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An exercise to help you manage guilt

Guilt by definition is as “feeling of deserving blame especially for imagined offenses or from a sense of inadequacy”. Although these feelings are very common with everyone, they are especially common with working parents and can get ramped up after returning to work after having children. Guilt can also be an on-going emotion throughout parenthood and often comes from having high expectations of ourselves.

Guilt can often be the gateway emotion to other less healthy emotions, such as shame, embarrassment, judgement or resentment and can often impact mental health, leading to anxiety and depression. We therefor think it is important to talk about guilt, not to remove the feelings altogether, but to become better at managing this emotion when it does come up. Below we share an exercise to help you manage feelings of guilt.

1. Create awareness

The first step is to create awareness around guilt. Try to think about what is happening when you’re feeling guilt. Slow down the moment. What were the thoughts you were having in this moment? Did you have compassion for yourself? What other feelings is this bringing up?

The natural reaction to unpleasant feelings and emotions would be to push them away and to avoid dealing with them. Instead, try to sit with it and bring it into the light.

2. Identity what’s real

Now that you have gained some awareness around your feelings of guilt, try to identify whether it is real or imagined.

Think about whether you have actually done something wrong? Are you taking too much responsibility for something? Are you catastrophising? Are you comparing yourself to others? Have you set healthy boundaries? What is the story you are telling yourself? Is it reasonable?

Working with a coach to unpick what beliefs lie behind your feelings of guilt might be helpful.

3. Identify the dynamics

Now that you have created awareness and identified what is real, try to think about the dynamics of the situation. Who is responsible for what? Are you taking on too much responsibility?

4. Identity next steps

Now it’s time to think about the actions you can take now in regards to the situation.

Do you need to have a conversation? Do you need to provide an apology? Do you need to re-set a boundary?

This exercise is helpful to think about when you are in the midst of feeling guilty – it will help you to slow things down and evaluate the situation and allow you to manage your feelings appropriately. The more you use this exercise, the easier it will become to use each time feelings of guilt come up.

Please get in touch if you’d like to find out more about how parental coaching can make a difference in your organisation. My colleague Sarah Turner and I have been busy creating content highlighting the importance of organisations providing support for working parents. As part of this, we created this video series exploring the entire journey of maternity leave, from before the leave starts, through to preparing to return and then the first few months back at work. If you or your organisation would like to understand more about how to support your employees as they take parental leave, please get in touch. This blog post is a collaboration between Maternity Coaches Laura Duggal and Sarah Turner. They are working together, sharing their experiences and bringing the best of their joint advice and knowledge to you.

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