You know what’s difficult? Questioning the ‘should dictator’ in your head. Standing up for yourself and your needs. Deciding not to let false guilt boss you around.

If you dare to do these things, then you’re my hero. Seriously.

It’s hard to be “selfish” enough for your own good. I’m quoting my own judgmental inner voice here. Whenever I consider making positive changes on my own behalf, she screeches, “But isn’t that SELFISH?!”

So many of us – particularly girls and women – have been conditioned to put others first. Over time, it becomes unconscious, automatic. And when we secretly feel depleted and angry, we wonder what’s wrong with us. Nice girls don’t get resentful … right?

Wrong. If you’re always being nice at the expense of your truth, your soul is going to get mad. But how can you give yourself permission to have needs, to be human?

Here’s a story for those of us who struggle with that question.

A few months ago, my parents and my brother Willie came to Alabama for a visit. We had a wonderful time. After several days of group activities, though, I needed to recharge. I’m an introvert through and through, and I get twitchy if I don’t take solo time.

We celebrated Willie’s birthday on the fourth day of my family’s stay. That afternoon, Willie wanted to see a movie. As we made plans, I realized that I could drop my family off at the theater and take two hours for myself. That is, if I dared defy that internal accusation: “It’s your brother’s birthday! How can you be so SELFISH?!”

Caroline and Willie

My favorite (and only) brother.

That question paralyzed me. I couldn’t make a decision, so I pulled my husband Jonathan aside and asked, “Would not staying for the movie make me a terrible person?”

It may sound silly, but at the time, I was totally in earnest. An internal tug-of-war raged: Go! Don’t go! Make your family happy! Take some time for yourself!

Jonathan encouraged me to come home and rest, but I could tell by his tone that he didn’t think I’d actually do it. (I didn’t blame him. He knew how hard it would be for me.)

On the drive to the theater, I was still torn. Wouldn’t a good sister and daughter go to the movie and sacrifice her need for restorative time?

Maybe so. But then I remembered: my goal is not to be good anymore. Nowadays, my goal is to be real. To be myself. To be fully alive, fully human.

So I took a deep breath and told my family the truth: I needed to go home and rest. They were surprised, but not upset.

As I pulled away from the curb, though, I felt SO much false guilt. Tremendous, overwhelming false guilt.

That feeling lasted for about a minute. (It was a long minute.) But then I felt … free. I had two hours to be alone! I was practically dancing with relief.

Bootsie the cat feels no false guilt.

Bootsie knows how to take a break.

In order to stop people-pleasing, you need to be willing to feel the false guilt that arises when you “let people down”. And by “let people down”, I mean, “not do every single thing that anyone asks of you”.

As Henry Cloud and John Townsend write in Boundaries,

“… A sign that you’re becoming a boundaried person is often a sense of self-condemnation …. When the struggler actually sets a limit … the conscience moves into overdrive, as its unrealistic demands are being disobeyed …. In a funny way … activating the hostile conscience is a sign of spiritual growth.”

Make no mistake: this is emotional power-lifting. If you’re like me, you’ve been dodging such uncomfortable feelings for decades. You’ve been doing whatever it takes to avoid the tidal wave of guilt that crashes over you when you risk honesty.

Here’s what I’ve learned: when unnecessary self-blame floods your body, you can breathe through it. You are stronger than that feeling. It will not wash you away.

feel the false guilt and do it anyway

That day at the movie theater, the sense of self-recrimination was intense. Still, I kept driving. I decided to trust that the feeling would pass.

Plus, the astonished look on Jonathan’s face when I came home early made it all worthwhile.

Feel the False Guilt and Do It Anyway

This is a humble story, I know. But it’s the everyday moments that change us. It’s the ordinary choice points that alter the course of our lives.

So today, I encourage you: when you meet your next choice point, take a moment. Listen. Consider that what your mind labels “selfish” might be the kindest, wisest action you could take. And know that all loving actions ripple outward, blessing the lives of those around you.

I understand how hard it is to step out of martyr mode. But you can start small: say no to just one request this week, then use the time to do something kind for yourself. Then, be sure to tell us about your experience in the comments!

When you do, be prepared for an increased sense of hope. After all, if you can stand up to the bully in your head …

You’re free to take on the world.


Do you deal with false guilt? Join the conversation in the comments section below!


Friends, thank you so much for your incredible support and encouragement these past few weeks! In case you missed it, we had an essay featured on The Huffington Post

We also have an AWCC essay syndicated on Bonbon Break today, “Facing up to the Truth about my Clothes.”

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