Do you torture yourself with guilt, staying up at night wondering about all the things you feel guilty about? Being in a caring role for most of my life, I have found that people are riddled with guilt, none more so than single mothers.
What is guilt? Guilt is a learned emotion; we are conditioned by our culture, family, and religious upbringing to form a moral compass. When we believe we have acted against our moral code, this leads to feelings of guilt. Thus, guilt is a common emotion that people experience after doing something they perceive as wrong, whether purposefully or unintentionally. We might also feel guilty for things we didn’t necessarily do but believe are our faults, or even for situations, we had no control over, such as survivor’s guilt.
Guilt does not have to be a negative emotion. It may even be advantageous. After we make a mistake, guilt alerts us to it. We can then take action to correct our “wrong,” such as an apology or a decision to make different choices in the future. This is a healthy form of guilt that allows us to live a prosocial life.
In this instance, the best way to address guilt is by using;
The 4 A’s approach.
❖ Admit: recognise you made a mistake.
❖ Amend: apologize or fix what was broken.
❖ Alter: take steps to change your behaviour so it doesn’t happen again.
❖ Acceptance: Recognize that you are human, that you will make mistakes, that you will learn from them, and that you will move on with your life.
However, when you, as a mother, take on all the world’s wrongs on your shoulders, guilt becomes chronic and destructive. Feeling guilty for the way we mother is out of place, misguided, and unresolved. I recently read a Facebook post by a wonderful single mum, who revealed her feelings of guilt about being too available for her child, and then felt guilty for wanting space and time for herself. She stated that she cooks from scratch at home, but she feels guilty about occasionally ordering takeout. The two of them have many happy moments, but she feels guilty because she also loses her shit. People take the time she’d rather spend with her child, which she feels guilty about, but if she doesn’t help out, guess what? Guilt sets in again. She feels guilty about feeling guilty. Unfortunately, she is not an isolated case; I’m sure some of what she wrote rings true for you, as it did for me.
Going round in circles can cause emotions of shame, failure, and low self-esteem. Physically, guilt can manifest as headaches, stomach aches, and trouble sleeping. People who suffer from persistent guilt or a guilt complex are more likely to suffer from depression, anxiety, and may develop OCD.
Mama, enough! Enough blaming yourself for being, or not being, for doing or not doing or in some cases just even thinking about doing and being! Time to take control of your guilt and live your life to its full potential. All the good you do for yourself will reflect on your kids. After all, it’s monkey see, monkey do.
Many factors contribute to generating feelings of guilt. I could not cover them all here, nor adequately address the complexity of a mother’s guilt. So, I’ve decided to put it in a book. It will be available soon from the Single Mama Way website as a free download, but for now, here are five ways to mitigate some of this guilt:
❖ Recognize what you have control over: Don’t worry about the things you can’t change. Concentrate on the aspects of the event over which you have control. And, if necessary, devise a strategy for dealing with them. Remember that you are only accountable for your conduct and not for what anyone else believes or does. Use the power of those guilt-inducing emotions to motivate you to accomplish something positive. This will give you a sense of command in a situation where you may otherwise feel powerless.
❖ Defy the need to be perfect: You are the perfect mother to your child, without needing to be perfect by anybody else’s standards. Feel perfect with all your imperfections and do not hold others’ expectations or opinions higher than yourself. Some days we soar and not so on others. You do the best you can, and sometimes you just can’t raise the energy. That is OK! Your child is human too. Who else is he/she going to learn from that making mistakes, failing, and imperfections is part of being real? Do not dare feel guilty about this.
❖ Set healthy boundaries: It’s a sad fact that you give an inch and people take a mile. Although some might seek to manipulate others, most of the time it is unconscious. We are all in the rat race together, trying to get the best for ourselves and ours, often unintentionally taking more of, expecting more of, or giving more responsibilities to someone within our circle of friends or work colleagues. This is why it is so important to set boundaries firmly and unapologetically. Setting up restrictions gives us all a parameter within which we can work without the guilt of offending, or taking advantage of, which in turn minimises guilt of refusal and unmet expectations.
❖ Use positive affirmations: I absolutely love the Queen of affirmations, Louise Hay. If you ever need affirmation inspiration, Louise will never let you down. Here are a few of mine to get you started: “I release all the toxic guilt stored in my body. I forgive and love myself. I am perfect with all my imperfections. My time is precious. I respect and value my time. ” If you do not believe in the power of affirmations, try them anyway. The great thing is that you don’t have to believe they work. Repetition of these positive, simple, happy phrases will have an impact regardless. Then you’ll start to believe in them.
❖ Seek therapy: You do not have to do it alone. Seeking help is not shameful or weak. Sometimes, just talking it out with a perfect stranger makes all the difference. It also allows you to gain access to professional resources, gain insights into another point of view, and deal with the given issue much more quickly than if you were to tackle it by yourself. By right, a counsellor will not tell you how to fix things or mark you with their judgement. They will listen and gently guide you, to find your solutions. They will help you take stock of what skills you already have, and lead you where you can learn a new skill set if needed.