Not sending a birthday card. Not showing up for the baby shower. Ignoring their text.

Even when we make these choices for a good reason, we can still feel so guilty!

So let’s talk about when that guilty feeling is useful…and when it really isn’t.

Guilt is triggered by thinking we have violated a social or relationship norm, such as “good daughters always spend time with their mothers on Christmas.”

But what about when we have made a conscious choice to step away from a relationship or limit time with someone because it’s harmful to us?


gif of a person tip toe-ing backward slowly with their hands up in surrender


In her latest book Atlas of the Heart, Brene Brown says “guilt is the discomfort we feel when we evaluate what we’ve done or failed to do is against our values” and that it’s a driver of positive behavior change.

This is what is tricky about guilt, though. We will almost always feel guilty when we go against the values we grew up with, even when that’s the healthier choice, because violating group values makes us feel like we don’t belong. And we are social creatures who are built to lean hard into belonging as a survival mechanism.

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How do you deal with the guilt of stepping out of the family expectations?

When we have to break a family norm or contradict a group value in order to take better care of ourselves, it’s inevitably going to trigger guilt. The only way out of this trap is to reevaluate and establish our own values.

Next time you feel guilty for holding a boundary, ask yourself this:

  • What family or group value am I violating?
  • Do i want to KEEP this value?
  • Is it something I still agree with?
  • Is it time to revise what I believe is “right action”?


Image of a question with four possible answers. Question reads "Feeling guilty about holding a boundary? Ask yourself this:" Answers in four different squares read "What family or group value am I violating?" or "Is it something I still agree with?" or "Do I want to keep this value?" or "Is it time to revise what I think is the 'right action'?"


Even though this life is hard and stressful and asks so much of us, I hope you take this moment to remember that you’re doing great. You belong, just as you are.
And you are very loved.


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