Some Thoughts on Feeling Guilty: Women, Food and Life in General

Having a Bloody Mary on a Saturday Morning on the Connecticut River….should I feel guilty?

Yesterday I didn’t brush my teeth until almost 4 pm. That was right after I finally got the energy to get off the couch to take a shower. I did something I have not done in years. I called in sick. I tormented over the decision the night before because I just hate letting anyone down. Also, it was  Autism Awareness Day (a big day for the school where I work on Friday) and everyone was going to wear blue. But I had been feeling abnormally exhausted and people at work had been ill and it had lasted days, and I did not want to get it (worse than I already had). Plus, I just needed to be constantly near a bathroom, and well, that means staying home. I pretty much stayed in my PJ’s until noon, sat on the couch and watched the 2 hour episode of American Idol that I recorded. I got up to heat up leftover cheesy scalloped potatoes, which was about the only thing I felt like eating. It was dreary out, a perfect day to sit on the couch if you have to. But instead of totally allowing myself to relax, I kept checking my email to be sure I got back to who I needed to at the school. Finally, it hit me, why do I always feel guilty about things like this? All I was doing was taking care of myself. But there are other things too, and I know it is not just me. Many wonderful women that I know and love also feel guilty about things they probably should not. What is it about women in particular?

After looking into it a little bit, I actually came upon an article in Psychology Today. It explained that “guilt is a way we have of recognizing that we have not lived up to our own values and standards. At its best, it is an opportunity to acknowledge and rectify mistakes. But often guilt bleeds into shame, and then it becomes another story”. I felt a bit better in that shame was not what I was feeling. The article goes on to describe how Brené Brown puts it : “adaptive and helpful – it’s holding something we’ve done or failed to do up against our values and feeling psychological discomfort.” Shame, on the other hand, she says is “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging – something we’ve experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection.”

It seems to me sometimes that women feel guiltier than men. When a man forgets to call his wife to tell her he may be home late, he wonders why she is not too happy when he gets home. If, on the other hand the wife decides to run out shopping with a friend, leaving the husband home to care for the baby, well, most women I know feel guilty about this (not all, of course, but in my experience with MY friends, well, we tend to have all kinds of guilt when it comes to our children).

Low and behold, according to one  Study reported in the NY Daily News there is actually a physiological reason why women may feel more guilt than men. The article mentions  Cambridge University neuroscientist Simon Baron-Cohen  and his book “The Essential Difference.”  Apparently, “The female brain is predominately hard-wired for empathy. The male brain is predominately hard-wired for understanding and building systems.” In the study that was conducted in Spain, both adolescent females and woman age 25-33 showed higher levels of expected guilt than men of the same age. In the older age groups however, guilt levels were similar between men and women. It may be related to changing hormone levels according to the article. When men get older and settle down,  “their testosterone levels decrease and their oxytocin levels rise, making them more prone to empathy, which goes hand in hand with guilt”.

Interesting. Reading this made me reflect back on all of the things besides calling in sick that I have felt guilty about. Never going down to visit my daughter when she lived in Austin. Not visiting my son in Colorado (but going to do this in a few weeks, so that will help, I can’t wait).  Not visiting my parents enough. Forgetting almost everyone’s birthday (except people on Facebook, thank goodness, the one great thing about wasting your time on there). Not doing weights. Not doing yoga. Missing my yearly check up. I did feel guilty about not flossing my teeth enough, and out of fear alone (of the repercussions) I was diligent for an entire year. It felt great to go to the dentist and FOR ONCE have him say I was good. One less thing to feel guilty about!

My friends and I often think back about when our kids were young and some of the things we wish we did differently. More guilt. But, we realize, they have all turned into wonderful human beings and so, maybe we were meant to make those mistakes after all.

And then there is food. And eating. The patients I have worked with in the past have showed me a whole different way people look at food and eating that is filled with guilt. Eating “bad” food. Eating too much. Eating sweets. Eating fried food. Not eating enough vegetables. And on and on.Recovery Warriors share a great post that talks about the disordered thoughts people have when it comes to eating and guilt, and most importantly, how to change these thoughts. People with guilt about eating actually may be displacing their feelings. They focus on food instead of real feelings. It is important to  work on becoming aware of when you are demeaning yourself and using food and eating as an excuse. Instead, they suggest ” when the guilt pops up in your mind during or after eating, take a moment to step back and try to realize “Oh there is guilt, it’s going to make me feel bad, but you know what, I’m not.”

It is not easy to take care of yourself. We all want to be caring, empathetic and good human beings. When I get confused as to what is wrong or right, I think about the simple but wise advice my mom gave me. Growing up, she always would say: Dig down deep in your gut. What is the answer? What pops up first? Yes or no?

Yesterday, the answer was YES. Stay home. It is ok.

So, next time you feel guilty, or are confused about something you think you should or should not do, it is not simple, but dig down deep, and take care of yourself. You probably have the answer.


One thought on “Some Thoughts on Feeling Guilty: Women, Food and Life in General

  1. Right on! I decided to stop suffering needlessly from guilt. It still crops up, but I think much more critically about it now. Unless I’ve broken a law or hurt someone’s feelings by being thoughtless, I don’t think I need to feel guilty about anything – and it feels great! When I was sick last month with the same cheesy-craving illness, I binged watched 8 straight hours of the TV show unREAL. That was the only thing that cheered me while my head and throat throbbed. Oh, and I think I skipped brushing my teeth too. One day wasn’t going to kill me!


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