By Liz Phillips
Guilt will really mess you up. That’s a fact because research says so. Some research also suggests that women feel the guilt a whole lot more than men a lot of the time, which isn’t really all that surprising. Sadly.
I work with someone who often says that guilt is not an emotion. Of course what she really means is that we shouldn’t waste our energy on it. Which I totally dig. But can it really be as simple as that?
Me and Guilt have a pretty tight relationship. Arguably one of the longest relationships that I have managed to sustain during my three decades on this planet. Guilt was my companion in my second year at intermediate school when I was being bullied by a bunch of very mean girls. We got much closer during those hectic high school years when the old body hate started to kick in. By the time I reached uni, Guilt and I were most definitely sleeping together; in fact Guilt became an extremely trusty bedfellow through three particularly difficult years with a guy who seemed dead-set on shredding every ounce of my self-worth. Of course no unhealthy relationship would be complete without some serious stalking, and when I tried desperately to make a fresh start in Melbourne back in 2003, Guilt didn’t hesitate to show up on my doorstep and demand to be let in.
It’s now years later and Guilt is still hanging around. That’s a lot of years of being with Guilt. But as I face another huge upheaval in my life I am determined to tackle Guilt head on. And I think tackling Guilt is ultimately about forgiveness and striking up a healthy relationship with Freedom.
Guilt takes many forms in all of our lives. And what seems like a small Guilt to me could be a huge Guilt for you.
One of the things I feel most guilty about is telling a friend of mine that I couldn’t go out with her because I had to stay home and look after my asshole of a boyfriend because he had nearly drunk himself dead the night before. A couple of days later I told the same friend I would call her and then I didn’t. All the while she was grappling with some really heavy shit. And I knew that too. These may seem like small to medium sized guilts in the scheme of guilt. But not long afterwards she took her own life. This is the same friend who took my side and had my back for many years when I was being bullied at school. And all had I do was pick up the phone. But I didn’t.
Other guilts of note have included ditching my fiancée to run off into the sunset with someone else, not meeting my parents’ expectations on numerous occasions (if only I could finish that damn Masters degree), not calling or seeing my family nearly enough (or at the moment ever), not being there for some of my friends who don’t realise how much they mean to me, not doing enough good in what is a very screwed up world. And then of course there’s the guilt of not exercising enough, of eating too much, of just generally not meeting the stupidly high standards I impose upon myself (or should I say THE WORLD imposes on me?). The most recent guilt to add to the pile is that my marriage is ending, in part because I don’t want kids and he does.
I am under no illusions that my list of guilts makes me unique. I am pretty sure that as you read this you will be able to relate to some or much of what I am saying. I guess that’s why so much has been written on the subject of women and guilt, particularly as it relates to having or not having children, how we raise (or don’t raise) said children, how we feel about and treat our bodies, how we behave (or shouldn’t behave) in the workplace, how we balance our relationships/children/careers. Hell, we even get made to feel guilty for having normal bodily functions. After all, ladies don’t fart!
So how the hell do we break up from Guilt and start a relationship with Freedom? And by Freedom I don’t mean being single or simply doing what we want when we want. I mean how do we release ourselves from all of our guilts, big and small, and simply feel free to be happy and accept things for what they are?
I guess it has to be about forgiveness. Forgiving ourselves, forgiving others, forgiving the universe for being a real dick sometimes. Because the alternative—being wed to Guilt—is not helpful for you or for anyone else you care about in your life.
So I am filing for a divorce from Guilt. It may take a little while to process. I highly doubt it will happen overnight. But at least I have filled out the paperwork and set the wheels in motion. I expect Guilt will come back a few times for break up sex. And will no doubt make an appearance or two at the bottom of a bottle of wine.
But I hold out hope that Freedom is not too far away. I expect I will wake up one day to find Freedom lurking expectantly under my duvet. I look forwarded to that day.
And maybe if Literally, Darling will have me back sometime I can let you know how my journey to Freedom pans out. I may even have some useful insights to share. Stranger things have happened, after all.
Liz is currently in the throes of what is most likely an early mid-life crisis and is ridiculously obsessed with motivational slogans and writing everything down. She has also attempted to set up a feminist blog which she is determined to get back to at some point very soon. She is quietly petrified about sharing her crap with the world via the interweb, but figures hey you only live once so why not. It is also an amazing opportunity to get out all of her rants, feminist and otherwise.