Hi folks,

I wanted to follow-up on my post Lessons in Assertiveness: Say What You Want, to share some thoughts about a common situation where assertiveness is important.

To start, I want to ask you have you ever experienced these feelings when making a decision in life:

  1. Do you feel guilty when you do something of self-interest?
  2. Do you feel obliged to serve a minimum sentence of time before you can move on to something new?
  3. Do you feel like you are betraying friends, family, colleagues, when you decide to take care of yourself and not follow the crowd?
  4. Do you feel hesitant to say ‘no’?
  5. Do you feel reluctant to go back on a decision, when in hindsight your choice was a mistake?


These are all emotions I have experienced when it comes to making a decision.

Sometimes I have battled these thoughts, made the change, then had to make peace with the guilt.

Other times I have talked myself into inaction, because of the fear, what may happen if I put myself first.

As a result this has meant missed opportunities to be better off and look after my wellbeing.

All because I feel obliged to put others before myself.

This week I went for a job interview outside my organisation, I experienced many of these feelings, but was able to fight off the feelings of self-guilt with these responses.

Maybe my answers will help you too…

I feel guilty for doing something out of self-interest

You shouldn’t feel this way – you are simply responding to the conditions of a normal, healthy economy.

You are an ambitious person, who has added a lot of value in your current role, but have reached a point where progression is difficult.

You’ve let your ambitions be known, and spoken about these aspirations, but your organisation has been unable to fulfill this need.

You’ve been honest, so when you eventually do leave:

  • It won’t be a surprise.
  • You gave them the opportunity to make you an offer.

A final note on self-interest in the workplace you should always remember:

If your organisation makes cutbacks and you had nothing new to offer them, would they feel guilted to keeping you on?

There is your answer

I feel obliged to serve a minimum sentence of time

You’ve been loyal to your organisation for many years, you’ve done your time.

Besides – you shouldn’t think of your duties in terms of ‘time served’ it’s not prison.

Sometimes we make the wrong choices, a job may not be as we thought, you shouldn’t feel the need to be there months/years if you feel unhappy.  Most of the time it’s better to move on as soon as possible for the benefit of everyone.

I’m betraying friends, family, colleagues…

No you’re not, this is ridiculous.

Taking opportunities will benefit your family – with your job, if you always keep them in mind when you make career choices, your doing right by them.

Your colleagues aren’t betrayed – if you do a good job, support them with sharing your knowledge and leave plenty of written guidance, then when you leave, they’ll be able to pick up where you left off.

No one is irreplaceable.

And as for friends, if they can’t support you when you make a decision or celebrate when you get a victory, then maybe it’s time to find new friends.

I’m hesitant to say ‘No’

I get it, you want to be liked, you want to be seen as helpful, you want everyone to say nothing but good things about you.

Being a doormat isn’t the answer.

If it’s not in your interest, or will be a major inconvenience on you, saying ‘No’ is a good thing.

I’ve made a mistake…

Okay, these things happen.

Most importantly don’t sacrifice yourself to servitude because you feel you need to pay the debt of being given employment.

If you are not happy or suited to what you do, try the following:

  • Explained that the role wasn’t what you thought
  • Explain to your manager/colleagues it’s not personal
  • When asked “Don’t you like it here”, don’t feel like you have to justify yourself or be guilted into staying.


If there is anything I’m guilty of, it’s overthinking.

I think way too much.  When I make decisions, I imagine all the people disappointed in me for the freedoms that I choose.

Actually, most people in my life have never actually felt any ill-will to the choices I make.

Despite all this, there is one key lesson that you and I should always remember:

You Don’t Owe Anyone Anything

Don’t feel obliged to keep doing the things you don’t get anything out of.

Good luck – keep silencing that self-guilt with positive talk and deconstruct the arguments of those ridiculous thoughts.

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4 thoughts on “5 Factors of Self-Guilt and How to Respond

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