How to Stop Feeling Guilty for Choosing Yourself
Setting personal boundaries is unfortunately something a lot of women struggle with. I know I do. As women, we grow up...
Setting personal boundaries is unfortunately something a lot of women struggle with. I know I do. As women, we grow up with the idea that in order to be valuable we have to be *of* value and service to others. This belief has become so ingrained in us, that setting boundaries and learning to put ourselves first not only seems like a scary task, but one that comes laden with guilt.
It’s not that it’s bad to give of ourselves to our families, friends, communities and work. It’s that if we over-extend ourselves to others, we put ourselves on the back burner of our own lives.
We end up being lived, instead of being fully alive.
That’s why we need healthy boundaries. They set the standard on how we want to be treated, and help us regain control over our existence.
Why We Fail to Set Boundaries
Societies all over the world teach girls that we must be good, quiet, polite and obedient. Women grow up (I’m one of them) learning that showing *too much* emotion will be frowned upon. We learn to be understanding, say “Yes” even (especially) when we want to say “No”.
When we say yes to everyone’s dream instead of our own, we experience a slow death of the soul. My bet is, if you can relate to any of these good girl symptoms you probably can relate to this soul-death as well.
As women, we have learnt how to settle in and with our lives for far too long. We have been trained to give our power away. Expected to let others make decisions for, and about us.
No wonder so many of us never learned how to set healthy boundaries.
What happens when we do decide to put ourselves first? Guilt sets in. We get worried and anxious about what everyone will think of us:
- Will they be upset?
- Will they like me less?
- Will they still love me?
Standing up for yourself is hard work. It’s uncomfortable. It requires discipline, perseverance and devotion. It took me YEARS to be able to speak my truth, express what I needed, and stand up for myself. Even today, when I enforce a personal boundary, I immediately feel the pull to make things right. Guilt, shame, fear never fail to show up. As if I’d done something terrible wrong.
Does this sound familiar?
If it does, I want you to know that none of this is real. It’s all programming.
To liberate ourselves from guilt we need to understand that the only validation we truly need is our own. When we constantly look outside of ourselves for it, our boundaries are ALWAYS at risk. In fact, some of us put off making big life decisions and wait until they’re made for us, simply because we think we’re not allowed to.
That’s been me a few too many times in my life: selling a house a loved because my partner didn’t like it, chasing material success to gain my parents’ approval, accepting bullying and gossip from in-laws because I was expected to become part of the family, …
This sensitivity to the opinions of others and the need to do the right thing – and be the right woman – comes from the many centuries women lived under the rule and control of good old patriarchy. Again, it’s all learned beliefs and behavior.
In order to stop feeling guilty about choosing myself I had to reprogram my mind with new beliefs, and leave consensus reality behind for the real world: the one in which there’s nothing wrong with me to begin with (whatever the media and society are telling me), the one where I’m the leader of my own life.
If you want to stop feeling guilty for choosing yourself you have to reset your beliefs about yourself and the world too.
You have to liberate your dreams.
Patriarchy: What it is?
Patriarchy refers to the social construct in which it’s the accepted norm that men have more authority, power and privilege than women. This bias towards men permeate all levels of society – from conventional religious and political roles to family structures, where men are viewed as the head: the decision maker and the one who has the final say.
Patriarchal societies (the oppressive power of which is still present in the world today) are often patrilineal: properties, titles and other forms of wealth are passed down male lines only. An example of this is the Salic Law, excluding women from royal succession. Such laws – although ancient – are still very much alive. Belgium, for instance, home to yours truly and – incidentally – a monarchy, only allowed women to inherit the royal title in 1991. Not a time before time, but right when R.E.M. were losing their religion.
Another example of patriarchy are the earliest memories I have of my mother and money. She took care of it, made ends meet, but wasn’t allowed to open a bank account without my father’s consent.
The same is true for being allowed to work, own property, get a divorce without losing everything – including your children, and the right to vote (to name just a few things). American women weren’t allowed to vote until 1920 and British women were allowed to vote in 1918, given they were over 30.
But it doesn’t stop there. Bias, stereotypes, and discrimination towards women can be found throughout history. In fact, it’s been built into it. Women have had to fight every step of the way to achieve the same basic rights as men. For many, this is still an ongoing struggle today.
How could anyone NOT feel guilty for choosing themselves in such a context.
How to Stop Feeling Guilty
Letting go of over-giving and the fear that comes from standing up for yourself takes time, commitment and effort. It requires a complete paradigm shift to reprogram your thoughts, change your beliefs and eventually reclaim your life. Saying “No”, taking up the space you deserve, and protecting your time are all part of the process. They’re all steps towards putting yourself first.
This paradigm shift will get you to see that your needs are just as important – you are just as important – as everyone else.
Choosing yourself is a life-long practice, but the more you practice it, the better you’ll get at it. As you become aware of your default thoughts and actions when you’re called to put yourself first, change will happen. Eventually your practice will be rewarded. Choosing yourself will become natural.
You’ll be (guilt) free.
What has your experience with setting boundaries and choosing yourself been like? Let me know in the comments below.