person?


Whether it’s a pretty new top or an expensive packet of biscuits, it’s OK to treat yourself to something special every now and again.

Source: Yoga Poses Asana

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