Managing Unhealthy Guilt

Career Tip
"At work, you think of the children you have left at home. At home, you think of the work you've left unfinished. Such a struggle is unleashed within yourself. Your heart is rent."
Golda Meir
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Managing Unhealthy Guilt

Women tend to experience guilty feelings more than men, perhaps in part due to the fact that women are different emotionally. Some believe that women's brains are wired differently, as they tend to be more highly sensitized to emotions. This can lead to stronger reactions, or an over-functioning response to situations that are emotionally charged.

Guilt can be healthy, for example, when we feel bad after behaving inappropriately or dishonestly. This healthy guilt can increase our motivation to problem solve or teach us an important lesson about the consequences of hurtful behavior. Healthy guilt can also improve our personal leadership skills and enhance our behavior in relationships, making it an advantage from a career perspective.

But what about unhealthy guilt? This type of guilt can occur as a result of persistently feeling devalued, flawed or unworthy. The fear of not doing enough, or not measuring up, is at the heart of this kind of unhealthy guilt. These feelings and the associated guilt is still not uncommon for many women today, despite the enromous strides made in women's careers over the past fifty years.

Fear, coupled with anxious thinking, automatically activates the Stress Response in our body. This response evolved to protect us from danger by triggering a surge of powerful hormones to provide us with the energy needed to defend ourselves or to escape. Joan Borysenko, in her book GUILT is the teacher, LOVE is the lesson, uses a metaphor of the stress response being like the overdrive shift in a car.
It's handy occasionally, but if we keep the car in overdrive all the time, the parts wear out, creating serious mechanical difficulties. In people, these difficulties include severe stress and anxiety-related disorders. Thus begins the career journey to burnout, unless we learn how to quiet the destructive inner voice of guilt.

When our career decisions and strategies are motivated by fear from self-doubt and guilt, the result is often self-defeating behaviours like perfectionism, over-achievement,narcissism, co-dependence and other attempts to bolster our fledgling ego. In Joan Borysenko's words unhealthy guilt is an autoimmune disease of the soul that causes us to reject our own worth as human beings....guilt causes life to become rganized around the need to avoid fear rather than the desire to share ove." Borysenko suggests that healing unhealthy guilt begin with a earch for the true or authentic Self. Her advice also includes that this search journey is enhanced through using a holistic
spirit-mind-body approach. (Source: GUILT is the teacher, LOVE is the lesson by Joan Borysenko, PhD).

For daily management of the anxiety and fear arising from unhealthy guilt, mastering mind-body exercises can be very helpful, e.g. diaphragmatic breathing, mindfulness meditation, and the practice of yoga. A simple place to begin is to learn abdominal breathing. The following exercise is from Joan Borysenko's book Minding The Body:
Mending The Mind--another great resource.

Diaphragmatic Breathing Exercise:

Sit in a straight-backed chair, sliding forward slightly. If needed, place a pillow behind the small of your back. Place one hand palm down over your navel and the other hand on top of it. Without trying to change your breathing, just notice whether your belly expands or flattens when you inhale. It can help to close your eyes to concentrate. If your belly does not move when you inhale, that means you are breathing from your chest. You can shift into abdominal breathing by taking a deep breath in and then blowing it out completely through your mouth. You will notice your belly flatten and can flatten it even more by squeezing out every bit of air. Now just let the next breath flow in through your nose and let your belly expand.

Implement diaphragmatic breathing throughout your day. Two or three minutes of abdominal breathing will immediately reduce tension, anger or stress. You can use this breathing technique whether you are in an important meeting at the office, or standing in
line with kids in the cart at the supermarket.

Take good care of yourself,

Kathleen

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