Guilt is that feeling of being responsible for something bad or wrong that has happened. Some say women are particularly prone to feeling guilty, sometimes for things they have no control over or need not feel guilty about in the first place.
A woman may feel guilty for many reasons. It could be for one of the following reasons-
She did something wrong.
Her action or lack of action caused harm to someone.
What she said or did hurt the feelings of another.
She experienced success and others didn't.
Let's first consider situations when feeling guilty can have a positive outcome. Feeling guilty when our actions or lack of have caused physical harm or emotional hurt can lead us to behave differently in the future with positive outcomes. This is a case of learning from our mistakes.
Feeling guilty can make us feel empathy for others when they do or say the 'wrong' thing. We have messed up so we understand (at least sometimes) how others can mess up. If the other party feels bad about it and apologises we are more willing to allow them a second chance because we know what it is like to be less than perfect. We are also familiar with feeling guilty.
On the other hand, sometimes we feel guilty when we don't need to. We can get into the habit of feeling everything is our responsibility and blaming ourselves. This is not a healthy attitude.
We feel bad about ourselves and our habit encourages others to blame us and not accept responsibility when they should. Your child forgets to feed the dog so you blame yourself because you think you should have reminded him/her or not given the child the job in the first place.
Some of us feel guilt even in situations when our behaviour does not require change. This type of unproductive guilt can be destructive as it leads us to criticise ourselves constantly resulting in low self esteem.
Mothers can feel guilty about returning to work and leaving their child or children in the care of others. Stay at home mothers can feel guilty for not earning a wage. Any 'problems' displayed by their child can result in Mum blaming herself and feeling guilty.
At times women will feel guilt for situations which are are of their control. They fear their baby was born with a disability because of something they did or didn't do during pregnancy. This fear can be fed by reading claims that certain behaviours or dietary deficiencies lead to problems for the baby. There are situations where the pregnant mother's lifestyle did contribute to problems for the baby but sometimes the situation is not due to anything the mother did or didn't do.
If you find yourself frequently feeling guilty about things you have no control over or in situations where you could not know what the outcome would be there are some strategies you could try -
Write down what you are feeling to clarify your emotions. Think about whether you are feeling guilty when you do not need to.
Talk to trusted friends/family about your feelings to get some reassurance.
Read online blogs, articles and answers to questions from other women who may have similar feelings. This may reassure you that you are not the only one burdened by unnecessary guilt. Take note of any helpful advice they have to offer. When you read that others don't iron any more or that they take short cuts with cooking meals you may decide you have unrealistic expectations of yourself.
Consult a counsellor to help improve your self expectations and boost your self esteem.
Spend time relaxing and enjoying life instead of stressing.
Use affirmations stating you acknowledge you take on too much responsibility for the problems around you but that you can overcome needless feelings of guilt.
While it is important to take responsibility for our actions and what we say, it is destructive to feel guilty for things we do not need to. It wastes both time and energy and can undermine our relationship with others as well as with oneself.