Guilt-Free Post Holiday Relief, for Senior Women

Jan 5th, 2011 | By Sharon Shaw Elrod MSW EdD | Category: For Senior Women

Research over the past several decades suggests women, and particularly senior women, carry more than our fair share of guilt.  We feel guilty when we work too hard.  Guilty when we don’t work hard enough.  Guilty when we spend time with our family, because the ‘work’ isn’t getting done.  Guilty when we ‘work’ so much and don’t take time for our family.  Guilty when…   wait a minute.  Let’s ask a simple question:  Why are we doing this to ourselves?

The question pre-supposes another assumption, and that is we have control over the guilt.  No question but what the guilt was programmed into us by experiences with parents, other significant people and society in general.  But the programming isn’t locked in stone.  Programming means the behavior was learned.  And what I’m suggesting today is that if some behavior is learned, it can be unlearned.

Yup!  You have a choice about whether you continue to carry guilt or not. 

Of course, you can choose to continue feeling guilty the rest of your life.  And that guilt can make you ill, create relationship problems with those you love and interfere generally with productive day to day living.  It’s no fun being around women who carry a load of guilt.

So let’s just suppose you choose to unlearn guilty feelings and behavior.  How do you go about that?  The process is much the same as you went through to learn guilt in the first place. 

  • identify guilty behavior
  • introduce the new non-guilty behavior
  • reinforce the new non-guilty behavior until it becomes the natural response

Hmmmm…  let’s look at some examples.  If I’m behaving ‘guilty’, what am I doing?  After the holidays, I may feel guilty because I was so relieved when all the children and grandchildren finally went home.  I think I should love having them around all the time, and I feel terribly guilty when they leave and I’m glad they are gone. Or I may be feeling guilt over hitting the squirrel in the middle of the road, guilt to the extent that I cry and feel morose for several hours, thus interfering with a productive day.  Or I may feel guilt because my husband wants to make love with me and I am genuinely too tired (not ‘excuse’ tired, genuine tired).  What do I do?  I give in, have sex (notice I’m not saying ‘make love’) and dislike the whole experience.  Or I may feel guilt when my mother-in-law needs a ride to the doctor’s appointment and asks me to take her; I wanted to spend the day weeding my garden, but I give in and take her to the appointment.    I feel a grudge about this, because it’s a constant interference in my life and I don’t think I can do anything about it to change.  And then I feel guilty for feeling the grudge.

All of these are very common guilty feelings carried by thousands of women.  The point is that the first step is to identify what you are feeling guilty about.

The second step is to introduce the new non-guilty behavior.  Here’s where it gets a little tricky.  You are the only one who can decide what you will choose to not feel guilty about.  Trusted friends can help you with suggestions, but you ultimately need to decide what choices you can make about not feeling guilty.  For example, when relief sets in after the holidays and everyone goes home, I can choose to feel relief because my routine was upset for several days, the house was too full of noise and activity and I felt nervous, and I had absolutely no time for myself to enjoy a holiday that I really love.  It is my choice to feel relief, and not associate that with guilt.  So I put sticky-note messages to myself  all over the house, reminding myself my relief is acceptable; guilt is not. The sticky notes stay up as long as I find it necessary to remind myself to feel relief and not guilt. 

Or, after I killed the squirrel in the middle of the road, I first say to myself, “I choose to not feel guilty about that.  I choose to feel badly for two minutes about hitting the squirrel, I choose to send a message/prayer for the protection of his spirit in the universe (I believe animals have spirits that live on, just like ours do), and after two minutes, I choose to think about something else.”  In the beginning, you may find you have to go over the new behavior several times before it begins to feel ‘normal’.  Your guilt has been normal, and now you have a new normal to adjust to.

The third step is to reinforce the new non-guilty behavior until it feels normal.  Sometimes this takes just a few such experiences of reinforcement; sometimes it takes hundreds of experiences before the new normal sets in. Reinforcement means just that; do the non-guilty behavior over and over and over again, until it feels normal and you don’t have to think about doing it.  That will be the key to tell you your guilt-changing behavior worked!

Be patient.  Don’t give up.  Just do the non-guilty behavior over and over until the guilt gives up and goes away.



Tags: , ,

Leave Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.