Don’t Allow Guilt To Obscure the Difference Between Fact and Opinion When It Comes To Body Management

Yesterday I saw people taking photos of these adverts on the London Underground and I was interested in why they would do it. I understand that the previous time such a campaign was launched there was a huge backlash saying that it was fat shaming and subsequently they took them down.


I think it is dangerous to make everything that feels uncomfortable be classed as a guilt trip or shaming – because it is easy to fall instead into asserting that anything that makes you feel uncomfortable, that makes you feel guilty is automatically bad. Remember, there is good and bad guilt – good guilt can spur us into action to change our behaviour and so when guilt gets triggered it is important to first check which kind it is. With body management, it tends to be a bit of both and that is why it is confusing.
Guilt around body management is very difficult to navigate – if Guilt is triggered then everything said whether factual or opinion will be interpreted as an attack. I believe that everyone is fully responsible for their bodies and should be left to manage them however they see fit – what works for them. But they should also have access to the facts and information that allows them to make an informed choice.
Taking personal responsibility for your body has been slowly eroded away by decades of marketing aimed at telling you that someone else knows what the perfect You looks like, and in order to break free from that we have take personal ownership of our bodies both in how they look and our health. But we have to realise that for many people being made to feel guilty is still very raw.
Everyone can treat their bodies however they like – if they are not harming anyone else, then it really shouldn’t matter. However, part of taking that kind of ownership is to understand the consequences of your decisions – without judgement from others. Find out the facts of what you plan to do, do the risk assessment and then decide whether to carry on or makes changes. But don’t stay ignorant of facts just because they are uncomfortable or trigger the guilt that forces you to look more closely.

When Sharing Your Life Gives Power To Others

Social media tells us that we need to be more social by telling the world our every thought. Scrolling through newsfeeds you are given insights and glimpses into the minutiae of people’s lives, so they become familiar, friendly faces and you become invested in every moment of their lives – which they will happily share with you every moment they can. For those who fear disconnection with others, this type of connection with others is priceless and shows very clearly how connected we all can and should be. It’s wonderful.

But.

Sharing a thought that is not fully formed, or giving a glimpse to others of the beginnings or stirrings of thoughts that will later form into your potential goals, dreams or aspirations can come with hidden dangers. Once something is shared with others, it loses something. It loses the wonderful moment when something is truly yours and yours alone. I remember this moment from when I found out I was pregnant – although the majority of my brain was immediately picturing what my husband’s reaction would be when I told him and the rest of the world, there was a moment where it was something known only to me. I realised that those moments are extremely precious. You know that your life will never be the same, and it is a moment you will never get back. You can’t put the genie back in the bottle once that first person gets told. But for those few minutes or hours, you get to fully embrace its beauty.

You lose that full ownership of something the second someone else knows. Now with some pieces of information, that’s a blessing. At the moment I was told I had breast cancer, having that news shared with my husband was a relief because it felt too heavy a burden for me alone to bear. Telling others helped eased the weight of having to cope with it. When we need people’s support and – crucially – they know how best to support us, it is a powerful connection and one to be cherished.

But not everyone knows the right way to respond, or the right thing to do and in some cases, there is a painful realisation that this is so. When I fell pregnant, everyone around me was excited, ecstatic and ready to congratulate – it was wonderful. When I had to tell them about the cancer, there was awkwardness, a mixture of sympathy and compassion and I realised that this was new territory for all of us and we all didn’t know what to do.

Once people know your news, your secret, they try the respond in the ‘best’ way but instead, usually end up responding in their best way. So when I announced my pregnancy, they wanted to be happy about it so that is what I got given. This to me was bittersweet because I had suffered a miscarriage only months earlier, which many of them knew. But they looked at the pregnancy through their lens, not mine and so forgot the painful times and focused on the good. Good, happy news is comfortable and safe – pain and loss are not. When I spoke to people about the cancer, again they saw it through their perspective – many had other people in their lives who had suffered similar or worse conditions, many had had scares of their own. The response they gave wasn’t to me or for me, it was for them and what it meant to them.

I learnt from these experiences that when you give information to others, you are also giving them permission to react in their own way to it and in many cases this comes back to you as opinion, analysis or judgement. In situations as above there are some fairly typical responses that I got and so nothing was particularly unusual or startling.

But the same thing applies when you share information that is not so typical or not what they are expecting. and that is where you can feel that what you have to say must be wrong because the reaction you get from people is so untypical as well.

If you can see that people respond within their context, and not yours, some of what you share may come as a shock or feel to them as if it from someone they barely recognise. The shock then leads them to react in a way that is more visceral and unguarded – and that might hurt.

But it doesn’t make what you shared wrong. Only that you shared it with the wrong people.

Recognising Guilt is Not The End of The Story But The Beginning

I speak to a lot of people about my work and there seems to be a fairly common misconception that working with me is about focusing on how guilty you feel. I get it – my topic is guilt, my book is about guilt and I use guilt in every sentence.

But my work is way more powerful than that. Yes, we talk about why you feel guilty. But – as quickly as possible – we dismiss that and you get to create a beautiful brand new guilt free page of your life. We talk about what life looks like without judgement, without focusing on other people’s needs first, without second guessing your decisions.

And it’s important to recognise that this is true about any work done on self improvement or self healing. We all approach it from different angles and lenses for sure, but the focus is always on trying to get you past the thing that is holding you back, and onto looking at like free of it.

I had a message recently from someone who said that they couldn’t imagine life without the constant guilt and regret of past mistakes – and that just breaks my heart. Those feelings are just that – feelings, emotions – that are there to remind us that what we are doing is either working or not. There will always be times when you feel guilt over things that have happened in the past – but you can’t change the past actions, only your actions in the future. You may have an experience that was so painful, and so impactful that you can’t see that pain ever going – but it can. It takes effort to use that pain not to punish yourself but to drive you towards a better version of yourself. In doing so, you honour the pain you caused others by vowing never to do that again.

None of that growth and personal development can happen unless you are prepared to go to the guilt first. But it isn’t scary to face, I promise. It is the key to your life changing for the better forever.

I wasn’t seeking excellence as a perfectionist. I was seeking it because I was imperfect.

If you have read my book Journey Through The Guilt Trip, you know that in my 20s, I had a nervous breakdown, trying to meet expectations that I thought would make others accept me and like me more. I strove to be the best I could, and always said that I was competing against myself all of the time and to some degree, I guess I was. Although, when I now look back, I realise that the competition with myself was driven from hiding the fact that I knew that I could never be truly perfect.

And herein lies the problem. People who are driven to succeed may look like they are set upon perfection, but in reality, they are more likely to be incredibly sensitive to the fact that they are anything but – their effort is more to keep that hidden from the world than anything else. And this is important. We tend to hold up ‘successful’ people as those role models for the rest of us – work hard, strive to be more, to be better, just like them. But if we don’t understand what has been driving them, we may be striving in the wrong direction. If they have been driven by a quest to hide their imperfections, thinking that if they show them that society will judge them and find them lacking, then we are in a tricky situation. Can you honestly say that you show compassion for your idols who seem to fall from grace? It takes a big person to see the humanness of their idols and not feel somehow cheated.

But to feel like this is to miss the point. Let’s celebrate these people not because they are perfect, but because they have succeeded even when they were NOT perfect. Don’t judge role models by what you want them to be but by what they are. It is healthier for you and them, as we stop holding people to impossible standards and get disappointed when they cannot be met.

To read Journey Through The Guilt Trip, go to Amazon or click here

Stop Saying Sorry

I am one of those people. Those people who apologise. And then apologise for apologising. And apologise for apologising for apologising (you get the drift). There is a spiral that you can sometimes get into that has guilt at its heart. You do something wrong and over apologise, to the point where you then feel guilty for feeling guilty – the cycle is never ending.

This impacts sufferers of anxiety the worse. They can drastically increase their symptoms because of the guilt they feel for showing their anxiety. They try to manage their symptoms but then (because it was always going to) their symptoms show themselves, and they feel so bad that they increase the guilt they feel, making the symptoms worse and worse, until they are caught in an eternal loop of guilt and shame.

And we all feel it with them. I can’t tell you how many times conversations have included someone saying to me “Stop saying sorry”, including when I was in labour with my children! The more you apologise for who you are or what you do, the more you are telling the world that they can dictate to you what is right or wrong.

A lot of it has to do with the concept of being ‘polite’ or ‘nice’ – it’s good manners to apologise – if you have upset or hurt them in some way. But you can’t do that just by being you. It doesn’t work like that. Take accountability for any actions you take, of course, but don’t go apologising for who you are. The world needs you to be big and bold and uniquely you – not apologising for taking up space.

Using Social Media for Mental Health Support

TRIGGER WARNING – REFERENCES SELF HARM. 

This week has been heartbreaking. I follow a lot of people on Twitter who suffer from various forms of anxiety, depression or mental fragility. One of those people self harms and during one such episode, posted a picture of their wounds up on the social media platform. They was clearly in some distress so the immediate response from most people was concern that they get them checked out and that they take the medication they was prescribed. But what I found upsetting was how many people immediately – during the episode – were incredibly cruel to them, saying that they were being triggered and they had just caused them to relapse. They were horrified that this had happened and has apologised but they were clearly not thinking straight when it was posted.


I don’t pretend to understand what it is like to be triggered by such a picture and I do understand how very tenuous the control is over the conditions. But I also struggle with holding them fully responsible for this. They are very clear in their tweets and posts that they struggle with this, and it would be fairly logical to assume that there is a risk of them having an episode. And this makes me wonder, how much responsibility do we have to take in order to make sure that others aren’t triggered? I am not for one moment saying that they were right in posting it and quite rightly they removed it as soon as the medication kicked in. But now they are still getting abuse, and they are still mentally frail, so I just don’t understand why it is okay for them to be held responsible for the mental states of others, but not the other way round. 
How much responsibility should you take for yourself if there are things that trigger you? If I know I am triggered by something, isn’t there some form of rationale that says that there are certain people or accounts I should probably avoid because the likelihood of seeing something triggering is fairly high?
It is so depressing to think that people look for mental health support online because they feel they don’t have access to any other type of resource, and I feel for all sides of this particular discussion. Having to navigate social media anyway is incredibly difficult, but doing so trying to avoid certain topics must be exhausting.

Please seek help when you need it – there is no shame or guilt associated with needing some support:

https://www.samaritans.org

http://www.samaritansusa.org

Guilt and Why Boundaries Matter

When you let other people determine your choices, whether consciously or not, you are effectively giving away your power to them, as you are letting them decide what your right and wrong choices are. When you overstep those decisions, you feel guilty. The reason you may not argue or resist this is because to get them out of your head, you need to set up some boundaries that clearly mark areas of your life where you will not allow interference.

Boundaries make you very nervous as they suggest that you are putting a barrier in between you and other people. And the worry is that this barrier then somehow stops you having a close bond or relationship with them. But that just isn’t true. In fact, you can’t have close bonds with someone where there are no boundaries set in place – because how on earth do you know that you are close when you have no sense of where you start and finish?

Boundaries are just as comforting to others as to you – it tells them the lines within which they can play. Without them, we all become a bit lost, and we can more easily give in to our worst impulses. Think of children who are left to their own devices – they may start out following the rules, but their natural instinct is to push through that, to find out where the limits are to what behaviour can be acceptable. No limit means they just keep going.

Human beings are not designed to have no boundaries when it comes to our emotional security and well being. Look at a baby who is put down on a mat, and not able to feel anything protecting them; they flail their arms around and become very tense. They seem scared because they are scared – they feel that they will fall. You are used to having something around you at all times, from when you are in the womb and beyond.

Freedom might suggest that we don’t want to be restricted, but ultimately, even a skydiver makes sure they have a parachute!

In order to live guilt free, you have to know that the choices you are making are coming from you not others. To do that, you must know where your limits and boundaries are. And you must trust that by putting them in place, you are making life a lot easier for everyone else around you.

The Difference Between Abstinence and Punishment, and the risk of Dry January

Somewhere, someone on your social media feeds, at work, or in your family is doing a month long challenge such as Dry January, restricting their consumption or use of something in the name of charity, or just to prove they can. I love the idea that people want to take action to help others, and put themselves through a small amount of discomfort in order to justify raising money for people who live with hardship and discomfort every day. Whether it is alcohol, meat, or chocolate, they cut something out of their life that would otherwise be an integral part of it and their discomfort and sense of loss during that time feels appropriate and in some way cleansing.

But restricting anything in your life can be triggered by or can trigger guilt. When you are stopping yourself doing something, you have to be very careful as to the reasons, so that you have a clear intention. If you are giving up alcohol for January, the reason you are giving it up makes a difference to how difficult you will find it. If it is because you have concerns about the physical and mental harm associated with prolonged and heavy drinking patterns, then you may feel good at the end of each day that you are helping to heal yourself. But if you are doing it because you are known to love your weekend drinking sessions, and your family can’t believe that you can go without booze for a week let alone a month, your reason for doing it is not so clear or positive and you will likely find it harder, only sticking to it for fear of losing face.

This difference matters. If you are changing your behaviour, any time you do so as a response to your core values and beliefs about the world and who you are, you are taking positive steps to become the person that you want to be – the one you can face in the mirror. Your actions are not determined by appearances but by a deep seated conviction that your actions have consequences and you are no longer prepared to accept those consequences – you want to change. Not only will you find the month long abstinence cleansing and maybe life affirming, you are also far less likely to go backwards quickly.

However, changing your behaviour for reasons external to you – because your friends bet you couldn’t, because others found the idea so laughable that you would even try it, or because everyone in the office is doing it – doesn’t come with the same level of commitment. You are willing yourself to do it, but you don’t actually want to do it. This has a huge impact on your ability to stick with the challenge for the whole month, as well as making the days feel like ongoing punishment. And because it will feel like punishment, you are far more likely to go overboard when the challenge is over, over consuming or overdoing in a way that could be dangerous or irresponsible. Like the kid in the sweet shop, there is no thought of control, just consumption.

If you have felt guilty for a while about something that you are eating, drinking or doing, then such challenges are a great way to help you use the guilt of giving up to compel you to stick with it long enough for it to become a habit. But if that central and (critically) core personal guilt is not there, then it is not going to create a positive change to your life, and you are more likely to be one of those counting down for the month to end so you can make up for lost time.

Guilt and Passive Aggressive Behaviour – If You Say So

Making you feel guilty doesn’t always happen (in fact, hardly ever) as angry tirades of abuse. Its effect is achieved mostly in those small offhand comments, designed to make you question your view of your actions, to make you doubt yourself.

Think of the times when others have been able to adapt your behaviour and the subtlety used. It’s not “Don’t do that!”, but “if you want to do that, then go ahead”. It’s in telling you that they don’t agree with you but they are going to take a grandstand seat to watch you do it. It’s in the lack of congratulations for your achievements but a reminder that they did it before, did it better or don’t see the point of doing it at all.

The subtlety is what makes it so dangerous – you are questioning yourself and feeling guilty and foolish and they have achieved all of that with a smile on their face. The definition of passive aggressive behaviour includes the “avoidance of direct confrontation” and it is this that can make it so difficult to spot and so difficult to counter. There is nothing for you to defend yourself against, as the words used, on the face of it, appear harmless. Once you realise how bad they have made you feel, the only thing you can do is fantastise about what you could or should have said back to them.

So what can you do against the relentless attack on who you are, on your self confidence and self worth that does not appear until it has done its damage

My advice – take what they say at face value. If it is wrapped up in complimentary language, accept the compliment. If they dare you to go ahead without their permission – do it. Don’t respond by questioning yourself but instead don’t question them and hold them to what they say. Passive aggressive works because it threatens without being threatening, due to the assumptions that are loaded into the words used. But, when you take that venom out of the words, you take the energy out of the attack.

This also turns the power back to you. In effect you are saying to them, if you want to attack me, then you need to say it loud and clear, and make it obvious, because I’m going to deliberately not respond when you try to do it subtly. It might sound strange to be inviting an outright attack but they are a lot easier to defend yourself against than charming language hiding hostility.