My Guilty Confession

by Katy on March 13, 2013 · 38 comments

Guilt.

A supposedly worthless emotion, but few among us, (if anyone at all) can honestly say that it’s not an effective motivator. Guilt makes us wash up the dinner dishes, visit our ailing grandmother and reach for an orange, when what we really want is a handful of cookies.

I recently attended a fundraiser dinner where my husband was one of the main speakers. As a thank you for his speech, we were able to attend the event for free. And best of all, this event included a sit down dinner with dessert, so needless to say I was excited to go.

Because the event was held in a neighboring town, my husband and I got a chance indulge in a rare uninterrupted conversation during the drive. I realized that although we do eat out occasionally, I never really enjoy the experience because guilt stands in my way. Here’s how:

  • If we’re paying for our own restaurant meal, I feel guilty that we’re wasting money that could be better spent elsewhere.
  • If someone else is paying for the meal, I feel guilty about being a big ol’ mooch at age 45.

See? There’s no middle ground!

The evening went well, and everyone seemed to enjoy my husband’s speech, which was about the importance of Automated External Defibrillators in the community. The food ended up being laughably awful, with very small dried out portions of chicken paired with extremely soggy green beans. But I’m no foodie, so I gobbled it up without complaint.

Would we all be better off without guilt? It’s hard to say. Guilt motivates me to take care of tasks that would otherwise be procrastinated, like writing thank you notes and putting laundry away.

I’m aware that I am more motivated by guilt than some people I know, yet less so than others. I sit here writing my blog thinking about how I should be:

  • Wiping down the kitchen.
  • Taking a quick shower so I can go run errands.
  • Going for a healthy walk.

However, it’s only 10:00 A.M. and I’ve already:

  • Gotten the kids up and off to school with packed lunches. (This despite the horrific Daylight Savings Time.)
  • Signed up for a month of shifts at work, which is both finicky and competitive.
  • Loaded and started up the dishwasher.

Is there any way to have a healthy relationship with guilt? I say yes. If guilt is so overwhelming that it freezes your accomplishments, (and yes, getting my 17-year-old son to school by 8:00 A.M. right after the time change is a major accomplishment!) then guilt is bad. But if guilt simply motivates you to efficiently take care of life unpleasantries, then guilt can actually be good. A tool in your motivational bag of tricks.

How do you feel about guilt? Does it motivates you? Do you feel guilty about even having guilt? (The double whammy!)

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

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{ 36 comments… read them below or add one }

Susan March 13, 2013 at 9:25 am

Actually, I feel guilty if I spend money on myself…even if it is something simple like much needed socks. What motivates me is my family and quality time with them. If we save money by not going out, I make sure we can do something fun like go to see a film or something!

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ellie March 13, 2013 at 9:27 am

But, Katy, was the dessert good enough to make up for the rest of the food?

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Katy March 13, 2013 at 9:33 am

There were carrot cake cupcakes that I think were from Costco. My husband snagged me one of the last ones and I ate every crumb.

With only minimal guilt. 😉

Katy

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Erin March 13, 2013 at 9:34 am

Pfft. I was raised Catholic. I already feel guilty when I wake up in the morning!

Guilt is indeed a powerful motivator but it can also be a soul-sucking crutch, likely because guilt is the more prettily packaged fraternal twin of fear.

As for feeling guilty for being less than productive, blame that one on our Puritan ancestors, who never seemed to have a minute of fun or relaxation in their lives.

Next time guilt rears its ugly head, Katy, I suggest flipping it the bird. Judging by your writings, I think you would enjoy that very much. 🙂

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Katy March 13, 2013 at 9:36 am

How well you know me. 😉

Katy

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Linda in Indiana March 13, 2013 at 9:42 am

Erin….you nailed it!

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nicoleandmaggie March 13, 2013 at 6:46 pm

I was about to say, “I was raised Catholic” ah, guilt! We’re also anti-guilt and have been working on figuratively flipping it the bird. 🙂

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Vivian March 13, 2013 at 7:47 pm

Erin I too was raised Catholic and have spent a considerable amount of time with guilt with no constructive outcome. If I am feeling assertive anyone or thing that makes me feel guilty will back fire and not motivate me. It might just be my age (45) but positive rewards motivate me more.

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Renee CA March 13, 2013 at 10:43 am

Eating out is kind of our hobby. I know its cheaper to always eat at home and we do a lot. But there’s just the two of us, retired, and its fun for us. We don’t take a lot of trips, buy a lot of clothes, have a fancy car, and have been pretty frugal all of our married life. Please don’t feel guilty for going out to eat with your husband. Maybe feel guilty if you DON’T every once in a while. Consider it “marriage maintenance”.

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Elenor March 13, 2013 at 11:21 am

Well, I was raised Catholic and somehow have never been very motivated by guilt. The nuns at my boarding school pretty much felt that wallowing in emotions was both pointless and a time/energy suck. It has enabled me to live a very free life, immune to manipulation by relatives or co-workers.

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Katy March 13, 2013 at 11:32 am

That’s a very healthy attitude.

Katy

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Christina @ Northern Cheapskate March 13, 2013 at 11:32 am

My general approach to guilt is this: Guilt only works if you let it.

Unfortunately, I let it work on me more than I like it to. The thing I always feel guilty about is when people are overly generous when I can’t afford to be. I try my best to pay it forward, but sometimes it’s not possible.

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Kandace March 13, 2013 at 12:00 pm

I’m finishing up grad school and I stay at home with a 1 yr old and 3 yr old. There’s always too much to do and any “down time” (like commenting on a blog) makes me feel like I should be doing something else. Guilt is my middle name.

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tna March 13, 2013 at 12:31 pm

I don’t ever feel guilty for not washing off the kitchen counter, but when I read about 28 elephants being gunned down in Camaroon I do feel guilt at being part of the human race.

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Katy March 13, 2013 at 1:54 pm

C’mon, can’t you feel guilty about both? Just a tiny bit . . .

Katy

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tna March 13, 2013 at 5:25 pm

You may have a little bit of the devil’s advocate in you too. ; )

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Stephanie March 13, 2013 at 2:05 pm

I had a really hard time dealing with guilt when it came to gifts. I don’t do gifts for anyone other than family. And even then, I worry it won’t amount to what they give in return. I realized that I just have to face the fact: my friends and family give because they want to. They have come to expect nothing in return, because it’s not going to happen. I’ve also set the precedent with my family that they will only be getting home made gifts (whether they like it or not). It’s their choice, knowing they’re getting something home made, what they want to give in return. All friends and family know what to expect from my husband and me and that sits well with me! It’s up to them how they want to respond to it.

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Amanda S March 13, 2013 at 3:23 pm

When it comes to eating in restaurants, I rarely feel guilt. This is something my husband and I both enjoy doing, so we save in other areas in our life so that every now and then we can eat out. We usually get the types of food that we don’t make at home when we go out, such as Japanese or Greek food. Also, by going to these restaurants we are supporting local businesses and putting some money in the pockets of the servers/bartenders/sushi chefs who work there. The only time I feel guilty is when I’ve forgotten to bring my own container and have to take my leftovers home in a styrofoam box.

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Katy March 13, 2013 at 5:32 pm

We do only go to locally owned restaurants when we eat out.

Then again in Portland, it would be hard not to.

Katy

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Christine March 13, 2013 at 5:43 pm

I often feel guilty for wanting some “me”-time.
I am a mom of two young children, and work part-time outside the home. Between my job, being a mom and an active parent at their schools, and managing my home, there is never a block of free time. Some people are able to reserve some time for themselves to rejuvenate, but I tend to feel like I only deserve that time once everything else is in order. And guess what? It never is.

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Vivian March 13, 2013 at 7:57 pm

Another good one Katy. I can feel guilty about going out or treating myself but in the end anyone trying to guilt me into things does not work anymore. As I have said above it does not motivate me. Positive rewards are what motivate me. On the other hand some might think I’m lazy but I have other priorities instead of having the cleanest house or the neatest yard. I value my time spent with my family and I love seeing my flowers even if there are weeds in the beds. Some people feel guilty when they see wild violets growing in their lawn I just see beautiful little flowers.
My husband would like a cleaner house but then I would be nagging him about many things I don’t right now like his empty chip bad or habit of walking through the house with boots on. It is all about perspective and balance. Maybe I will be motivated tomorrow to do some real spring cleaning… lol guilt free.

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dusty March 14, 2013 at 3:29 am

I too was raised Catholic and was always made to feel guilty about one thing or another. At 54 I gave up guilt a long time ago. I enjoy going out to eat when I can and supporting local businesses. I think moms have this feeling of guilt more than child-free women cause moms always put their children first. I think you and your hubby should go out periodically and enjoy yourself, whether it is a movie and pizza or a fancy dinner somewhere. It’s good for your marriage. My mother-in-law never spent a dime and now she is 93 and yes, she is sitting in a beautiful assisted living facility but never spent a night with her husband in a beautiful hotel, or took a wonderful vacation or ate at a fabulous restaurant. I choose the latter.

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Diane March 14, 2013 at 4:39 am

Just recently I have come to adopt a more healthy attitude toward treating myself right. When I shop I buy quality clothing that will last…usually on sale, produce and healthy food items that may cost more, but be better for me and I pay a high rent to live in my apartment that backs up to a nature preserve because just the view from my porch and the trail are worth every cent for my mental and physical health.

Abolish guilt….not healthy in any way.

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Barb @ 1SentenceDiary March 14, 2013 at 5:01 am

Diane, I think I could have written your comment almost word for word. I spent most of my adult life feeling guilty about anything spent on myself, whether time or money. Then, a few years ago, the sudden and unexpected death of a close friend caused a severe rethinking of my priorities. I am slowly adopting, as you say, “a more healthy attitude about treating myself right.” This includes money spent on quality clothing, family vacations, and the like. For me, it’s all about finding a balance between planning for the future while enjoying the present .

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Diane March 14, 2013 at 8:04 am

Barb…life has a way of helping you abolish guilt. Unexpected death of an adult child and later losing everything in a natural disaster worked in my favor to learn to enjoy each day…no matter what my income and to treat myself well within my means.

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Barb @ 1SentenceDiary March 18, 2013 at 5:22 am

Diane, just had to say how sorry I am for your loss. And I agree completely that one effect of loss (for me) is a focus on enjoying each day. I’m thinking of you today.

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Barb @ 1SentenceDiary March 14, 2013 at 4:55 am

When I was 17 I spent a year living abroad. Money was very tight. Whenever I had food or a meal that was paid for, I felt that I had to eat every bite in order not to waste a thing. On the other hand, whenever I spent from my meager savings for food, I felt that I had to eat every bite in order not to wast a thing. Any guesses how much weight I gained before I recognized the problem? Guilt can definitely be a double-edged sword.

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Katy March 14, 2013 at 8:53 am

We all chubbed up that year!

Katy

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Trisha March 14, 2013 at 6:31 am

I was raised in a fundamental Baptist environment…I struggle with guilt. I’m the only female in my extended family that works outside of the home. I LOVE what I do! I get occassional snide comments from my grandmother “Oh, you’re just so business minded. I loved staying at home with my children.” As if to say that I wouldn’t. Life is very different from 50 years ago. I’m very fortunate to have a supportive spouse that stays at home with our children. (Another anomaly in our community) But, because he is able to be the first to experience their “first” everything FIRST, I feel sad at times. I know though, that I am setting an example to my three boys, that a woman can be a good mother AND provide for her family. I may not “have it all” but I have what works for me and my family, and that is good enough for me! 🙂 I’m still working on the guilt thing. But at times, it is healthy, it gets me moving! ha!

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Starr @ The Kiefer Cottage March 14, 2013 at 6:49 am

Perhaps I’m a sociopath, but I have very little guilt in my life.

When I eat out, I congratulate myself on stimulating the economy.

When someone else pays, I congratulate myself on having such generous friends and family.

Hmm..reading this makes me think I’m not really a sociopath but a narcissist. Owell, can’t win! So I’ll think about that tomorrow (or never) and go on not feeling guilty.

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Koliti March 14, 2013 at 7:41 am

Hi Katy! EVERYONE of us, whether a mother or not, would do well to honor ourselves. Create balance. Pay attention to what is important to you.

When you are blessed with the oportunity to have a dinner out with your husband – ENJOY the moment with your husband.

When you have “chores & obligations” – BALANCE “need to-dos” with “LOVE to-dos”. Nourish your soul. Do things that make you smile.

Take un-necessary items off your to-do list. (For example, at 17 years old, your son’s to-do list can include being able to get himself to school.)

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Katy March 14, 2013 at 7:55 am

I do work to create balance, but with a junior in high school, every spare penny needs to be put aside for college right now.

Katy

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Teq March 14, 2013 at 9:01 am

For us going out to dinner is a convience thing and a socialization thing. We have a Special needs child and going out for a meal means she needs to decide what she wants to eat, tell the waiter/ess what she wants and to say “please” and “thank you”.

We also eat a lot of convience food at home, if I had a hard time with my child then I’m not going to want to cook. So we microwave something from the freezer. This also teachers her how to use the microwave and follow the directions on the box.

Do I feel quilty about the two things I just posted, YOU BET I DO. But I also do things that help her and us in other ways. She is learning to do laundry and she hangs the clothes on the line. She know’s how to do handwash dishes. (We don’t have a dishwasher.). She know’s that we use our cloth bags when we go to the grocery store or do other shopping. If we do get a plastic grocery bag it will be reused for something else or taken to school so they can reuse it. She know’s we recycle as much as possible. I very much dislike using plastic garbage bags a garbage bag in the trash can may get 5 or more uses out of it. (we dump our trash can in the outside trashcan that goes to the curb for pick up). If I have to use the dryer because I just don’t want to hang the clothes on the line I will feel major guilt and may call my dh to ask his permission to use the dryer so I don’t have to make that decision. I HATE GUILT.!!

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Nicole March 14, 2013 at 7:10 pm

I used to feel guilty when I went out to a restaurant for a meal, knowing that it would be cheaper to eat at home. It didn’t matter that I only went out to eat once or twice a month. It didn’t matter that I saved over 30% of my net income each month.

I got rid of the guilt that by creating a new category in my budget for restaurant, and I make sure I order something that I wouldn’t make at home – like sushi. I make it special, not something rushed. I get together with a friend or by myself and bring a good book.

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Rachel Gillespie March 14, 2013 at 7:42 pm

I’m supposed to be a Jewish mama but I simply cannot do guilt because I’m so busy feeling it! I feel guilty about everything – you name it, I feel guilty about it. I feel guilty about things that aren’t remotely to do with me.
However, last night I made a decision and said out loud to my husband, “I’m not going to be guilty about this.” I feel a little guilty about not feeling guilty … :-p

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JaneUlness March 23, 2013 at 2:50 am

My husband and I belong to a group that goes to Happy Hour once a week. We collect coupons for half price, or find places that have really cheap food. like all you can eat tacos at Azteca with your choice of chicken, beef, or ground beef fillings and a filling bar for 5 bucks. It s our much needed date night since we are sharing quarters with my daughter and grandaughter!

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