I read an article on Elite Daily last week about how women feel guilty 97% of the time.
I found this startling since I also personally find that women blame others 97% of the time. In this modern world, women are angry. They are angry at the patriarchy, at men, at beauty standards, at air conditioning, at the wage gap, at sexuality, at pornography, at slut shaming, at practically everything. This anger is not a feminine trait in my opinion. It is born out of a toxic disconnect with one’s nature and with the reality of daily living.
And yet, I can’t say I am completely unfamiliar with this feeling of guilt as I have definitely felt the same way. At many times in my life, I have felt to blame for things that were entirely out of my control. I suffered this same painful, “self-attack” that brutalizes the confidence of so many. It is insecurity, anxiety, emotional instability and just like anything negative we always look to find the source. We naturally want someone or something to blame. We look for a target so we can destroy it in the hopes that when it is gone, we will feel better. Unfortunately, I believe we very often misjudge our target and place blame in the wrong areas. Often that is the list above and often that is ourselves. When I learned the difference between feeling guilty and feeling responsible, and learned how to correctly identify and eliminate the things in my life that were threats to my wellbeing, my life changed for the better in immediate and tremendous ways.
Here’s how it happened.
I’ve always felt like I was an okay person. So it would confuse me why things would screw up, why relationships would fail, and why I would suffer anxiety or depression for seemingly no reason.
Even as a little girl, I would blame myself for things that were clearly not my fault. For example, when I was in first grade someone in my class cheated on a test. I don’t remember who it was, but the teacher made it clear that someone had cheated and that she knew who it was and it was wrong. She gave us a long lecture and I was in tears by the end of it. I felt so horrible and awful, like a failure who had let everyone down. The problem was, I didn’t cheat! It wasn’t even me! But I felt the weight of guilt from the situation for disappointing my teacher. Even then, in first grade, I remember thinking back to that moment and wondering what the heck was going on that I felt so incredibly guilty over something that I hadn’t even done. Did I actually cheat but not remember cheating? My feelings of shame and self-blame were so strong that I began to doubt myself and my memory and my own integrity! Did this teacher of authority know something that I didn’t? Could I trust myself to know if I’m doing right or wrong? Are my feelings my guide to my value as a person or are my intentions and memories of actions my guide?
Quite an existential crisis for a 6-year-old that I remember it to this very day!
I had to learn to trust myself. But this trust was constantly being tested.
I had to constantly verify that my feelings were consistent with the world and reality. This was a lot harder to do than you might expect, especially when my feelings were also real. They were misleading, but they were certainly real. I had to come out of my protective shell where I trusted others and the world more than I trusted myself, which also meant I transferred both responsibility and blame from others to myself. But as a result, I gained control of my life, found a sense of peace and security and became a badass butterfly with tremendous power and wisdom.
My emotions are one of my best traits. I feel big and hard. I am empathetic and compassionate. I can often sense when something is wrong with a friend long before they will admit it. I can even sense, with those close to me, that something is wrong, without seeing them, or hearing their voice. If even the slightest routine is broken, the smallest change in tone of voice, a subtle expression is often enough to tip me off that someone I love is struggling or frustrated or hurt. So the goal was never to deny or dismiss my emotions, simply to keep them in perspective.
So, how did I get over crippling guilt and confusion? I learned to take responsibility. So few people take real responsibility for things. But when you take responsibility for the things you cause, create, destroy or impact you feel power over your reality and experience a congruence between your actions and your emotions.
To avoid that feeling of guilt, many people will learn to deny their emotions and they do such a great job of avoiding feeling that sense of guilt that they learn to deny it even when they are responsible for the error! They take zero responsibility but continue to feel guilty on some level because they have not addressed the source of their feelings. We all make mistakes, but none of us make ALL THE MISTAKES. So, the key is to determine when the guilty feeling is appropriate and when it is misaligned.
So, the first step is take responsibility for everything. When you start to take responsibility for everything, you quickly realize how much is not truly your fault. Start today. Make the decision today that everything that goes wrong, you will assume it was your responsibility. How did you cause it? What could you have done better to prevent it? How will you fix it? How will you make amends?
You will find that not much is really your responsibility. But for everything that IS your responsibility, take action right away to own up to it, voice your responsibility and resolve it. You will find that there are many things, usually small things, that you did cause due to negligence, laziness, insensitivity, ignorance, indifference, denial, that are your responsibility. But you have become so good at shirking your responsibilities to avoid that pesky, constant feeling of guilt that you have learned to dismiss responsibility all day long. You realize after a few days of taking responsibility for everything three things:
A lot of things you feel guilty about and lose sleep over aren’t your fault.
Many things are your fault you ignore and deny and so they go on, unresolved, usually making things worse.
The things that are your fault are often easy to resolve or improve once you take responsibility and take action.
Taking action on things that you are responsible for will reduce your guilty feelings because you will have resolved the issues. You are also less likely to let things fester and get out of control. Taking responsibility for the consequences when you are late, when you are insensitive, when you complete something to only 80% because you were lazy or did not make it a priority will reduce your opportunities to lie, make excuses and blame others for your own actions.
Can you see how the guilt will just erode and be replaced by feelings of confidence and security?
It really may seem like a small thing. And you likely feel like this doesn’t really apply to you, but I am here to tell you with complete confidence that you are very likely delusional and have developed such a sophisticated case of deniability to contend with your feelings of guilt that you are not even aware of how often in a day you make excuses and blame others for your own actions. And likewise you probably aren’t aware of all the times you feel an unnecessary sense of guilt over things that aren’t your problem.
An added bonus is when you have a clear sense of your own responsibilities and what is needed to live a life with integrity, you will quickly ferret out those around you who do not live their lives this way. The deniers and deceivers will appear neon in your vision for their lack of accountability, abundance of blame and inconsistency with reality.
So, just for today. Just for one day, take responsibility for everything! Don’t just take blame, take responsibility for it! Accept blame and take action to resolve it. When something comes up, “Who used the last of the milk,” say “I DID!” “Why is the credit card bill over the limit?” “I spent too much of frivolous things, I will return some of them!” “Why are you late?” “I am arrogant and I think my time is more important than yours! I’m sorry. I will not be late again.” “Who let the dogs out?” “Me! I have no dogs, but I assuredly let them out!”
The next thing that happens, after you take responsibility for everything and learn the difference between what you caused and what you didn’t cause, is you will feel a sense of empowerment about how easy it is to fix things. When you take responsibility for things and take action to resolve them, things will improve in your life very quickly. You will waste less time dodging responsibility and guilty feelings and the sense of calm you have when you live a life of integrity will free you up to tackle bigger issues.
So, maybe the fact that someone else cheated on a test isn’t your fault, but is there something you can do to change things for the better? Maybe you will invent something! Cure something! Negotiate world peace! You think I’m crazy to say this but your guilty feelings and anxiety are taking up so much of your time and energy that when you resolve this issue with yourself, you truly will be liberated to life a life that is much more full and rewarding.
This is true empowerment. Taking responsibility, taking action, taking a stand, learning your limits, understanding your limitations so you can develop the skills and abilities to do better.
Empowerment is not about compliments and flattery. It is not about learning how to avoid or ignore the bad feelings. It is about how to make your feelings line up with your reality, and then creating the kind of life that gives you that sense of peace. If you are anxious or feel guilty 97% of the time and you are not a pathological criminal, then you are not living your life in alignment with your nature or your values. And that is something that is 100% in your control. All you have to do is wake up, face facts and take action.
So, I dare you. For today, take responsibility for everything. And let me know how it goes!