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"Don't feel guilty" does the phrase really help?!

"Don't feel guilty" - a statement often uttered by those trying to reassure/comfort someone feeling bad about something.  Like much language it's often tossed about frequently online, particularly parenting forums, "mommy blogs" - anywhere a collection of women (who typically feel guilt far more frequently than men) group around an emotive subject.
But it hit me recently that "don't feel guilty", can actually provoke feelings of guilt.  It can in itself imply a person is or should be feeling guilty.

I was chatting to my mum whilst driving, I can't even remember what about and it's not relevant anyway; what I do remember is I was expressing upset/sadness over a situation and my mother's reply - "well don't feel guilty".  Up until that point I hadn't felt at all guilty, it was a situation completely beyond my control, but the fact my mum had said what she said, obviously implied she thought I could be feeling guilty. Otherwise why mention it?

Here's how it often goes online:
"I'm feeling really down today as I had to give little x a bottle today, we're just really struggling with the breastfeeding and he hasn't gained enough weight.  I'm in agony so will be sad to stop breastfeeding but think it's time to throw in the towel."

The reply often goes along the lines of:
"X don't feel guilty, you have done your best, happy mum = happy baby etc etc etc".

The mum didn't express guilt, she expressed upset, sadness but not guilt.  Telling her not to feel guilty isn't going to help or empower her to become less sad/upset is it?

Furthermore even if the mum was feeling guilt - since when did saying "don't feel <insert whatever emotion here<" ever stop anyone feeling it? Oh well yes now you've said that, all is dandy!

Still not convinced?

If you ever find yourself in a position of trying to breastfeed and your midwife/health visitor/breastfeeding counsellor is sat with you - yet it STILL hurts, or baby isn't gaining or settled or whatever; and then they say something along the lines of "well it appears OK",  without giving you any practical help you resolve your problem or give you answers as to why you're struggling.  Reverse the situation and say "it's OK don't feel guilty you can't help me". What reaction would you expect?

Oh and don't forget to add "please refer me to someone who can" ;)


  1. "it's OK don't feel guilty you can't help me"

    Nice one. Wish I had thought of that in my wrecked PND state.

  2. I suffer from a panic disorder and one thing that always makes it worse is when someone says "relax!" Sounds very similar to "don't feel guilty." I would rather have someone sit with me or offer me a real solution (although I know this is not always possible, and also people are just trying to help...) then think that simply telling me to relax is going to solve the problem.


  3. Yes, absolutely!! When I so desperately needed proper breastfeeding support when I was struggling to feed my daughter, all I heard was "Don't feel guilty" (and pressure to formula feed)... so of course I labelled that empty feeling deep down inside "guilt" when breastfeeding didn't work out. And it irritates me that I often see "Don't feel guilty" followed up with "I can't make you feel guilty - guilt comes from within." So why even hand women the word guilt in the first place?! We could be so much kinder to each other by being mindful of how our words and actions can impact upon others, particularly when they are at their most vulnerable.
    I'd better stop there, as I can feel this turning into another rant on the whole "guilt" thing!
    A-M x

  4. DH and I have a stock reply to "Don't feel . . . . . (whatever feeling)" which is "Oh! Okay. Thank you. I hadn't thought of that" said in as sarcastic a tone as we can muster.

    Guilt gets a bad press. The modern belief seems to be it's a bad thing that no one should ever have to experience, yet all it is is a signal to us that something is wrong that needs to be sorted out. What we have done is dissonate with what we believe, and we need to get things back inline to feel in harmony again. Without guilt how would we notice that we had done something that conflicts with our values and rectify it?

    How does this connect with breastfeeding? As Funny-Shaped Woman has pointed out, people are very quick to label the emotion that a mother is experiencing as guilt, and in a emotionally raw state it is the simplest thing to accept that label for everytime the emotion arose. After all what midwife/health visitor is going to say "Don't feel betrayed/cheated/angry with me"? Why would they hand the woman THAT label? By using the word guilt the health professionals or even advising mothers online etc are making sure that even how the mother feels is all of her own generating, nothing to do with them, and even her feelings are HER OWN FAULT. Phew, everyone is in the clear.

    Wow, I've never thought about it before like that. What do others think?


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