You are locking yourself into a destructive catch 22 if you are not enjoying the privileges you have because you are feeling guilty for not making the most of them.
The idea of harbouring feelings of unnecessary guilt, usually about things that you have little control over, is something I have read a lot about recently and is a concept I can relate to in my own life. I had, for many years, allowed myself to be consumed with an overriding feeling of failure and underachievement in the context of all of the opportunities that had been afforded to me in my life. Even though I was not answerable to anyone for my achievements, I felt an irrational feeling of guilt because I wasn’t doing more with the more that I had been given.
It was a guilt associated with comfort and opportunity. As an example, I have had, on several occasions, the opportunity to take a course in a subject I have a real passion for but turned down those chances because I felt that I had already had a very good education, which I had spent a great deal of time in attaining, and that I ought to spend the time when I might have been taking the course working hard for my living. I felt that I had to prove myself in the workplace because of some uneasy feeling that people wouldn’t take me seriously or that they might resent me if I did not.
This feeling of guilt for just enjoying the chances and comforts you have is completely irrational, as though you have a deficit of luck that you are still working to repay, and that others will hold a penalty of disrespect against you until you have proven yourself worthy of enjoying the privileges you have.
This is exacerbated on two fronts. One, an awareness of global inequalities that throw the extent of your privilege into even greater relief, and the inherently accusatory nature of Capitalism; the idea that any individual can become rich and successful as long as they work for it. This leaves us feeling under a constant pressure to always be working harder and to be giving more, and when we don’t or can’t, we feel a heavy sense of guilt and lost opportunity.
I know that I have worn myself down by this constant sense of not doing enough. I would give myself an incredibly hard time on a daily basis for not having achieved more; for not having woken up earlier, for not having worked harder, for not being more alert. I would say tomorrow I am just going to do it, I am going to push myself, I am going to be relentless. I wanted it so much, there was nothing more important to me than finding the strength to push my life forward, and under this constant tirade from my anxious, critical, and overpowering inner monologue, my physical body, undoubtedly wracked by a consistent flush of stress hormones, was ground down to a futility.
I displayed no physical manifestation of vitality or drive whilst underneath it all the only emotion I had the strength to feel was a constant drowning desperation to turn my life around. I had all the symptoms of chronic fatigue and this on going battle was an uphill struggle that lasted for years.
I held a misinformed belief that you have to push yourself in order to succeed. It wasn’t until I admitted I was struggling, until I made a very real and conscious effort to take it easier on myself and to, on a daily basis, focus with intention on altering my self critical mindset, that I began to slowly recover.
This is what I have learned:
- That if you are ground down with guilt to the point that you have neither the strength to be productive nor the peace of mind to be a positive and helpful person, you cannot hope to achieve your ambitions or to ever find a sense of contentment.
- If you are not enjoying the positives in your life, you are not embracing them with gratitude, and not feeling grateful is only an insult to others who may yet dream of having the same chances.
- Consciously adjusting your inner monologue to be more kind than critical is life changing.
These lessons are not easily acted upon. One of the hardest challenges in life is developing the ability to control your own emotional responses to any situation whether good or bad. We are so often self destructive when we try to construct our better selves. We are endlessly self-critical, and we are not often our own friend. It is not a self-indulgent sob-story to say that you need to give yourself a break; if you don't have the strength to support yourself, how can you hope to be a support to others.
This is not the same as running yourself a bath (although that is never a bad thing) it is telling yourself that you have done something well. It is telling yourself not to rush but to take your time. However trite it may sound, it really is all about being your own best friend.