Life coach: We feel guilty about the dumbest things, especially in lockdown


Life coach Valerie Burton called into Today to discuss her new book, Let Go of the Guilt, with Hoda Kotb and Jenna Bush. As the title suggests, Valerie is trying to stop us from making guilt our default emotion in life. To do so, Valerie says we have to first recognize which of the two types of guilt, false or authentic, we have and reset our expectations. Valerie says this is especially important now, during the pandemic. It is such a unique time that we cannot compare our lives to years past.

On false guilt: One [type of guilt] is something wrong or I [have] caused harm. And the false guilt is I feel like I’ve done something wrong or caused harm even though you may not have, and I think this is epidemic, especially among women.

I went on a plane and a woman apologized to everybody taking the luggage down the aisle, So often we’re feeling guilty about how much time we spend with the people we love, how we work and a lot of people having to work while their kids are at home. Whether you put them in school or you have them at school, feeling guilty one way or another.

On authentic guilt: Guilt serves a purpose. When we have done something wrong, we ought to make up for it. There’s an upside. Consciousness is the trait that makes people successful, which leads to more happiness but it also leads to more guilt. Oftentimes people who are very conscientious actually feel more guilt because they are always trying to do things right, which means they are always setting themselves up [for] guilt.

On men managing their guilt: I’ll never forget dropping my son off at preschool a couple years ago. My husband and I [were] together, and I said I feel so guilty and he’s like, ‘About what? You know, I’m working, I have this business and he has to go to school.’ He is like, ‘he doesn’t want to be at home with you. He has the bros there at preschool.’ He didn’t understand my guilt. He’s like, ‘this is what you wanted, right?’ And I’m like, ‘Yes, this is exactly the life I wanted.’ And yet, I got there and still felt it.

On how to lose the guilt: Reset your expectations. In the middle of this pandemic, if we have the same expectations we had of ourselves of a year ago, oftentimes we end up falling short of those. So we swap those dated expectations for vague ones. Like when we surveyed over 500 people for this, most said they feel guilty about how they eat or not exercising enough. What is enough? If you’re not specific about the goals, then you can always do better or do more. So stop and say what does success look like?

On how to regain joy: Number one, reset your expectations. Number two, when you’re feeling guilt or any other negative emotion, label it. When it pops up, go ‘That’s guilt’ and that creates an interruption, so we don’t react out of that guilt. And then lastly, just push back on it. Question the guilt. Is this true? Am I really doing something wrong? When we do that, we slow ourselves up and set ourselves up for joy.

[From Today via YouTube]

I’ve posted the interview below but Today’s connection with Valerie is terrible and a lot of what she said is dropped. But what does come through is pretty solid advice. Like many of you (I assume) I feel guilty about everything. That’s not even that far into hyperbole, I can’t think of something that doesn’t make me feel guilty. But I also know it’s going to take a very long time to undo that training and I have no doubt that trying to eliminate it from my life will – you guessed it – somehow make me feel guilty. However, I like Valerie’s first steps to reclaim our joy. Recognizing guilt is the easiest, for me at least. But I can take the time to ask myself if it’s false or authentic guilt. And taking a moment to ask whether we deserve to feel this way or not might help release some of those emotions. Obviously I have some work to do because when I heard Valerie’s story about the lady with the luggage apologizing on the airplane, I couldn’t see what was wrong with that. I have and will do that again, just like I would if I had to cross over people in my row to use the restroom. I guess I need Valerie’s book.

The only thing I will push back on is the part about men and guilt. Although I liked Valerie’s answer, Hoda’s intro to the question was that she thinks men just don’t feel any guilt. While I do think we’ve been conditioned differently in the area of responsibility, I think men do feel guilt. Maybe they can better let go of day-today things , but most of the men I know carry guilt and want to work on being better.




Photo credit: YouTube and Instagram

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27 Responses to “Life coach: We feel guilty about the dumbest things, especially in lockdown”

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  1. Jules says:

    Eye roll at anyone who calls themself a life coach. It’s as goopy and snake-oil salesman as one can get.

    • Jordana says:

      I used to think the same….til I needed one, and my life coach has been amazing!

      • Heylee says:

        My sister went through extensive training and works as a life/career coach. She’s amazing! But I think that as in all things, there are also not so great life coaches.

    • Molly says:

      I work with a coach and it’s been a game-changer – way better and more effective than the time I spent in therapy.

      • Jules says:

        Well yeah, in therapy people have to do the challenging inner work themselves. Why give your power away to someone to coach you in life? Anyone who calls themself a life coach is ego-tripping. It’s your life.

    • Don't Trust the B in Comment 23 says:


  2. Faithmobile says:

    This issue is genderless. How much of toxic masculinity comes from the suppression and assumptions that men’s feelings aren’t as important as women’s. The answer is we all need be more gentle and self aware of our mental health and the author is very correct in that the first step is naming your emotions and then questioning: “is this true?”

    • Don't Trust the B in Comment 23 says:

      No issue is genderless.

      I agree that toxic masculinity affects men negatively, too, as misogyny does in some ways. But let’s not shift the blame of toxic masculinity back to women, or pretend that what men go thru because of toxic masculinity/misogyny/the patriarchy (the dreaded P word) is comparable to what women go thru. It’s not.

      We can acknowledge the suffering of men and their struggles without making it women’s fault or worse than what women go thru. It’s counterproductive to play oppression olympics like this.

      Men have it better than women because that’s the system they collectively create and support. When it slightly explodes in their face that is still the result of a system of oppression designed to benefit and uplift men.

      This is not controversial and it shouldn’t be read as victim blaming or as “hysterical feminazis going at it again.” It’s just the truth.

  3. Sam the Pink says:

    I feel like this is a very “Western thing.” There are cultures on Earth where apologizing, even when nothing has gone wrong, is very common – its more a preemptive thing and just seen as part of “good manners.”

    I have apologized for luggage but it’s more of a “if I hit you I might not realize it so I’m apologizing in advance” type of thing. I think she’s looking for guilt in situations where it doesn’t exist. I know guilt can be unhealthy (I think we all do), but sometimes it’s actually accurate. Maybe you did do something to feel bad about!

    I do believe that women feel guilt far more greatly then men – especially mothers. I don’t think social media has helped, nor have the immense standards we feel obligated to live up to now. I was born in 1986 and my mom cannot recall the standards of parenting being so fraught as they are now.

  4. Joanna says:

    Does anyone have any suggestions on what products are good for mixed race hair? My friend’s daughter doesn’t want her hair combed cause she says it hurts. She really fights and obviously we want her hair to be taken of but I am white w stick straight hair so I have no idea what to use on her hair to make it easier. Her daddy has been using just regular leave conditioner but I would love some suggestions on products more tailored to her type of hair. It is more curly than straight. Thanks!

    • Sam the Pink says:

      I use Miss Jessie’s curl creams on my younger daughter (and I used it on my oldest until she took over her own hair care). My kids are mixed race (although their hair is not Afro-textured, it is curly). It really helps if you work it through wet or damp hair. I also use a very wide tooth comb designed for wet styling. It can also help to detangle it while it’s soaking wet (I like the Shea Moisture detanglers) and use a shampoo that will give it slip (again, Miss Jessie’s makes a nice one). Again, my kids have curls around a 3a to 3b, so if you are dealing with Type 4 coils, you might need something stronger.

    • fluffy_bunny says:

      Try the curly hair reddit sub. There’s tons of recommendations on there and people post their routines with what products they use. It’s a lifestyle. And you shouldn’t brush dry curly hair. Only wet with a wide tooth comb or a special brush. I personally use Cantu products.

    • SomeChick says:

      There are a ton of products for Black hair, and curly hair. The leave-in conditioner is the right idea, to combat frizz. Coconut oil is great. Works on all hair types. Just don’t use too much.

    • duchess of hazard says:

      shea butter moisture lotion is a good get for hair. But what’s her hair type? . My type is 4a so it’s prone to being brittle and dry. Shea Moisture loition saved my hair.

    • HatchetFace says:

      I 100% suggest unrefined Argan oil, used very sparingly, applied to the ends from back to front. Also, maybe try shea butter as a leave in conditioner. I also sometimes use Camellia oil (also unrefined) as a detangler and leave in conditioner for my curly/wavy mixed race hair. My mother swears by Deva Curl, but to me they are not natural, environmentally friendly, and they have such a strong artificial fragrance that makes me break out in a rash. I also think YouTube is a fantastic resource for learning how to take care of natural hair of different textures. Also consider that some people are just very tender-scalped and maybe she is better off with a short style for the time being. Hope that helps!

      ETA satin pillowcases, and wrapping her head up in a scarf at night and using the pineapple (hair tied in a ponytail at top of head) method can also really help not get her hair so tangled up at night.

  5. Mindy_Dopple says:

    It depends on the type of curl, I would first google “determining curl type” and see where that leads you. Ulta carries a few brands that I like (2c/3a) Not Your Mother’s carries a good curly line, Tracie Ellis Ross’s new line might be a great resource. Oh! And a wet comb and a wide tooth comb for detangling and working product through hair are a must. Good luck!

  6. Amber says:

    I think men experience guilt but also shame (which is even worse) but they just hide it. They probably feel guilt or shame about different things than women much of the time but it’s still there. I used to be a teacher. Little boys feel guilt and shame. It’s just that often they express it as anger. They come back the next day and their apology is super sincere but when you call them on something in the moment they get mad. Which girls and women also do, anger is a common kneejerk response to shame, it simply seemed more common in boys. I do think *something* happens to many boys at about the age 12 or 13, where they stop expressing emotions as much because of societal expectations about what it means to ‘be a man.’ I taught middle school and you can really see this happening. The social cost for being emotionally open is so high that they start shutting down.

  7. Cleo17 says:

    So white lady here (not trying to jump in acting like I know about anything other than white lady hair), but I can tell you that my little girl’s hair got knots in it so badly that it was an absolute misery to attempt to comb them out. Switching over to cheap satin pillowcases – I’m talking polyester cheap – has been a godsend. I don’t know if they would help with other kinds of hair, but I thought I’d throw it out there since it’s a super cheap option.

    I feel guilty about so much right now. I deal with pretty severe depression, and it’s hard to have my daughter at home and not able to play with other kids right now. It breaks my heart. I feel like I’m messing lots of things up.
    However, last night we only ate foods that you could put at the end of a stick and cook over a fire. Then I threw a bunch of glow sticks in the bottom of her little pool and let her stay up late to swim in it. I feel like I’m messing up so much of this motherhood thing, but last night I felt like the best mom in the world. It was a nice reprieve from the guilt.

    • lucy2 says:

      You’re keeping your kid safe and healthy, and that’s the best thing a parent can do right now. Hang in there.

    • Joanna says:

      thank you!

    • Nicole says:

      Cleo, I think half the battle is understanding you are battling emotions and thoughts that are out of your control. COVID has been awful for my severe anxiety. Last night I had to talk myself through a panic attack over the dumbest thing ever. Utilize your coping mechanisms and depend on them!!!!

      Second, kids are resilient, she’s fine. It’s harder on us than it has been on them. We’re the ones that have to keep them occupied :D You’re doing fine.

      From one exhausted mom to another, you got this!

  8. Rivkah says:

    It looks like this coach’s name is actually Valorie not Valerie, based on the photo of her with her book.

  9. Mia says:

    If anything, hasn’t the presence of all these people refusing to wear masks a sign that people don’t feel enough guilt? Like, I’m relatively young and healthy, so my chances of getting a severe case of Covid is low, but I’d feel very guilty if I caused someone’s grandma to get it and possibly die. Just the possibility of it fills me with guilt, so I wear my mask, uncomfortable as it is. I think people in general could do with more guilt. It would lead to more empathy.

    • Jules says:

      Guilting people into doing something goes back to the Catholic church and always backfires. Empathy and compassion does not stem from guilt, it comes from a genuine place. It can’t be faked or forced.

      • Mia says:

        IDK, that seems like a eurocentric take on guilting people for something that’s not bad, like sex. Asian cultures use guilt to reinforce putting the health of others before yourself, like how they wear a mask when they’re sick to avoid getting other people sick. I think it can be a force for good.