This morning as I was sipping my Chai tea, talking with one friend after another on the phone, and coloring in my adult coloring book (a trend I’m happily jumping into!)–two all-too-familiar feelings emerged, again, together: Pride and Guilt.
Pride, or a sense of gratification, because I was taking a slow morning since I wasn’t feeling super energetic, because I was coloring which has to be good for my creativity on some level, and because I was catching up with people I love. All good things, all meaningful to me, and all restorative.
But with it, like a Siamese Twin, was the feeling of Guilt. Guilt because I took a relaxing day yesterday and should be more productive today, because I really needed to shower, because it’s almost noon and what respected and accomplished women just color in the middle of the day?!
Where Pride & Guilt Lurk
I’ve observed recently how these two feelings seem to act like best friends in my life lately– always wanting to hang out near each other. Whether it’s the rescheduling of an early morning phone call even when I know my sleep is more important or the guilt I feel leaving my husband at home to go on another TravelCircle even when I know that traveling in this way is invigorating to me in an important way. It seems weird to me that the very things I am proud of myself for doing are the areas where I feel the most guilt.
I hear it in my friends, too:
- They feel proud of themselves for making the time to go out with friends while feeling guilty for leaving their kids in the evening.
- They feel feel proud of themselves for practicing their independence and meeting their desire for adventure by traveling or going on a girls weekend while they struggle with guilt for spending money.
- They feel proud of themselves for having great friends even while they feel guilty leaving their husbands/partners without them for the night.
- They feel proud of themselves for saying no to attending another meaningless event even while they feel guilty for letting someone down.
- They feel proud of themselves for saying yes and going outside their comfort zone even while they feel guilty for how that yes might impact others.
- They feel proud of their amazing promotion, accomplishment, fulfilling marriage, or amazing kids while they feel guilty for how that might make others feel who don’t have that same pride.
Why does guilt come on the heels of pride so very often? Is that the way it has to be? Do we just shrug our shoulders and say, “Such is life?” Is one feeling more real than the other? Are they both equally valid? Am I supposed to ignore one of them?
What My Pride & Guilt are Telling Me
If the definition of being an Emotionally Intelligent (High EQ) person is contingent on my being able to accurately identify what I am feeling and know how to move myself back to a place of peace, then it is crucial that I listen to my feelings. But what does a girl do when her feelings seem to conflict with each other?
- Examine each feeling, starting with pride. Starting with pride, I close my eyes and ask, “Does this feel nourishing to me? Good for me? In alignment with my values?” My head nods. “Do I believe deep down that this is what I need? That I’m in fact proud of myself for listening to my inner wisdom?” I know I do.
- Next, examine guilt. I then turn to examine guilt. Guilt is the healthy response to wrong behavior, it’s our indicator that we’ve acted outside of our values so the last thing I want to do is just shoo it away without checking in. So I close my eyes and ask, “Have I done something wrong? Am I acting outside of my values or code of ethics? Am I hurting someone willfully? Do I owe anyone an apology?” While I might feel bad that someone feels disappointed or inconvenienced, I know to my core that I have done nothing wrong.
- Explore the origins of my guilt. Rather than just tell Guilt that it doesn’t belong here, I wish to understand why it’s here in the first place. And the answer comes to me almost instantly: I think I’m supposed to feel guilty! For me, the sense of gratification for doing something good for me is a natural byproduct of my choice for self-care, for nourishment, for connection. But the guilt is a learned feeling– a feeling that emerges when I sense that others might or could judge me. It’s not guilt from messing up, but fear that I’m not doing something “perfectly.” In the exploring, I realize that one feeling (pride) is what I am really feeling and the other (guilt) is what I have generated based on my comparisons to my ideal or that of others.
- Moving back to peace. Just running through this process this morning while I was coloring gave me so much more freedom. I wasn’t doing anything wrong, just something unconventional. But the coloring and talking to friends was actually more in alignment with my values and who I want to be than feeling pressure to “work” because it’s the middle of a certain weekday. I felt a peace come over me as I released the need to hold the guilt and instead embraced the gratification I felt that I was doing exactly what was best for me today.
If we don’t articulate our feelings and manage them to return us to peace then we risk living with these unprocessed conflicting and disorienting feelings all the time.
And if we name them but don’t choose which one we want to give precedence, then we’re at risk of simply saying no to that which is good for us because we give in to our unexamined or fake guilt. But how sad would it be if we didn’t go out with friends, travel to amazing places, say yes to big things, say no to meaningless things, or spend time coloring in the morning all because we didn’t realize that the guilt wasn’t really ours? It’s not authentic guilt. How tragic would it be to live our lives more in alignment with this crazy picture of what others (or ourselves) think we should be instead of what our hearts and inner wisdom tell us we need?
Next time you feel guilt… I hope you’ll ask yourself “Is this authentic guilt or is this fake guilt?” And follow in the direction of the choice that makes you most proud of yourself; you know, that feeling of maturity, gratification, and real connection to yourself. We need a lot more women doing that which is good for them instead of complying with their fake guilt.
To all of us celebrating the choices we make that support our lives,