Why Do I Feel So Guilty When I Prioritize Myself? ~ Megan Walrod
One evening, many years ago, I found myself in a common predicament: although I’d told a girlfriend I’d meet her for dinner, I didn’t really want to go.
It was a cold December night. I didn’t want to leave my warm, cozy nest of blankets on the couch. I didn’t want to bundle up and navigate the snowy Colorado roads. I didn’t want to be social.
I was grieving the end of my marriage. I was upset knowing that my soon-to-be-ex-husband was probably hanging out with his new partner, while here I was, holed up, licking the wound that was my big broken heart.
I knew I didn’t have to pretend I was fine with my girlfriend. I knew she’d listen to me share how I was feeling. But I didn’t have any bandwidth to listen to her. I didn’t feel like I could be a good friend. But I also felt like a horrible friend if I changed plans with her at the last minute.
What was I going to do? I wondered as I got up from the couch and went to the laundry room. My head spun like the washing machine, only it was full of justifications for why I should go and excuses for why I should say no.
“But you already said yes. She’ll be angry or disappointed if you say no.”
“But you really don’t want to go.”
“But I should go, right? Maybe I need to force myself to go. Maybe being with a girlfriend would be good for me.”
“But it would feel so good to stay in. To stay warm. To just be with myself.”
A thought came to me that I’d never considered before. It was different from the other thoughts, too, in that it sounded more like an affirmation. A declaration. It was so radical, so life-altering, I had to say the words out loud. “I’d rather disappoint another than disappoint myself.”
I said the words again. “I’d rather disappoint another than disappoint myself.”
The words reverberated through my entire being and seemed to fill the small laundry room with a quivering sense of possibility. My mind stopped its wrestling match with itself. Time seemed to stop as my arms paused in mid-air, a towel hanging between them.
What did this really mean? Could I live like this? Perhaps it would mean…I’d be…prioritizing myself and what I wanted; willing to face someone else’s upset rather than leave myself to make them happy.
Holy cow. A wave of recognition hit me: is that what I’ve been doing all of my life? So afraid to disappoint another I’d rather disappoint myself? Make someone else’s happiness or acceptance more important than my own joy and relationship with myself? But my stomach gurgled. How could I ever be trustworthy to another if I changed my mind and changed plans on them?
Yet how could I ever be trustworthy to myself if I made what someone else wanted or expected of me more important than what I knew was true for me?
I called my friend and rescheduled. To my surprise, she was understanding. While she was disappointed to not see me, she also admitted to wanting to stay bundled up inside that night.
I got off the phone and returned to my spot on the couch, reflecting on this new radical possibility of living my life…for me. Making choices based on what I wanted. Willing to
disappoint another rather than disappoint myself.
This new thought flew in the face of a lifetime spent people-pleasing; a lifetime spent as the friend who listened, the partner who was a caretaker, the one who shined a light on others and what they needed, all while keeping in the dark what I really desired, what I really wanted my life to be.
That evening I embarked on a lifelong journey to understand, why do we as women feel guilty when we prioritize ourselves and what is most important to us, like our dreams and desires? What is it going to take to unwind from these beliefs and patterns and say yes to ourselves without feeling guilty?
In order to stop feeling guilty when we prioritize ourselves, it’s important to understand why we feel guilty in the first place. Only then can we begin to release the guilt, and say
YES to ourselves with confidence, which allows us to experience the happiness and fulfillment we truly desire.
4 Big Reasons We Feel Guilty When We Prioritize Ourselves
1. Societal expectations, cultural norms and gender roles, oh my!
We’re conditioned from a young age to put others’ needs and desires before our own. We’re also expected to be the nurturers and caretakers, using our innate gifts as women in service of others at the expense of ourselves. We’re also taught that if we nurture ourselves, or prioritize ourselves, we’re being selfish, bad and wrong.
2. Internalized beliefs: they said it’s true so it must be true, right?
Cultural conditioning is the water we swim in, so we take on the beliefs of our society and think they’re our own. We believe the story that we’re bad and wrong if we put ourselves first. We buy the lie that being selfish is a bad thing and we should avoid it at all costs. We believe that what matters most is being a good girl, good daughter, good sister, good wife, good mother, good ____; the one who takes care of everyone else, even if she kills herself trying to do that.
3. Fear of judgment: will they kick me out of the community?
We fear being judged like it’s the plague. We fear being seen as selfish, ungrateful, neglectful or unproductive. If someone judges us for not being a good partner or friend or mother or wife or boss or employee or ____ because we are going against societal or cultural norms, there is a deep seated fear that we’ll be ostracized and left to fend for ourselves. So to avoid being judged, and ensure we won’t be cast out from our family, community or tribe, we cooperate with society’s expectations of us and play the part of the good ____.
4. Lack of support: nobody else is choosing this. Doesn’t that make me wrong?
It often seems like there are more people encouraging us to self-sacrifice rather than practice self-care. When we do not receive adequate support from our family, friends, or community, we can often feel like we’re letting others down or neglecting our responsibilities if we prioritize our own needs and desires. This lack of support can lead us to feel isolated and ashamed of wanting to go against the norm and what’s expected
Now that you know the reasons behind the guilt that arises whenever you prioritize yourself, let’s look at what to you can do to break free from this destructive pattern:
1. Recognize that cultural conditioning is designed to control us. We’re way more controllable, and less likely to prioritize ourselves, when we are taught to feel guilty or
selfish for doing so.
2. Become more aware of the internalized beliefs that have been unconsciously controlling your every choice. Journaling, therapy and coaching are great resources to increase self-awareness and your sense of sovereignty.
3. Develop a new relationship with judgment: yours and others. Remember the insight I had? “I’d rather disappoint another than disappoint myself.” I was not going to let the fear of my friend’s judgment stop me from choosing what was true for me. Ultimately, learning how to let go of judging ourselves and receive the judgments of others (this does not mean we agree with their judgments) is the path to personal liberation.
4. Surround yourself with supportive people. Begin adding people to your life who encourage you to prioritize you and all that’s important to you. (This does not mean you won’t also tend to those you’re responsible for if you choose to. It means you’ll begin including, instead of excluding, yourself in your life more.) You could follow inspiring thought-leaders on social media who teach this important message. (Use social in ways
that work for you!) Join local or online groups and communities dedicated to supporting and empowering women to include themselves in their lives. Or work with a therapist or coach who is skilled at helping women unwind from social conditioning in order to createa life and business that lights them/you up.
It takes courage to live your life beyond the limits of society’s expectations of you as a woman. Yet it is possible. With support, community and a commitment to yourself, you can live your dreams and desires, without guilt.
What’s next? Download my free PDF to discover: How To Say Yes To Yourself Without Feeling Guilty.
If you’d like additional support with creating a life and business that includes you in it and lights you up, let’s chat: email@example.com.