In my current Work & Life Harmony, group coaching for busy mamas, we have been talking about guilt and how it affects our relationships and every aspect of our lives.

As mamas, we care so much about our families and tend to identify our personal worth in how we feel about the way we mother our children and relate to our partners. We hold ourselves up to often impossibly high standards and have a hard time letting go of our “failures.”

Motherhood is the hardest job you will ever have and perhaps the hardest one to measure in terms of success and progress. Our children are constantly growing and changing and just when we have it all “figured out,” we have toreinvent ourselves.

Because guilt can be such a confusing and deceptive emotion, I always ask, “What is under the guilt?” You see, this big emotion is generally covering some even deeper and more profound feelings. Often guilt is just the symptom.

What is under the guilt?

  • A limiting belief or thought. These are the often unconscious messages that control our emotions and help us to feel stuck and unhappy. A common limiting belief that causes guilt for mamas is: Taking care of myself is selfish. Because we are the nurturers, we often feel bad when we take time away from our children to meet our own needs. But is it true? Is it really selfish to take care of yourself?
  • An unmet need. Feelings of guilt and self-doubt can be symptoms of a deep need for more connection with our children or partners or for more time being truly present with the ones we love. The key here is quality not quantity. You could spend all day with your kids being distracted and exhausted and not give them the care you can in one hour of being present and listening.
  • An un-lived core value. Sometimes we feel guilty when we are not living up to our own personal values. If you are passionate about communicating compassionately and yet find yourself yelling at your kids, you are likely to feel terrible. Or if you care about creating community but feel isolated and lonely, you might turn that into a story about being a bad mother. The key is to uncover what it is you care about, what is missing,  and focus on simple actions to bring more of it into your life.
  • A strong emotion. Often guilt covers deeper feelings like fear, sadness or frustration. We turn these emotions into self-blame when really we are just stressed with our life situation, feeling anxious or worried, or sad. Guilt can be an easier feeling to process because we can just feel bad about ourselves rather than really look at our lives and our own needs.

So, the next time you notice feelings of guilt and self-judgment sneaking in, ask yourself some questions. What am I really needing right now? What am I telling myself? Is it true? What other feelings can I uncover? What do I care about that I am not living up to right now?

And remember, guilt is a universal emotion for mamas. You are not alone. Having heartfelt conversations with other mamas can be very supportive and enlightening. That mama that you compare yourself to, the one that you think does such a better job than you at “doing it all,” she has her days of guilt and self-doubt too!