Guilt is a prison we create for ourselves. It's the price we pay for not doing what's expected. It controls our thoughts and consequently, our actions.

How Guilt May Be Holding You Back

We don’t always identify guilt correctly. But at the moment when we’re feeling bad about something, or bad about ourselves it’s usually the undercurrent. When we can’t help thinking I’m not doing enough or not getting it right, we fail to recognize the guilt that stops us, that prevents us from living the life we desire. 

But there it is coursing like poison through our veins and keeping us locked in a negative state. I recently realized how I’d been keeping myself from enjoying parts of life just because I’m not making enough money. Why I thought, should I be allowed to have fun or do what I want when my finances aren’t the best.

My ah-ha moment didn’t start out with such crystal clear awareness. Instead, it started when I felt a little bummed out and undermotivated. I didn’t want to go anywhere or do anything, but still, I felt lonely and sad. Then suddenly I realized what was really happening! I was punishing myself for not doing something that I thought I should. Let me clarify that the “should” is a lingering social expectation I can’t seem to shake no matter how hard I try. 

In my case it was all about value and whether or not I deserve what I want.

You see, I make enough money to get by and to pay my bills. Some months, the finances are tighter than others, but who doesn’t experience that (no matter how much you make)? The problem is, recently, I’ve been thinking that I really do need to make more. After almost three years of working very part-time so I can write, I want more money – for house repairs, travel, education, and generous gifting. My abundance meter has become stuck. I’m frustrated!

I’m supposed to be doing what I love, writing, but where’s the money that’s supposed to follow?

And that’s where I get hung up. These errant thoughts about how I “value” my time dig in their heels and have a way of making me feel inferior as if I’m not doing enough or the right things. In desperation, I scan the job listings, unable to find anything I want to do more than what I’m already doing for money. On the computer, I pretend to be busy, looking, but at what? I have no idea. I beat myself up for not wanting to at least do yard work or clean the garage. I have the time. I should be working harder. I should be making more money – because I can. These thoughts are toxic and never-ending. And these thoughts are robbing me. I can’t even allow myself the necessary mental space to write well.

On a recent day trip to a nearby state park, I had an interesting revelation. After hiking the five miles of trail, I laid back on a picnic table and thought about why I haven’t been able to let myself have any real fun or freedom lately. 

Closing my eyes, I remembered a time when I was sixteen… I arrived home from school and while walking from the bus stop to our front door, my feet felt like lead. I was so tired! My mother’s car was not in the driveway, but when I got inside, there was a note. Well, actually it was a list, the kind I was pretty accustomed to. She’d written out everything she wanted me to do after getting home from school. The most important was starting dinner.

Just ten minutes, I thought. If I could lie down and get off my feet for just ten minutes, I could get up and start on the list. I’d have it done by the time she got home…The next thing I remember, my mother was standing in the doorway of my bedroom calling my name. My eyes shot open. Oh my god, how long had I been sleeping? My mother ordered me to get up and get busy. “At your age,” she said. “If you’re so tired, something must be wrong with you.” 

Rest was something you did at night when it was dark. 

I arose quickly and got busy with the chores feeling guilty for having taken any time to rest. The guilt fueled an undercurrent of anger and shame – Yes, something must be wrong.

Guilt is a prison we create for ourselves. It’s the price we pay for not doing what’s expected. It controls our thoughts and consequently, our actions. I laid there on the picnic table, a cool breeze blowing across my skin, wishing all these thoughts would simply leave me alone. The thinking was just another form of working, trying to prove something that matters. Even then I knew I’d write about it in this blog. “Can’t you ever stop!” I closed my eyes tighter and tried to force the mental storm to go away. It seemed impossible. Could I ever reach a state of “not doing” without feeling guilty? Could I ever just do something for the fun of it? Did I even know how?

In fact, who would I be without the guilt that drives me to keep trying? Would there be anything left under the surface of all I do to keep from feeling guilty? I wasn’t sure. I felt angry at myself for getting caught up in this cycle of guilt and self-denial. And I think a lot of us do it, allow guilt to make our decisions or drive our actions. 

Guilt establishes the rules you can live by based on ideals someone else gave you once upon a time. Instead of your Spirit calling the shots, your attempts to avoid guilt govern your actions. In my case, I denied myself things I enjoyed because I wasn’t making as much money as I thought I should or am able to. I punished myself just like my mother did when I wasn’t doing “enough.”

I grew up understanding the value of productivity to the point of excessive do-ism. We always had work to do. My mother rarely took us on vacation. I don’t know if she was afraid to or just didn’t allow herself the freedom of rest and renewal, or having fun for that matter. In her opinion, our value as human beings hinged on staying busy and productive. It was an ideal passed down to me and my siblings and it’s a pervasive sticky one.

So I chastise myself for wanting to write a blog (for fun) knowing it won’t make a dime or create any income flow at all. I can’t leave town and go to Memphis to see Graceland because I’m not making enough money to travel, even though it’s literally just gas money and the $40 bucks it costs to get in. I’m sure that money could be better spent on more important things. Sitting around reading is another big “waste of time.” Shall I go on?

My mother’s words ring in my ears after all these years and I don’t know how to free myself from their power. How orderly, productive or financially secure does my life have to be before I can enjoy it?

We have to do this work of feeling into these old wounds and letting the emotional scar tissue resurface so it can heal. I know that uber-productivity and its partner, guilt, are not values I hold dear anymore, but simply residual thought patterns that hold me hostage at times. 

Guilt holds us as a hostage when we’re living the ideals of a generation before us or the demands of social constructs that don’t work for us particularly. We suffer in our lives when we allow these ideas to get in the way of following our intuition or doing what we most need for health and happiness. I’m not saying we shouldn’t push ourselves at times, but with balance and for the right reasons, not because we must prove our value, even to ourselves…especially!

I know that guilt is a signal for me. It tells me when I’m listening to an old script that holds a lot of power and sway over my thoughts about who I am and what I’m worth (if I do this or that). It has an element of realness and authority to it that brings me to my knees…until I open my eyes and see it for what it really is, a prison that keeps me thrashing about in the deep end of muck and confusion. 

Throw me a lifeline I say to Spirit. Show me the way out, the way back home.

Image by Nicola Giordano from Pixabay

Thanks for reading my friends. I know this stuff is deep, but it’s the work we all must do to find personal forgiveness and freedom of Spirit. I wish you well on this journey. Msg me if you need help.


  1. Kristin Lawson

    Thanks so much for the post. I identify with this idea of excessive to do-ism as well. Although to be honest, I like it. I like feeling productive, I like checklists, I like feeling as though I’ve accomplished even micro-level goals and move on to the next thing. For me, guilt isn’t an underlying feeling, its more about a sense of constant urgency to get as much done as I can while I’m on this planet. So I push myself to keep going and going because of latent underlying fear of death and regret. Deep, I know haha. Rest isn’t something I do well, in fact I’m not even sure what rest looks like for me. I think I would say is resembles the feeling one gets when traveling somewhere new perhaps. But if I sit for long enough, I’m almost always inundated with the feeling that this next breath could be my last and I might as well get busy doing something I want to do.

  2. Kristin, Thanks for sharing your perspective! I think we have a very similar approach to life. In fact, your description reads like one I would have written a few years back, planners, lists, goals, they kept me fired up and I loved it. It wasn’t until my body began to complain about my lifestyle that I began to take a closer look at what I was expecting of myself and how I was treating myself. I discovered a lot hidden under my fears about my abilities, my impact on this world and how I was “supposed to be” living. The big question that keeps coming up now is, what if I just stop…then what? Who will I be and will I matter? Nowadays, answering those questions with love and compassion seem to be more important to me than checking off items on a list (even though I too still get a big thrill from accomplishment).

  3. Kristin Lawson

    “I think we have a very similar approach to life.”

    I agree. I think its one of the reasons I’m drawn to you; I see myself in you. And hey I’m pretty awesome. 🙂

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