The guilt gene!

Kathy Krugerchange, guilt, motherhood, peace27 Comments

I can’t help it – it’s in my genes! For a Mum who wonders more than most about nature vs nurture (our kids being adopted and all), I wonder about the DNA that leaves me feeling like someone is always saying to me ‘Thou Shalt Not’  of ‘Thou should not have’ from on high, from within myself – where is that bloody voice coming from?).

That someone, who sits on my shoulder and narks – you shouldn’t do that, feel that, be that because it is WRONG, even when it’s right, or perfectly understandable at least – well that someone can just go ____ off (opps feeling guilty again – Thou shalt not swear!).

That someone who tells me I AM wrong, even when I haven’t DONE anything wrong, doesn’t make any sense but I still believe them anyway! Pretty silly right.

Do you have a guilty voice that dominates the airplay in your head?

You see I’m beginning to think that my guilty voice isn’t a someone at all, or even an irrational side of myself that I stupidly choose to listen to, but a something that is somehow programmed into my make-up, encoded in me so that I can’t switch it off. I can tell that voice to shut-up but it keeps on harping like some recurring computer error – warning, warning fatal error!

I think I have the guilt gene! It has come down my Irish Catholic lineage to leave me feeling like I’m never good enough, and if I ever do feel good enough, then I should feel guilty because pride is a cardinal sin, isn’t it? I even have to watch how much pain I allow myself to feel, because I’d be guilty of wallowing in it. I can say three Hail Mary’s and five Our Father’s but I will never be good enough – I am born into sin after all and no amount of penance will change that.

Ok – religious rant off my chest. In truth our daughter is being confirmed Catholic and making her first Holy Communion next weekend, so I do believe in God’s forgiveness and our own power to forgive ourselves and others – I believe in God and good wherever they are found in this universe. But I don’t want to believe my guilty voice any longer.

Of course I understand that guilt is a common garden variety curse of all mothers, and the moral compass that makes you feel bad when you yell at the kids, or simply aren’t good enough, in other words most days.

And I’ve written before about the extra layer of guilt I feel as an adoptive mother, that comes down to a debt of gratitude that I feel I might never be able to  repay, so to bang on any more about that would only make me guilty of being self-indulgent. Yep, been there too.

I understand that guilt can serve a useful purpose in helping us to become better versions of ourselves and that a total absence of guilt can turn ugly, deadly in a sociopath’s hands.

But generally speaking, I’m making a case for guilt being a useless, wasted, crippling emotion that I would give up if only it weren’t programmed into my DNA.

Do you believe that is even possible? I hope I’m not the only one driven crazy with shame sometimes.

So what can I do? What can any of us do to stop guilt running the show? I know I can recognise guilt for what it is – wasted – and stop it in its tracks. I can realise it’s a tendency (OK a trait) that I have to be hyper vigilant about.

I can avoid nurturing guilt in myself by cutting myself some slack for a change. I can avoid nurturing it in my children, because they don’t have my genes and I can only be responsible for what I pass down to them through the way I live.  And I can pull myself up when I find myself passing down that guilt, but NOT feel bad about it – after all it’s not easy to over-ride a computer program, a genetic code.

If we can reboot our way of thinking, somehow re-engineer how we feel , then I reckon we can conquer the curse of guilt and use it constructively for our own, and other’s benefits. It can be good when its genuine remorse and the will to try harder, and very bad when it’s a form of self-reproach that never ends.

We can choose to see guilt as just a reminder to think before we act, to be more thoughtful, to put ourselves in another’s shoes. We can remind ourselves that while we can always do better, we are still good enough, and we certainly weren’t born wrong. We can tell guilt to ‘go jump’ unless it serves us.

At the very least I’m turning the volume down on that guilty voice, looking for some new anti-virus software to weed out the flawed programming, and recognising that while we may not be able to change our genetic makeup, we can learn to live the way we choose.

We can choose forgiveness, for ourselves mostly and so find peace.

Linking up with Essentially Jess from IBOT this wet Tuesday. Please share if you or someone you know needs to get over the guilts. And I’d love to hear any guilty habits or secrets if you want to fess up – might make us all feel better.


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Kathy KrugerThe guilt gene!

27 Comments on “The guilt gene!”

  1. Martine@themodernparent

    Well of course I know you are not alone in feeling guilty and yes sometimes a small dose of guilt can help us become better versions of ourselves. When the guilt becomes debilitating however and stops us from finding joy in the everyday then we need to work harder to do away with it. If you have a sense of awareness of all that you are achieving and know that everyday you are ‘trying’ in whatever it is you are doing then you need not have anything to feel guilty about. And if there is a god then apparently he forgives everything…..(not being religious however, catholic guilt was never something I had to deal with). I do think being a mother is one of the greatest catalysts for all sorts of guilty feelings so it is something I work hard on all the time.

    1. yinyangmother

      Thanks Martine – I think guilt has definitely debilitated me a times and it has often been more about what I didn’t do (ie regret) that anything I actually did – I guess tied to that sense of not being good enough. I think you are very right in that it is something we just have to work on as mothers.

  2. homelifesimplified

    I definitely think guilt is a wasted emotion because it traps us in the past as guilt is usually over an action already taken. I am combatting this by living in the now as much as possible – letting go of things already done and trying not to fret about what is coming xxx deb

  3. Rhianna (@aparentinglife)

    I agree to a certain extent that in some circumstances guilt is what can propel us to do better but it is not something that I like to let myself feel all that often. Instead I prefer to rest assured I have given my best and hope that in the end all will be ok.

    Fairy wishes and butterfly kisses lovely

  4. Zanni Arnot

    Kathy, I think guilt gene is very feasible. Guilt is a useful human emotion, but in women particularly mothers it does seem to dominate. When I was brainstorming about why this might be I thought:
    a. guilt requires empathy of another’s emotion, and mother’s generally speaking have deep empathy
    b. women are largely social creatures. Our brain has specifically been designed to interact socially, and modify our social selves. Guilt is an essential social emotion. We feel guilty towards someone because we care.
    I don’t think guilt is dysfunctional as a normal emotion. But obviously if it overtakes our mindset and stops us from functioning, then it’s worth looking at how to balance the guilt voice. I believe the institution of religion, and also the anglo-English cultural traditions compound our guilty feelings.

    1. yinyangmother

      What a thoughtful reply Zanni and I think you have hit on the main reasons why women and espcially Mums suffer guilt. I’m certain my sense of feeling guilty has come down the maternal line. But at least the flip side is empathy and a desire to care and be better. Thanks again.

  5. Have a laugh on me

    I totally need to get over the guilts, but it’s not easy, so you’re not alone. However, I think you’re on the right track and are very self aware which to me is the first step in making sure guilt doesn’t affect our lives as mums too much – if that even makes sense? Em

  6. Salz

    the guilts is in all mummies hearts i think. We feel guilty if we stay at home and can’t get everything for our kids and we feel guilty if we work. or if we put our kids in child care etc etc. there is no running away from it even when we are older.

    1. yinyangmother

      I do need to keep reminding myself that it is pretty typical for us Mums and that I’m not some freak case. I think being an adoptive Mum I have this pressure of perfection (in my own mind) that adds to guilt.

    2. yinyangmother

      Hi Salz – I think we can collectively be our own worst enemies – if we don’t make each other feel guilty for our parenting choices it would help a lot!

  7. Lydia C. Lee

    I thrive on guilt. I like to think it makes me a better person next time round, but I often think a lot of it is just lack of confidence….I do know it’s a wasted emotion tho…just how to get rid of it??

    1. yinyangmother

      I do think there is a strong motivator of change in guilt – its working with that rather than feeling helpless to change that is the big hurdle. Thanks for visiting.

    2. yinyangmother

      What a great attitude to use it only for postive growth and you are probably right about guilt being very much tied to low self-esteem – the trick is feeling better about ourselves and more confident in our choice so that when we feel guilt it is genuinely because we’ve gone against our better judgement, acted hastily etc

  8. Lisa@RandomActsOfZen

    I’m totally trying to get rid of the “striving to be perfect at everything” mentality. I can feel guilty at the drop of a hat, so constantly need to talk myself out of it.
    Thanks for making us think Kathy. xx

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  16. colin

    Has it been proven we have a guilt gene and is responsible for ailments we may pass on to our progeny . That seems reasonable to me in the world of epigenetics . Please share your thoughts on this.

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