Why Do I Feel Guilty?

What does good?

What does good?

This weekend was an Interchange weekend. The theme was development: reparenting. I like the idea that we are all vessels of resources (a resource being a skill or human trait that allows us to get our needs met); some of them we have developed fully and can exercise them skillfully, like ninja-warriors. Others lay dormant or under-developed, scarcely allowing us to recognize them. Then others still, are completely absent and only our brothers and sisters can help us to acquire them. I think the part of development that I find so awesome is that we aren’t focusing on breaking things down, but rather on building things up. Let’s focus on the positive, people.
Haha, I say this as I am about to dive into something quite vulnerable. Our homework for Interchange this weekend was to come up with a list of unanswerable questions that we currently have in our lives. We came up with all sorts of delicious things: Who am I? Why can’t I get my shit together? Why can’t other people get their shit together? Why can’t I tell that I belong? How can I live fully expressed? How do I get off the roller coaster? Is it safe to be me?
I enjoyed this assignment because this is exactly the type of exercise I get nerdy over. I can play this game for hours. I came up with plenty of my own questions: How am I not myself? (I Heart Huckabees reference DUH)
How am I not myself? By Kate Pugsley

How am I not myself? By Kate Pugsley

Am I committed enough? Can I make it work? Where? Where should I live? Where should I start a business? Where should I travel to? Do I settle in? Do I settle down? Do I run amok? Am I running away? Am I running towards something? Can I have a home base and still travel a lot? How can I make money doing something I love? How can I make money? Will I have enough? Will I ever stop comparing myself? Why do I feel guilty? If it’s never a a good time is it always a good time? What does true balance feel like? Will I be able to move past the fear?

One of the exercises that we did with our groups over the weekend, was going around in a circle and each choosing one question that seems to resonate with us in the moment. Group members helped each other to decipher which one seemed most poignant. For me, we chose “Why do I feel guilty?” Ouch.

I guess this is an excellent question for me to meditate on because my response is still “Ouch”. The following exercise was for us to identify which resource we are missing that could help us with our unanswerable question. As the group came around to me, I felt pretty sure that the resources attached to my question were boundaries, self-awareness, and not taking things personally. While those are all true, our group leader asked me how I felt about getting group attention (all eyes were on me as we were exploring which resource I may be lacking for my question). I felt nervous. The group leader says that being nervous is feeling afraid of something. What am I afraid of?
How am I not myself? Compliments of the University of MIssoula

How am I not myself? What am I afraid of? Compliments of the University of Montana, Missoula: Art Department

Damnit. That rings true. Stab stab. What am I afraid of?

I believe I mentioned something about how a lot of people are afraid of receiving so much attention. He responded with that not everyone is nervous or afraid for the same reasons, nor is everyone afraid of receiving group attention. What is it for me?

Something funny about this situation is that my default mode of responding is frustration, like: “FUCK!” Gah, I feel like I know the answer, but it is getting all stuck and jumbled up inside of me! I react with faux frustration. Wait, it’s not fake, but it’s dramatized? Here I am, floundering, once again to figure it out. It’s funny because it is actually exactly what I want. I want someone to push me. No, not just a little push. Really fucking push me, like you care. I want the attention, I want help figuring it out. I want the group/my friends/my family to be a part of my process.

So what am I afraid of? With a group of 20 people looking at me, what makes me nervous? It shows up in my body as a fluttering. It is some kind of vibration that ripples through my body. I wouldn’t even describe it as bad necessarily. Overwhelming, sure, but it is also a nervous excitement. I am scared of looking stupid, like I have said before. I am afraid of being judged. And you know why? Because that is what people do. They judge. I judge. I am at Interchange and I am judging. Perhaps because I know how un-compassionate my judgments of others can be, I figure others do the same and I am terrified of being the target.

Escape from Alcatraz Triathalon, great place to cheer others on.

Escape from Alcatraz Triathalon, great place to cheer others on. Badass athletes.

I used to pride myself on not caring about what others think, but I am officially throwing that out the window. I am coming to terms with the fact that I care about what others think of me. I do not see that as a bad thing, though I am feeling guilty about it… I see that I need to reconstruct my thought patterns around this if I want to feel less scared and less guilty and more empowered in front of groups.

What do we have so far?
My unanswerable questions: Why do I feel guilty? What am I afraid of?
Some resources around those unanswerables: Judgement, boundaries, self-love
Resources I can work on: Self-acceptance

My group came up with self-acceptance as a resource I should develop further. This came in our discussion around my fear of receiving attention from the group. Part of me is thinking “What? I totally accept myself.” Shit, do I? Now I’m confused. Wait, I just wrote a whole post about if I am confused, I should contribute instead of focusing on myself. But I’m not done yet! What is self acceptance anyway? Then I find myself asking, if no one else loved me, would I still love me? Then I remember that just a couple of days ago I was sitting in the park outside my work, crying to my sister on the phone, asking “what if this is it? What if this is all I ever accomplish?” Do I accept myself? How do I not accept myself?

I have trouble accepting that I still weigh more than I ever have in my life. Why haven’t I lost weight like all the other girls at CrossFit? I am trying to accept that I am working in the restaurant industry despite saying that I don’t want to work with food. I struggle with living in the United States when I have an E.U. passport. I hate that people say “do it now, while you are still young” because I start having an anxiety attack that I am doing “it” all wrong. I can’t decide if I feel great single or if I am constantly judging my self worth by men being attracted to me and being in a relationship. Do I mind not going for a masters degree? Am I a failure compared to the rest of my family? How can I accept myself through these things?

Pachygerm Portrait

Pachygerm Portrait

Guilt and fear are alive and well in all of the above.  What happens now? I need actionable items. I am looking for my resource: self acceptance. How do you accept yourself? How do you show up in groups? I want a “Hell Yes! I am a badass.” Show me yours, and I’ll show you mine.



  1. pachygerm

    I would honestly like your response to the questions above if you are reading this. Get after it, punks.

  2. Christine Welter

    First of all: you are an amazing writer! Congratulations! These are some very tough questions. They will be with you all your life, ; and they will change as you get older. I could not have framed these question with such clarity when I was your age. They were certainly with me, and they haunted me: I always felt guilty. I felt guilty of so many things, but I thought it was normal. I didn’t even question the feelings.
    The question of fear, what am I afraid of – is one of the BIGGIES in our lives – yes, what if I die tomorrow: “what if this is it? What if this is all I ever accomplish?” There is some judgement in this question: “accomplish”, “what have I accomplished?” It has to do with expectations and success? But how do we define success?
    The hard thing is that we have to define success for ourselves. It is up to me to decide if I have succeeded – and comparing myself with others is the straightest route into misery.
    We feel that our families have certain expectations for us, our partners and our friends have expectations, our children will have expectations; but if I am brutally honest about it, it comes down to just one simple thing: I only have to live up to my own expectations!
    At times I have been so confused that I didn’t even know what to expect of myself. My own standards merged with those of others.
    But sometimes, and if only in dreams, I have known and seen what really matters to me.
    And then I forget again.
    The clearest I have seen is during and after silent retreats. I went on my first silent retreat when I was 26 – I lived in Germany and tried to decide whether to move to the US. After the retreat I knew that I wanted to move.
    A master’s degree? It’s a good thing if you are sure that it will help you to advance in a profession that you love. If you are not sure about the profession – don’t do it. I got a master’s degree in a field I felt only lukewarm about, and then I never worked in that field. Do I regret that I got the degree? Not really. I learned stuff, and that’s always good. But I have felt guilty about the fact that I never “did” anything with my degree. When I see a bit clearer, I know that it is absolutely silly to feel guilty about this.
    Life happened, and I did not pursue this direction, but I did many other things instead.
    Remove the word “failure” from your vocabulary. You have amazing talents. Anyone who can write like you do, anyone who has insights like yours, self-awareness, and the willingness to look at these tough questions will go far in life!
    You might like Tara Brach’s “Radical Acceptance – Embracing your life with the heart of a Buddha”, 2003. You might also like to read Rainer Maria Rilke: Briefe an einen jungen Dichter – read it in German – it is not just about writing: it is dealing with the exact same questions that you ask. I re-read it from time to time, when I forget!
    Another quote I love is this one by Carl Jung: “I am not what happened to me… I am what I choose to become.”
    All the best to you, Lara!

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