Oh, the guilt that overcomes us when we are trying to balance our lives between work demands and demands at home. And it really does not always come from our own personal self-crushing thoughts or comments. Others dare to make us feel guilty as well.

One of my dental colleagues tormented herself when her mother-in-law gasped at her desire to hire a housecleaning person twice a month. My colleague started to feel like a failure in the “taking care of things at home” department. She second-guessed her abilities to stay on top of it all. She didn’t want to let her mother-in-law down, but she literally could not run a business, raise a child and operate the functions of her household while still sleeping and eating. It simply wasn’t possible, and she was physically and mentally exhausted. “I could never have someone else clean my house,” her mother-in-law expressed on several occasions.

Even my mother questioned our desire to have someone come inside our home to watch our children. She cautioned me about the difficulties of finding someone trustworthy enough to handle this responsibility. The choices we make are already difficult, and when a third-party inserts their unsolicited opinions, we find the situations psychologically tormenting and overwhelming. Most of us are already overwhelmed when in this situation with new babies and possibly new jobs.

So, what can we do? The helpful tips below may provide some insight for the next time someone tries to pour guilt over your professional sunshine:

  1. Make sure you have your professional posse. Professional women go through many of the same struggles. It’s beneficial to have a support group to lean on during the times of distress and struggles. Being able to say, “Has this ever happened to you?” is a very comforting question to ask when you feel like you live on isolation island. In my area, we have a women’s dental study club and forum. We meet three or four times a year and share stories, listen to a speaker and fulfill our continuing education requirements while also fulfilling our souls. I found my associate through this group, and others have shared other team members for subbing purposes.
  2. Know thyself. Socrates stated this a number of years ago, and it still holds true today. If you are overwhelmed and unhappy, recognize it. If you are not sleeping or you have gained or lost a considerable amount of weight, recognize it. Know yourself. Know what affects you—mentally and physically.
  3. Confront thyself (and others). In my opinion, it is not enough to just know thyself. After awareness and recognition occurs, then the time comes to take action to change. For my colleague with a judgmental mother-in-law, it’s time to politely say, “I know when you were raising a family, you were able to manage your household successfully. I am choosing a different route, and I would appreciate your support on this.” Without an ability to confront uncomfortable situations, the suppression of our feelings, wants and desires continues to burrow within us. In my speaking sessions and workshops, I offer confrontational help and part of a series to conflict resolution. It’s not an easy thing to do. There are risks. There are errors—often before any amount of success and happiness arises. But, it’s worth going through the little bit of pain upfront, rather than suffering through a lifetime with others disregarding your thoughts and actions.
  4. Stop judging other people. Once you stop judging them, you will worry less about others judging you. The underlying theme here is about acceptance. The easier we are able to accept others just how they are, the easier it is to believe others will accept us just how we are. We really cannot change who we are or how we look—at least naturally. We can change our behaviors, and we can become more educated on different matters, but we cannot change our genetic makeup or the way we were raised. Those foundational blocks are there. Those good and bad parts are there in each of us. When we accept that, we spend less energy on trying to change ourselves or change others.
  5. Learn to forgive. We all want to be perfect. We all want others to appreciate us. This is probably not earth shaking, but it is not going to happen all of the time. Our opinions with others will differ. Our cultures with others will clash. And these things will lead to conflict—in our own homes with partners and family members and in our businesses with teammates and other professionals. We will say things others find offensive. Others will say things that offend us. At the end of the day, we are all human beings. We can carry the resentment, the anger and the disappointment with us, or we can learn to let it go and forgive the other person. If talking it through is not an option, I like to write a note to the person that I am holding anger or resentment towards. I tell them why I am upset, and even if they do not respond, I feel better sending my feelings their way. Often, they do respond, and a better understanding of one another’s sentiments occurs. A good place to practice conflict resolution is at home with a loved one.
  6. Grant forgiveness. My parents divorced when I was very young. My mom always resented the fact that she and my dad never talked about things. My dad blew up, yelled and walked outside. He was over it. She was not, yet they rarely talked more about the issues that led to the confrontations. There was no opportunity to forgive and forget. When my kids do something wrong, each of them asks for forgiveness in different ways. My son will retreat to his room and then, later, linger around the area I am in for awhile. He won’t always actually come out and say he is sorry, but he will lean up against me and acknowledge what he can do better next time. I typically give him a hug and tell him I forgive him, and I know that he will do it differently next time. He has the security to fail, make mistakes, and know I will still love him. The same kind of security can be granted in a work environment. If I blow up every time someone makes a mistake at work, or choose to use the passive aggressive ignoring tactic towards an employee, I will create an environment where no one will take any risks for fear of making any kind of mistake. It’s imperative to learn how to communicate our disappointments, understand others, and forgive others when they hurt our feelings or squelch our thoughts.

As professionals, we have so much on our plates. We often spread ourselves too thin, and then when we do not meet every expectation, we feel guilt for not being everything to everyone. We beat ourselves up for making wrong choices, and we put others’ needs before ours when we should not. I hope these tips help professional women realize they are not alone in their inner turmoil, and they have options to resolve their turmoil. 

Dr. Lisa Knowles practices in Michigan, and helps dental professionals communicate and lead more effectively to achieve better outcomes and incomes. She started IntentionalDental Consulting after recognizing a need for greater understanding of dental roles beyond 32 teeth. She writes on her own blog at Beyond32Teeth.com and writes for several dental trade journals. She graduated from Alma College with a Communication degree and from the University of Michigan School of Dentistry with her doctorate in dental surgery. She speaks internationally on the topics of Communication, Business Leadership, Eco-Friendly Dental Concepts, and Oral and Systemic Health Connections. To have her speak at your next meeting or to find more information, view her website at Beyond32Teeth.com.