The Problem of Guilt: You Have Unrealistic Expectations

Last Friday we talked about Guilt: so many of us carry it needlessly, and it can really impact our ability to live whole and happy lives. I believe there are two root causes of this problem:

– You aren’t doing what you should be doing
– You have unrealistic expectations of yourself and need a reality check.

We talked about the first point last Monday.
Today we will tackle point two:

You have unrealistic expectations of yourself and need a reality check.

The first thing to point out is that not doing what you should be doing can also be very much connected to having unrealistic expectations of yourself. Very often we are not focusing on what is right in front of us because we believe we can and should be doing absolutely everything else as well.

In Monday’s post we talked about how we start with ourselves and work outwards from there, in a sort of hierarchy of care, to determine what we should be doing, and where our attention should be going. Once those things are taken care of, then we can assess to what extent we can get involved in “extras” – those good things – committees, volunteering, dog-sitting, you name it – without being taken away from our core commitments to ourselves and those who actually deserve our time and energy.

I touched on the fact that when you are doing what you should be doing, and you are doing it well, with attention and dedication, you can rest easy, knowing that you have done exactly what you should, to the best of your ability. This can free up room for enjoyment, as the taking care of any obligation should.

However, sometimes we have unrealistic views of our goals and capacities, and very often we are pressured by the perceived opinions of others.

This is when it’s a really good idea to do a few things:

1) Take stock of your personality and temperament. Are you energised by being around people, or do need time alone to recharge your batteries? This really matters. If you are energised by being in a crowd and accomplishing something with a group of people, then maybe chairing a committee is exactly what you should be doing on the side, so that you are “filled up” by something you really enjoy. This leaves you infinitely more able to focus on the rest of your life – everything else in the circles of your care. If, however, you need down time away from people, then chairing that committee could actually deplete you even further, leaving you with less energy and capacity to deal with yourself and the rest of your life.


Do you get easily overwhelmed, or do you thrive on being busy? Any extras you take on really depend on this answer. If you are easily overwhelmed, maybe you can’t cope with much more than the demands of your actual life and also keep your sanity. If you thrive in the midst of chaos and busy-ness, maybe adding a few activities on top of your normal obligations will drive you forward and help you focus even more.


Who you are matters. Knowing yourself well and working within those parameters is necessary to deciding how to order your life, and what to – and when – to take on any extras.

2) Get a second opinion. Do you have a friend you trust to tell it to you straight? Is she able to be as unbiased as possible? Hearing from someone who cares for you and knows you well, and can tell you that perhaps you are expecting too much, or that you are fine, as you are, right now is truly invaluable. Helping assess expectations and set priorities is also what we coaches do: if you are really struggling in this area, maybe its time to bring a professional in.

3) Look at the effect of the “shoulds” or unrealistic expectations in your life. Be honest about it. What happens to you (your stress levels, energy levels, sanity) and your family life (your ability to communicate, relax, and enjoy) when you aren’t realistic about what you can handle and when you don’t make room for what gives you energy and what depletes you?


Really being honest about the fallout of doing too much or focusing on the wrong things can be a massive wakeup call and prevent you from feeling guilty when you refocus and reprioritize your life.


There are many sides to guilt, and guilt can be so very complicated: it can come from old wounds or unhealthy thought patterns, and these can be difficult to tackle – and sometimes these require varying degrees of professional input and assistance.
However, figuring out what we should actually be doing it and doing it to the best of our ability, as well as being honest about our abilities and capacities and not expecting more of ourselves than what we are healthfully able to manage can be a great starting point to lifting guilt from our shoulders.

Imagine being able to say: “I’ve taken care of everything in my circles of care; I haven’t committed to anything I shouldn’t, and therefore have nothing extra weighing on me; and all that is in front of me right now, in this very moment, is a tennis game.”

That sounds an awful lot like you have made room for enjoyment, and doesn’t that sound like a nice thing?


Up on Thursday: Why Don’t we Talk About the Joy?

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