The guilt of being my own person.

Written by CLAIRE HOLT | Jun 16, 2023

I spend a huge chunk of time in therapy talking about my overdeveloped sense of guilt. It’s why I called my dad to pick me up from a sleepover at 13 — I’d taken a puff of a cigarette and couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t confess. That feeling hasn’t gone away as I’ve entered adulthood. I beat myself up every time I have to leave my kids to go to work, and even more so when it’s for fun. If a friend or family member is struggling, I feel guilty that I’m not in the same place. Whenever I relax or take a nap, I feel bad that I’m not using that time to hustle or be productive. It’s why I’m a chronic people pleaser; I hate the thought of disappointing anyone.

I don’t really know where it stems from. The nature versus nurture argument comes into play with every facet of our personalities, I suppose. I know my parents never intentionally made me feel guilty, but they always emphasized the importance of ‘doing the right thing.’ I took that concept and ran a little too far with it. I’ve always worried that if I learn to let go of this part of myself, I’ll somehow lose my ability to empathize. I won’t be seen as gracious or humble, instead I’ll be a self-centered narcissist. Of course, my rational brain knows these things aren’t true, but I can’t seem to shake the feeling. 

I’ve talked to many women (and moms) in the same place, who grapple with pursuing their own happiness while feeling as if they’re not doing enough for the people around them. And an ambitious and complex woman has always been a scary prospect. We shouldn’t be too much, or dream too big. We shouldn’t put ourselves first. Instead, our rightful position is that of the caretaker. The nurturer. I do think this is all changing (and I’m lucky enough to have a husband who gladly takes on an equal load), but sometimes it's difficult for me to challenge that ingrained thinking. 

I struggle a lot with what my future looks like. I want to pursue different career paths without feeling like I’m making selfish choices or letting down my family members. I miss parts of my old life, and then get angry at myself for being ungrateful. I so badly want to embrace my joy, but I can’t help but feel bad for those who aren’t so lucky. One piece of advice my therapist gave me that seems to help is to be of service. To give back. Not only does it get you out of your head, but it brings a sense of peace. After all, it’s what life is really about. But that can circle back to my habit of prioritizing others over myself, can’t it? 

I guess I wanted to share this because I’d love to hear from you. If you’re a guilt-ridden mess like me, what has helped? Are there any tools that you’ve used to change your thinking around self care? How many of you struggle with your desire to pursue personal passions or demanding careers (and the hours that come with them), but feel like those around you will suffer?

So often we put on a facade that doesn’t tell the full story. It’s easy to post the good on social media, but it’s much harder to be vulnerable in a way that opens us up to judgment. I’d love to create a community where we can talk about our challenges without worrying that we’ll seem like a bad parent, or a self-centered brat. Hell, maybe the conversation will help me chip away at my guilt complex. If you feel comfortable, use this as a place to share your worries and fears, or offer advice to the rest of us. I, for one, would love a little guidance. 

Love, 

C x

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  • R
    Rebecca Miller | 02.22.2024 | 05:46PM

    Oh my goodness. I feel like this all the time! I want to do what’s right, and I feel guilty if I’m having an off day which then spirals into another off day and another and another as the guilt spills over. I feel guilty that I’m not as appreciative as I would like to be. I feel guilty that I’m not taking advantage of this time in my life that I will look back on in years to come. I’ve always hated change, but I feel guilty for not embracing it.

    Still, I find comfort in the little things: watching a good show, basking in the sun, or even making my bed (which I utterly hate doing, but I feel so much better after). I need to remind myself that it’s okay to take my time – life isn’t a race to the finish line, as much as it can feel like it, it’s not a competition. I’ll probably still feel guilty when I procrastinate on my work or get distracted by social media, but that’s okay. Ack! It’s normal to have emotions, and not be 100% all the time.

  • M
    Morgan | 01.29.2024 | 04:19PM

    I never post or respond to these types of things. I don’t have Facebook or any other type of social media. Why? Because I overthink everything, of course. So thank you. Thank you for being vulnerable and sharing. Thank you for normalizing people pleasing, working mom guilt, and all the other feelings not talked about enough.

  • c
    cool | 01.29.2024 | 04:19PM

    thats deep man

  • M
    Michaela | 01.29.2024 | 04:19PM

    I feel the same! It depends on the situation but usually being present and thinking about it helps. Also when I imagine it was my friend and not me in the situation, how would I feel about it? Gives me perspective.

  • J
    Jenn | 01.29.2024 | 04:19PM

    “I so badly want to embrace my joy, but I can’t help but feel bad for those who aren’t so lucky.” Oh I felt this especially about my travels (which I save a lot for). I just tell myself that feeling bad about it wouldn’t help others. And that I deserve happiness too and that it’s not my obligation to make everyone happy. (I also don’t have the budget for it unfortunately).

  • B
    Bonnie L. Durbin | 11.02.2023 | 05:39PM

    To know I am not alone in the sense of feeling guilt. At times I think to myself as the one looking in, not the one looking out. My empathy, sympathy and compassion are all variables that make the equation whole, which in return is balance. Our relationships hold our inner core value and it brings peace to know my thoughts are connected through learning life’s secrets. Thank you for sharing and allowing us to connect back. It’s a pleasure and honor. Stay Blessed!

  • L
    Lisseth Gonzalez | 08.10.2023 | 06:51PM

    I’m so glad im not alone on this!! I struggle with this constantly and I always feel guilty for being away from my family. I want to move to a different state, but I know how painful it’d be. I’d just feel guilty the whole time for missing out on certain milestones and not being home for family dinners.

    I’ve realized that I have to set boundaries with my family, but I don’t know where to start. I’m worried of being seen as a selfish and ungrateful person.

  • M
    Maria | 08.10.2023 | 06:54PM

    I’ve actually done a workshop with a life coach on this and the bottom line thing that I’ve found is that it’s okay to not do things and say no to people if your values are being affected…

    Think to yourself what has been the happiest memory that I have from the past year (or your entire life) and what values came through and then the saddest / worst memory and what values were affected. Then you can see what brings you joy and focus more on that. To me my most important value is fun (going out with friends, going to gigs, etc), as long as I’m having fun I’m happy and so I try not to feel too guilty if I spend time away from home… you can also think about involving your family in your values. It depends on what works for you.

  • B
    Brittany Mocerino | 06.29.2023 | 08:30AM

    The thing that has helped me the most with my insane guilt has been simply surrounding myself with other moms and women who prioritize themselves. It has really helped me to do the same with less guilt. And I think with time it becomes a habit and gets easier. Not to say those feelings don’t still resurface but it’s less often. You are not alone though! I have felt this my entire life and relate so much to this post! Thank you for sharing.

  • M
    Michele | 06.22.2023 | 04:24PM

    Hi C,
    When I was a young mother, I had some great friends that offered valuable advice: you can’t be your best for others if you don’t take care of yourself. That means pursuing personal interests, being your very best at your job, challenging yourself by learning new things, etc. I got my Associate’s degree in Criminal Justice when my youngest was in high school and my Bachelor’s degree in Computer Forensics last year at the age of 56. The respect and pride my kids have for me is worth way more than the paper diploma I received. They saw a mom who values herself enough to invest in her future.

    It also means going out with your friends and having fun. It’s all about balance. We know that well-balanced meals nourish our bodies. Well-balanced activities nourish our psyche and emotional wellbeing. My mom was one of those mom’s who never had a hot meal. She didn’t understand my making my kids wait for seconds until I had finished my first plate, but my kids have a reality-based idea of parenting. Because I exhibited balance, they are raising their kids with equal parts fun and firmness, work and play. My grandkids see their parents have date nights and go out with other adults for no-kids nights. There is nothing in that to feel guilty about. You have to have that balance to be the best you you can be. Remember, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time. Do the best you can with the hours we have in each day and give yourself all the breaks you need. You will be better for it, I promise.
    All the best,
    Michele

  • S
    Sophie | 06.20.2023 | 12:18PM

    As a therapist, I slap my face when someone says ‘think of the homeless or poor people that don’t get to eat or you can’t be sad you have a great life’. Just because someone else feels something doesn’t diminish our right to our own feelings. We need to address our emotions before we can talk whether it was rational or not. If we chastise ourselves for having feelings and telling ourselves that’s ridiculous and I’m fortunate, we are repressing our feelings which builds into anxiety and a guilt complex. Allow yourself to keep space for your feelings – without judging them, just note the pure emotion ‘yep I’m sad or angry or jealous’!! Even if everyday you take a pause when you think or before you think about being guilty, you will change your neural pathways. And gradually you will have created a new pathway and completely changed the brain patterns of your guilt complex! The more you make other thought patterns stronger, the weaker those you don’t use get! I used to feel like that before my degree and changed my understanding, allowed myself to feel my feelings and then be rational after. Happy for you to message me for more if you would like x care for your own emotions like you would your children’s.

  • L
    Lauren Selfe | 06.20.2023 | 12:18PM

    Hey Claire <3 I have always been drowning in my own self guilt, for as long as I can remember! It’s like I spend my life living by everyone’s expectations of what they want from me, which comes naturally to me (I’m a chronic people pleaser too!) but actually, it doesn’t do me ANY favours. I constantly feel drained, out of energy, social battery at 0%, always craving to just pause time and be by myself, doing what I want. So I just spend my life in this limbo… not sure how to get out of it, when it’s imprinted into your DNA, it’s who you are? How do you change your natural reactions to everyone else, for the sake of yourself? I guess the answer is self love / self respect.. maybe at 31 I’m just starting to understand what that really means, and how much I really lack in it? It’s nice to know everyone struggles with these battles that we keep in our heads.. even people you watch on TV who you admire and give you that sense of calm and comfort. People say to me ‘I wish you could see yourself through others eyes’ – heck, I wish you could see yourself through mine! <3 xxx

  • M
    Meghan Zorich | 06.20.2023 | 12:18PM

    I recently started photography (I’m a SAHM to two toddlers) and I am typically gone on the weekends to pursue my passion. One little comment of my absence from my husband put me in a tailspin of guilt and made me pull back, even though he works crazy hours during the week. I had a very honest talk with him about how that made me feel, and he was comforting/apologetic about his remark, which was nice. I still feel aches of guilt that I am missing from my kids or my husband has more of a burden, but at the same time it’s nice to know that I am being creative and interacting with others. I know this isn’t much help, but I hope it’s good to know that you aren’t alone. I appreciate your posts and love your realness on Instagram. Your humor is chefs kiss
    Sending love your way 🤍

  • L
    Lisa Reason | 06.20.2023 | 12:18PM

    It’s easy for me to tell other people that it’s okay to prioritise themselves but struggle to do the same. Mum-guilt riddles me at times. I do take time to get away with my hubby for a night or 2 here & there but making time just for myself doesn’t happen and I do find myself craving that alone time. I guess all I can say is that I am sure you are doing an amazing job. And they do say you will be a better parent and more present if you do take the time for you, whether that be for your work, or fun nights with your hubby or your girls, well it makes sense to me xx

  • E
    Emily Skye | 06.20.2023 | 12:18PM

    Claire, I relate SO much! It’s like I’ve written it myself. I also struggle with imposter syndrome and I think it’s all linked. I feel guilty for the things I have, I feel guilty for struggling at times, I feel like I don’t deserve what I’ve achieved and have never allowed myself to be proud of myself let alone to celebrate my achievements. Why am I like this? I don’t know. I always try to help others as much as possible but like you, I end up falling back into my people pleasing habits. If I prioritize myself I feel guilty & selfish. If I do things for others I end up feeling used, exhausted, unappreciated & alone. Where’s the middle ground? How do we overcome this? I’d love to know!
    Thanks for sharing Claire. I appreciate it ao much and I’m sure many others do too. 🙏🏼🩵 Em.

  • L
    Lexi | 06.20.2023 | 12:18PM

    I too struggle to find a balance between giving everything I can to the people around me and drawing a line for my own happiness. More times than not I feel sick with guilt that I am not doing enough for people around me. I struggle with the concept of death and one day leaving those I love. I feel like that has driven my people pleasing tendencies because I know my time is limited. I have been searching for a way to find peace and I am not there yet.

  • b
    bay | 06.20.2023 | 12:18PM

    oh my god. this perfectly described my feelings in a way i didn’t know or think to describe it. mine is more of being a good person, and if i upset somebody in anyway, i break down. not only because i’ve upset them, but because it reflects on me. no matter how big or small, it kills me. but then i let other matters go so much, i worry about what’s best in general for myself. would a good person let that slide? it’s important to bring some things to light, i feel. all of it’s so complicated.

  • R
    Rich | 06.20.2023 | 12:18PM

    I have a lot of the same feelings, learning to let go

  • J
    Jamie | 06.20.2023 | 12:18PM

    I completely understand what you’re feeling and have also struggled with am I working too hard to make sure my baby has everything, and where is that thin line that separates being a good provider and being an absent parent. And then, there is taking personal time for myself and asking does this make me a selfish or mindful of my mental health so that I can continue to nurture another healthy mind. The question I often ask myself is, why is it when the baby is born, everyone will tell you happy mom, happy baby. But as the child gets older, you’re self centered if you need a minute? I find that remembering, “happy mom equals happy child” because I think setting a good example of taking care of your mental health, as well as your childs, early on is important. This might have just been a ramble, but I really FELT this post and it got me thinking. I really appreciate your perspective.

  • N
    Nichole Berube | 06.20.2023 | 12:18PM

    I resonate a lot with the feeling of misplaced/overwhelming guilt from the time I was a child too. I always felt a need to confess something I may have done “wrong” or to tell on myself as soon as I even fibbed about any truth. This has carried into my adulthood in the form of me not believing why people around me would want to stay in my life/love me unconditionally. I’m really hard on myself especially in my personal relationships, and it causes my brain to descend into anxious chaos. I’m not sure I have much advice, as this is still something I’m very new in recognizing within myself and therefor very new to resolving/healing. I just read a book about overcoming unwanted intrusive thoughts which has helped declutter my brain a bit and learn more about it, but I’m still very much a work in progress on, well, progress. I haven’t started therapy yet either, which I’m looking forward to. Im open to any advice and resources regarding all of it. Sending love.

  • H
    Harris | 06.20.2023 | 12:18PM

    This is it – to a T.

    I have a nauseating need to tend to people’s wounds and then quickly grow to feel resentful that no one is looking out for me in the same way. When I realize that, I want to spend time growing myself, but I quickly feel just as nauseatingly guilty that I am not serving others with every breath I take.

    One thing that my therapist has talked with me about is that unless you’re fully investing in yourself, you’ll never be able to invest in others fully. You have to take the time to fill the holes in your boat every now and then before you capsize, trying to scoop up large buckets of water from other people. Do the thing that heals you and know that is what you’ve got to do so you don’t become resentful of a life of service to other.

    It’s not a bad thing to let a little guilt drive you to serve others and serve yourself. It’s finding the balance of letting it motivate you versus letting it cripple you – that is something I struggle with every single day.

  • W
    Whitney Hull | 06.20.2023 | 12:18PM

    This is so brutally honest and I’m so appreciative of this post. I can’t say I’m the exact same. However, I think I may be avoiding having children because I know (do I? Or is it just fear?) I’d lose myself. I already cannot leave my dog to go on vacations…or even enjoy any time away. I don’t trust anyone with her care (she’s old and has some issues). So, children?? Terrifying. Another point about guilt (for me)- I’m a vet tech. I have been for 11 years. It. Is. Hard. I’ve seen so many sick and abused animals. Pets I’ve been close with and watched them die. I’m burnt out. I want a new career..but I would feel SO guilty leaving the field because I’m good at my job. I NEED to be a helper in this regard and yet, I’m exhausted.

    Not completely similar, but relatable. Thanks for sharing, Claire!

  • Q
    Quirine André de la Porte | 06.20.2023 | 12:18PM

    Thank u for sharing! It is super relatable and yet it’s not owned up enough by society.

    Im also a people pleaser, or at least I was! I grew up w/ all these family issues where i learned that other peoples feelings were more important than mine. I had to deal w/ a difficult father who could burst out at any moment and a mom who (unintentially) told me everything that i should not know as a child. And this is only my home family (not yet talked about ALL the family).

    I felt the need to be responsible for everybodies feelings, luck and tears. But in the past year i’ve been facing the reality of why i want to do that. It’s not one specific technique that i learned to not feel guilty, but i have to say that it helped me to start observing myself without judgement. In what moments do i feel those urges and what is the trigger? Why am i putting myself down? Why do i think in this specific moment that i dont deserve/am worthy of/being selfish? Just by observing and looking at it with curiosity helped me finding step by step why i do feel that. While finding out a lesson or two i tried to forgive myself and fully accept it. It is okay that i behaved/felt this way – bc it does makes sense if you look at how i was raised. But what i learned the most is that i have a choice. I cannot change what happened or how i dealt with things in the past, but i can make choice how i deal with things in the future. Slowely but surely i started to make small steps in putting myself first. Crazy scary, a lot of guilt, but also while doing it i saw that my environment went with the flow, that people liked it that i was honest about choosing myself. I started to not take emotions of others personally. I’m not responsible of how others feel or deal with things – the only thing that i want or try to do is to help them and guide them (if the situation applies). Besides that, i can only be the best person for my environment if i choose myself sometimes. And when i saw myself being able to be myself to the fullest bc of choosing myself, i started to like myself more! And feel secure, grounded and confident. It’s okay to choose yourself! Bc by doing that, you are also choosing for your close environment to be there in your best state!

  • K
    Kathryn Lambs | 06.20.2023 | 12:18PM

    I feel this deeply. But I’m wary of the advice your therapist gave as then if I don’t give back I’ll feel guilty about that haha! We’ll get there. It’s just hard when our children are young :)

  • E
    Elora Van Middendorp | 06.20.2023 | 12:18PM

    This is going to sound not great but I throw money at that shit til it goes away. Assistants/ nanny/ delivery everything. Do what you need and love for you, enjoy your family and friends/ cultivate and nurture those relationships, and then cut corners for the literal rest of your existence with paid help. Giving 100% doesn’t have to be all your 100, but the guilt seems to go away for me as long as it’s an even 100 in all areas. Ok that’s all, don’t listen to a word I said, lmao this is probably some privileged ass terrible advice. <3 you’re not alone sister