It seems like once you become a mother, there’s always something to feel guilty about. No matter how much love, attention and mind-numbing decision-making we put into our parenting, at some point we all feel that we could have loved more, paid more attention and made better decisions. And it seems like once the guilt factor has been allowed to brew, it overflows beyond our kids to encompass how we interact with our partners, family members, friends and co-workers. Somehow we find ourselves frequently living by the “should,” “have-to,” “supposed-to” rules: meaning that whatever we’re doing now, we really ought to be doing something else.
But did you know that all this guilt can actually be harmful to your health? Christel Nani, R.N., author of “Sacred Choices: Thinking Outside the Tribe to Heal Your Spirit” says that guilt is a conflict between our inherited inner rules and our spirit. She says this conflict lowers our inner peace, stresses our immune systems and is a precursor to illness. Apparently feelings of guilt cause physical symptoms ranging from a knot in your stomach to migraines, fatigue, colds, irritability and depression. Guilt can also exacerbate flare-ups of back pain and immune disorders.
So rather than feel guilty, try these steps to diagnose your conflict, heal your guilt and achieve better health.
- Listen for tell-tale words in your vocabulary. If you hear yourself saying such phrases as, “I should...I have to...I’m supposed to...I must....I have no choice...,” it’s a sure sign that you’re doing something not because you want to, but because you feel it’s expected of you. This is the root of guilt: the conflict between what you want to do and what you believe others want you to do.
- Identify your limiting tribal beliefs. Tribal beliefs are the rules you were taught by the tribes you belong to: your family, religion, social circle, workplace and so on. Tribal beliefs are always at the root of guilt. To find the root tribal belief, ask yourself why you feel guilt. For instance, it’s Mother’s Day and all you want is to stay home, plant the flowers your kids give you and have some quiet time for just a little while. But on Mother’s Day you always visit your in-laws and have to bring along all the side dishes. It’s just what you do. Maybe this once the “should” part of the day can be eliminated.
- Watch for head chatter. When people are driven by guilt, they begin to negotiate with themselves. So for the mom above, her chatter might go something like this: “If I don’t visit my in-laws they’ll be miserable and then I’ll feel worse. It would just be easier to go than to make a big deal of it.” When you start negotiating, procrastinating or skirting around the issue, guilt is getting the upper hand and will start to wear you down.
- Get to the heart of your true wishes. Here’s the big question to ask yourself: If there were no logistical considerations--if you're not going to hurt anyone's feelings; if no one will believe you’re selfish; if your actions will not create any distress or anger to anyone--what would you truly like to do? Our mom above might say, “I want to stay home on Mother’s Day.” Our decisions become clear when we stop worrying about our reputations.
When you learn to get rid of the guilt, you’ll tend to feel less irritation, anger and resentment. And according to Nani, you’ll also feel calmer, less tired, more clear-headed and better able to sleep at night. I don’t know about you, but that seems like a great trade-off for giving yourself a break from the “shoulds” and “have-tos” we always engage in. And I don’t feel the least bit guilty about saying so.
Here are some events Long Island Parent magazine recommends for this week:
On Saturday, May 7-8, 14-15, the Chelsea Mansion Renaissance Faire takes place at the Muttontown Preserve, 34 Muttontown Ln., East Norwich from 12 p.m. - 5 p.m. Admission is free for children under four, $7 for adults and $4 for children. The event showcases swordplay, armored combat, historical fashions, Maypole dance, games and crafts. For more information call 914-664-2733.
On Sunday, May 8, Ocean Science Sunday: Mother's Day at Sea will be held at the Cold Spring Harbor Whaling Museum, Main Street, PO Box 25, Cold Spring Harbor at 2 p.m. Admission is $8 and $3 for museum members. The event is designed for children ages five to twelve and features mom creatures in oceans around the world. Touch a live crayfish & design a beautiful shell picture frame for Mom or a special person. For more information call 631-367-3418 or visit www.cshwhalingmuseum.org
On Sunday, May 8, Celebrate Mother's Day at The Heckscher Museum of Art, 2 Prime Ave., Huntington. Admission is free for mothers and grandmothers from 11 a.m.-5 p.m. For more information call 631-351-3250 or visit www.heckscher.org.
Liza N. Burby is Publisher of Long Island Parent magazine.