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  • Writer's pictureHelen Dempsey-Henofer

Two Flavors of Guilt: A Guide for Honoring Your Values and Boundaries

Updated: Aug 23, 2023

Guilt is a multifaceted emotion. It can be a nagging reminder of our missteps or a deliciously rebellious nudge toward personal growth. Particularly for those who have spent their lives putting others' comfort ahead of their own. We tend to not want to feel it, and take it personally as though we've done something "wrong" but expanding your understanding the two flavors of guilt can be not just liberating, but maybe something to savor. Could guilt become delicious?

"I don't want to feel guilty!": Our misconceptions about what guilt is

"I don't want to feel guilty!" How often have we uttered or thought these words, equating guilt with a profound sense of wrongdoing or personal failure? Guilt is a complex emotion that we often misunderstand. It's something that's frequently seen as a negative reaction to our actions, a lingering shadow that reflects our imperfections and haunts our conscience. But what if we've been looking at guilt all wrong? What if, instead of a mark of shame, guilt could be a guide, a teacher, or even a celebration of personal growth? Let's unmask the misconceptions and dive into the two distinct flavors of guilt that can lead us down a path of understanding, authenticity, and self-love.

Guilt as integrity indigestion: When your discomfort connects with what matters to you

You know when you've eaten something that didn't agree with you and it causes your stomach to churn? Much like the discomfort of eating something that didn't agree with your system, this is guilt that shows up when we are out of integrity with our values. It's a call to reflection, a piece of data that points out when we're out of alignment with what matters to us.

Navigating this guilt:

  • Identify the Source: Is this guilt aligned with your values, or is it the internalized expectations of others?

  • Take Responsibility: If this is genuinely about what matters to you, acknowledge the misstep, and plan your course of action.

  • Learn and Grow: Use this guilt as a catalyst for growth, not as a punishment.

A Note for the Pleasers

Discernment (is this about me or about something else?) can be challenging to develop. If you're accustomed to putting others' needs ahead of your own, figuring out what your guilt means can be particularly tricky. You may feel guilty for prioritizing yourself, even if it's in alignment with your values. If that's the case, it's time for you to slow down and start savoring (read on). It's essential to recognize the difference between living authentically and fulfilling others' expectations. A good first step is to get super clear on your personal values.

Guilt as a Delicious Rebellion: Savoring the Boundary Cookie

This type of guilt arises when we break internalized rules to align with our true selves. It's not a sign of wrongdoing; it's a celebration of personal liberation.

Savoring this guilt:

  • Recognize the Rebellion: Acknowledge that this guilt represents a break from old norms. It comes up when you are making progress, moving in the direction of personal values even when doing so is challenging for you.

  • Celebrate the Courage: It takes bravery to challenge societal expectations and live authentically.

  • Reframe the Feeling: See this guilt as a delicious experience, a sign of growth.

For Those Masking Their Needs

If you've spent your life catering to others at the expense of your needs, this guilt may be an invitation to unmask and honor yourself. It's a reminder that you have the right to express and prioritize your needs. You taking up space in the world as the whole, weird, worthy human being that you actually are: that is delicious!

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