Here is a list of things I feel guilty about at this precise moment in time:
1. Cancelling my hair appointment last week
2. Having to take my children to before school care at 7 am
3. Missing Church on Sunday
4. Not setting a better example for my children at breakfast time – I often only eat later when I am at work
5. Bring grumpy with my husband last night as we put the children to bed
6. Not speaking to friends in the UK as often as I should
7. Not reading the books that friends have recommended to me
8. Feeding my children processed snack foods when we are in a rush
9. Not exercising
10. My lucky bamboo plant dying because I keep forgetting to care for it.
I feel guilty that I can’t be the best mummy I could be because of my work and then I feel guilty that I can’t commit to go the extra mile at work because of my children. It often seems like I feel guilty irrespective of the choice I make. If I choose fair trade bananas I feel guilty because we are on a tight budget and they cost more money. If I don’t choose fair trade bananas I feel guilty because I have not made the most ethical choice. I lose count every day of the number of times I say sorry for something or feel guilty and I wonder where this comes from?
Why do I feel the need to apologize so often? Why do I feel so guilty about everything- even the things I can’t control? Everyday I make real mistakes and often do genuinely need to apologize but I also know if I am honest that my incessant feelings of mild guilt often stem more from my mindset than actual real mistakes I have made.
I am a perfectionist by nature and I feel that this aspect of my character contributes to my guilt. If it isn’t perfect, it isn’t good enough. I’m not good enough. Therefore I need to apologize. Therefore I feel guilty.
For example, I set a target to exercise and I haven’t had time to exercise this week. Therefore I am not perfect. Therefore I have failed and should feel guilty about this failure. I was tired on Sunday so I had a lazy morning in my pyjamas and the children and I ended up missing church. Therefore I am not a good mother or a good Christian. I have failed and should feel guilty…..
Reading that last paragraph back to myself makes me smile. It is pretty amusing to see how I can turn any minor event into something to feel guilty about but also I have to admit that it makes me feel pretty sad. I feel most sad because I know it isn’t just me that feels this way. I know there are many many many other people who are just like me, who feel guilty about everything – even the things they can’t control. Where do these feelings of failure and guilt really stem from? Is perfectionism a personality epidemic?
I want to say that some of this guilt probably stems from the media- from those images of a perfect glossy reality that generate the message that if we don’t measure up we aren’t good enough. I also feel though, that it goes much deeper than that, that the media images only affect my perception because they hint at an inner truth. Like many people today, I feel as though my life is a whirl of activities, of commitments that I have to fulfill, deadlines I have to meet and I have the nagging feeling that I have stretched myself too thinly like over rolled pastry.
How can I succeed in the ways that are important to me if there simply isn’t enough time? I am destined to fail and then feel guilty about it. I believe that my mum guilt and work guilt both stem from the deep knowledge I have that actually, for me, it is impossible to do both jobs to the best of my ability. The images that are portrayed in the media, expectations of how my life should look, how I should act and feel only affect me because they grate and remind me what I actually already know.
If I know it is impossible for me to do everything to the best of my ability then I need to give myself grace to just do the best I can every day – I need to challenge my perfectionist tendencies and remember that life is not perfect, people aren’t perfect and that is okay. Actually it is more than okay. My advice for anyone that shares my need to continually apologize would be to capture on paper all of the guilty thoughts that flutter into your brain in a short space of time. Just like I did above. When you read the list back, offer yourself some grace. Accept your imperfections. Accept your limitations. Accept that you are a human being and refuse to feel guilty for things you can’t realistically change. 😄