What is guilt? Is it healthy? Does it serve any useful purpose?

According to some, having been raised an Irish Catholic, I should practically have a PhD in guilt!  Seriously though, seeing the effect that it has on people’s lives, I do ponder this feeling, and its consequences, from time to time.

Recently I’ve been thinking about how strongly it relates to shame.  For most of us, this is something that we learn at a very early age.  This means that it’s acquired during the phase of our lives (0 – approximately 6 years of age) when we accept things without question, and without the ability to judge their validity or helpfulness.  As a result, shame is something that is very longstanding, deep rooted and can have a profound impact on our lives.  It is also – as alluded to in my, slightly flippant, comment above – often embedded into our culture, helping to perpetuate and strengthen its hold on us.

So, is it healthy, and does it serve any useful purpose?

If I can address the second part of that question first, I believe that guilt is only useful in as much as it alerts us to discomfort.  It shows that there is an issue that needs addressing.

When we experience discomfort in this way, it indicates that our thoughts are out of line with our Higher Self’s views on the subject.  For example, if I do something that makes me feel guilty, my inner critic is telling me all those self-shaming thoughts, such as:

  • You’re a bad person!
  • You never get anything right!
  • You’ve failed again!
  • What a stupid mistake that was!

In contrast, our Higher Self never judges us, and certainly would never address us in less than loving terms.

So, our discomfort makes us aware that we’re out of alignment.  We’re not being true to our Higher Self.

If we drill deeper, we’ll probably find it’s not just the shaming thoughts that are off balance, they’re most likely coming from our deeper awareness that we’re not living as our Best Self – we’ve allowed ourselves to be distracted by other things.

In today’s world we’re spoilt for choice on ‘distractions’:

  • Social media
  • ‘Will we / won’t we’ Brexit?
  • And, whichever way it goes, what impact will this have on the economy?
  • Has environmental damage gone beyond repair?

Then, of course, there’re also the ‘minutiae’ of our everyday lives:

  • What to have for dinner
  • Who will get together with whom on Love Island?
  • What are people thinking of me / of what I said / of how I look?

All of these things can occupy our thoughts, meaning that we’re not fully present much of the time. 

As a result, we often act, or make decisions, on a largely subconscious level.  We can end up going through our days on autopilot, reacting rather than consciously responding to situations, allowing the nervous, anxious, fearful part of our mind to make our decisions for us.  This can result in things like:

  • Over eating
  • Over spending
  • Not stepping out of our comfort zone – eg trying something new
  • Avoiding situations that we find challenging – eg meeting new people
  • Self sabotage

When we notice that we’ve made decisions that were unwise, and maybe got us into trouble, we then feel guilty.  This isn’t ‘wrong’ or ‘bad’ – no feelings are, and it’s impossible to turn them off anyway – it’s what we do with this feeling that’s important. 

Do we get ‘stuck’, listening to, and engaging with those shaming thoughts?  

Or do we explore the feelings and learn from them, seeing what changes we can make to move closer into alignment with Who We Really Are, in order to live a life where we make conscious choices that serve us, and that feel authentic and honest, and where we can be responsible and accountable rather than feeling guilt and shame?

This can be challenging, and will require us to look deeply at conditioning that we’ve carried since childhood.  Others have referred to this as ‘un-domestication’ or ‘rewilding’.  It’s a visceral process and requires deconstruction and reconstruction, but you don’t have to do it alone, and the rewards feel amazing: self awareness, autonomy and freedom.

I think that this is the only value of guilt and therefore I don’t feel that it’s a place where we should spend any more time than absolutely necessary.  In fact, to return to the question of ‘is it healthy?’, generally, beyond the initial recognition and finding the issues to be addressed, I would say that the answer to this is ‘No’.

On the contrary, guilt is often very restricting and deeply uncomfortable.  It keeps us small and can be very stressful which, as we know, impacts on our wellbeing.  That inner voice also isn’t content with just criticising our current choices.  If we are prepared to listen, it has a nasty habit of dragging up every perceived failing and every ‘mistake’ we’ve ever made.  It also projects its beliefs onto others, telling us that they, too, see us as not good / clever / skilled enough.

So, what can we do? 

Start by taking a step back and observe the things that your mind is telling you, without engaging with them, knowing that they are merely the product of your conditioning and your natural negative bias.  Don’t try to fight your mind, it’s just doing its job, and it’s not really open to persuasion anyway!  Observe, without judging, and accept that this is what the mind does – not just yours, but everyone’s.

You can then make a conscious decision about whether to go along with what your mind says, or choose a different option.  You don’t have to push yourself too far out of your comfort zone.  Small steps and small challenges will help you to build your ‘consciousness muscles’ allowing you to stretch and grow.

As you become more self-aware you will be able to identify the things you really want in your life, the things that light you up and fill you with excitement and joy.  These are your guide in creating the fulfilling life that you long for.  These are where you discover your ‘purpose’.  You aren’t here for the ‘should’s, ‘have to’s or ‘ought to’s.  You’re here to Be Who You Really Are and to let that light shine out.  You’re here to experience and grow and en-joy the journey.

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The journey

Exploring ways to align with authenticity, integrity and congruence

This journey of Life is such an interesting thing, isn’t it?!  Full of twists and turns that bring lots of opportunities for growth and change.

Some time ago, I would have described things differently!  I would have said that Life was full of ups and downs, and probably many more ‘downs’ than ‘ups’; that it was a struggle and often difficult and uncomfortable.

But I’ve changed 😊

My journey has slowly taught me – or at least my learning and beliefs have taken time to shift – that Life just ‘is’, and it’s my response to it that determines my experience.  Therefore, I can actually choose whether my life will be one of ‘struggle’, or one of valuable learning experiences.

In my ‘other job’, I’ve recently been involved in an ‘ACTivate’ course, here in South Wales.  I’d never heard of this before, but basically it is a 4-week course to support people through learning mindfulness techniques and helping them to develop the skills of Acceptance and Commitment to new practice (the ACT of ACTivate stands for Acceptance Commitment Therapy).

I’ve attended 2 sessions so far, and we’ve been looking at the concept of ‘You are not your mind’ – ie that the mind is only one part of who we are.  It talks to us constantly and it’s impossible to switch it off, however we don’t always have to listen to it.  It has a tendency towards negativity, often being critical and cautious, or even fearful.  But by practicing mindfulness and conscious awareness of our thoughts and responses, we can choose when to listen to our mind, and when to make a different choice on how to act.

I’ve also learnt the truth of the saying that:

Both physical and emotional pain are part of Life.  They can be helpful because they give us information and can help us to avoid further injury, and to learn and grow.

Suffering, however, comes from our response to the pain.  When we fight the pain, trying to resist it, it often actually makes the pain worse, and can add new pain to the original hurt.  If, instead, we can accept that the pain is there, and explore it with curiosity to see what it can teach us, then the suffering is greatly lessened.  We can, in fact, end up being grateful for the pain and the growth that it brings.

Learning and change can be challenging though.  We can find it difficult to change our beliefs and habits, sometimes not even seeing a need for the change.

A recent example of this for me has been highlighted by our move to this new rural location.  It has challenged me in many ways to be more reflective on my choices and to be more conscious of how I ‘walk my talk’, particularly in regards to my relationship with Nature, as this is so much a part of what I do.

I’m exploring ways to be authentic to Who I Really Am, and to live in congruence and alignment with my beliefs.  This is obviously a very individual thing, but the more we can do this, the more we are in balance and can feel comfortable in our own skin, knowing that we are being true to ourselves.

For years I have gradually been trying to be more ‘eco-friendly’ and I thought I was doing pretty well.  Isn’t it interesting how these things happen?  It’s a process really.  You make some changes and think that you’re doing the best you can do, but then as those changes settle in and become your new ‘norm’, you become aware of further adjustments and begin to explore these and eventually take them on as well.

One example is my use of plastic.  I’ve been using my own bags and travel bottle / mug for years but I’m becoming more conscious of other things, such as my toothbrush, plastic vegetable bags at the supermarket, plastic bottles and jars for toiletries, cling film, etc.  As a result, I’ve done some searching and made some new purchases.  The following are some of my recent acquisitions:

coconut fibre pot scrub

alternative to plastic bags

alternative to cling film

alternative to cotton buds

bamboo toothbrush

There are lots of great websites available now for eco-friendly products.  One of the best for avoiding any plastic that I’ve found is: https://www.plasticfreedom.co.uk/ . And if, like me, you’re looking for animal-friendly options, they have a dedicated Vegan section.



Another good site is https://www.nirvananatural.co.uk/ though their range is quite small.



And there’s https://www.peacewiththewild.co.uk/



So Life, to me, is a journey of change, learning and growth.  It’s about exploring our thoughts, emotions and experiences and seeing which ones resonate and support who we want to be – who we really are – and which ones take us further away from this.  We can then choose which ones we want to have more of, and give our energy and attention to these, and which we no longer want to engage with, allowing them to fade out of our lives.

I’d love to hear your thoughts, and if you have an experience that you’d like to share, please post in the comments below.

Can I avoid networking?

networking

This was the question I asked myself when, earlier this year, my business coach advised that this was a necessary next step for me.  My only experience of networking to this point was a meeting of my local Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) and I had felt so out of my depth that I didn’t relish the thought of having to do that sort of thing on a regular basis.  I can tend towards being an introvert, particularly in new situations where I feel out of my comfort zone, and I have generally avoided speaking in front of groups of people, so networking was rather unappealing and my brain was frantically trying to think of excuses and alternatives to avoid this situation that it predicted would end in embarrassment and discomfort.

My coach, however, persuaded me to join her at her next 4N breakfast meeting.  This was a more informal setting and I had more of a chance to speak with the other attendees and realise that they were regular human beings.  They were a lovely bunch and welcomed me with open arms, but I still didn’t feel that I really fitted in.

I then remembered another group that a recent contact had recommended to me.  I felt that she and I worked in similar fields and were also alike in disposition so I thought I’d look into the group that she belonged to.  This led me to visiting my local Women Mean Biz group.  It’s not actually the one that my colleague goes to but it’s about 10-15 minutes from my home so I thought I’d dip my toe in the water there first.

The group was very welcoming and also very relaxed.  It was smaller and more intimate which suited me, and as it turned out I already knew one of the members.  I was still nervous doing the 60 second presentation about my work, but I got through it without major incident and survived!  I wasn’t sure that there were any businesses there that I could immediately connect with – my work is very niche and very different from the accountants, solicitors and estate agents represented there – but I felt more comfortable with this form of networking and actually considered becoming a member of Women Mean Biz.

I returned home and decided to visit their website to explore this further.  While browsing I spotted the group that my colleague belongs to and thought I could visit them too.  I had discovered that the format used by Women Mean Biz felt like a good fit both for me and for my business and knowing that a colleague in another group was working in a similar niche convinced me that it would be worth visiting there despite the fact that it’s about an hour’s drive from my home.

As soon as I arrived at the venue I knew I was going to enjoy the meeting!  The group meets in Combe Grove Manor Hotel on the outskirts of Bath.  The grounds of the hotel are stunningly beautiful with woodlands and spectacular views.  The hotel itself has recently been refurbished and boasts some amazing artwork and furnishings.  In addition the food is delicious – even for me as a vegan!

combe grove

As soon as I entered the room where we were to have lunch I was greeted warmly and made to feel at home.  I instantly felt that this lovely group of women was a ‘fit’ for me.  It is very relaxed and, well, cheerful!  The group leader, Maria, is a perfect example of this – always upbeat and very easy to talk to.

I joined Women Mean Biz a few months ago and in that time I feel that I have benefitted so much from being a part of the Bath Combe Down group.  We meet on the second Tuesday of every month and it’s wonderful to have that opportunity to share time with such an amazing group of business women.  They might be relaxed and cheerful but they are also focused and proactive.

wmb

Our meetings start at 12:00 with the chance to catch up and do some informal networking for half an hour.  We then sit down to a ‘working lunch’ where we go round the group, each giving our ’60 seconds’.  There is then a Member’s Slot followed by a guest speaker and then the opportunity to raise any issues that you might be having with your business to see if others can offer suggestions or advice.  We finish with a ‘Thank you’ round where everyone has the chance to thank others for referrals, contacts and 1:1 meetings.

I was rather taken aback to be approached by Maria to be the ‘Member of the Month’ a couple of months ago.  As I said earlier I am not comfortable speaking in front of people.  I can get through the 60 seconds – still with some nerves but knowing that I can read from a script if I choose – but a whole 10 minutes!?  I think I’d been assuming that as I was relatively new I would have several months – hopefully a year or more – before this was asked of me.  But how could I refuse?  Wasn’t this what I was there for?  To challenge myself and to reach out and make connections (which included letting people know more about what it is I actually do)…

I convinced myself that as this is a small group of lovely women who have become good friends it was a ‘safe’ environment in which to speak, but as it turned out there were lots of guests that particular day and so I was faced with a larger than normal sea of faces, many of whom I didn’t know.  I was extremely nervous but quitting would be more embarrassing than trying!  I was acutely aware that the information I would be sharing was probably very new to most people there and perhaps not even in their area of interest.  All those faces seemed to be staring blankly at me as I ploughed on through to the end of my slot.  When I finished there was a pause… and then lots of questions poured forth!  I learnt a valuable lesson that day – blank faces does not mean people have switched off!  They were just taking it all in and processing it.  It was such a great confidence booster to hear all the positive comments and also to get people signing up for the taster sessions that I offered.

We also meet outside of the group, for 1:1 sessions, to find out a little more about the other members and their businesses.  This is the part that I like best and where I feel I get the most benefit.  It feels like an extended family where everyone is supporting everyone else and willing you to succeed.  The organisation also provides great training – often for free – on things like creating a compelling ’60 seconds’ and how to get the most out of a 1:1.  I also recently attended a workshop on how to use Facebook to help grow your business.

Through this process I have discovered that there are lots of networking options out there and there’s bound to be one that suits you.  They range from formal to informal and from large to small.   I can now say that I’m glad I didn’t listen to my fears and excuses.  It took a while but I’ve found the group that works for me.  So if you’re setting up a new business, or wanting to grow the one you have, I recommend trying out some groups until you find the one that is right for you.

If you think our group sounds like one you’d like to try then you are very welcome to pay us a visit.  Why not come along to a meeting and enjoy the glorious scenery, the delicious lunch and some fun social time – with the added advantage of it being ‘work’ towards building your business!  To see the dates of our upcoming meetings follow this link: Bath Combe Down meetings

There are several of these groups already up and running and there is a new one launching in Shepton Mallet on Monday 3 October from 12:00 – 14:00 at Bannatyne’s Charlton House Spa Hotel.  Click on this link for further details: Shepton Mallet launch

In addition the organisation is now branching out to run groups to include men as well.  These will be called We Mean Biz and will be launched at the Radisson Blu hotel, Broad Quay Bristol on Monday 26 September, again from 12:00 – 14:00.  Click on this link to see more: We Mean Biz launch