A conversation around guilt – An interview with Kristin Vikjord Paternotte

by Fatima Fazli-Vermeulen

“Guilt among mothers is usually defined as the feeling of anxiety, guilt, doubt or uncertainty paired with the worry that they are falling short of expectations.”

Kristin Vikjord Paternotte is a clinical psychologist, writer and yoga & mindfulness facilitator. A mother of two herself, she noticed a pattern in certain feelings and emotions when meeting fellow mothers. As an advocate for empowering mental health & emotional wellbeing and a firm believer that mothers should support each other, Kristin recently sat down with us to talk about guilt. Guilt is an emotion so many of us have experienced on all different levels yet while secretly longing to get support, we struggle to ask for it.

So how do we set healthy boundaries for ourselves, particularly in our relationship as a mother, partner and daughter? Kristin finds that motherhood and boundaries often seem to go hand in hand and illustrates society’s viewing of the current generation of mothers. “To be able to set healthy boundaries, we need to know and acknowledge what is most meaningful to us, right now”. This varies throughout our lives and as a mother it is often spread in many different aspects which at times can be quiet overwhelming.

Kristin notices that mothers are often diagnosed with burn-outs, exhaustion and fatigue simply because they want to ‘do a good job’ in all aspects of their lives. Her advice? Take a moment to tune in to yourself. “Ask yourself: who am I? What is most important to me, right now? And only do whatever it is that is necessary to do in that particular moment in time. Often times by focusing on one thing at a time, will help in clearing your mind. Kristin also advices (new) moms to set a particular time aside to do something that feeds your soul. “Do something fun! This will help you feel more like yourself again.”

Where does guilt come from?

But why do we tend to feel guilty and where does it come from? Kristin explains: “The feeling of guilt has a biochemical foundation in mothers, especially prominent in those first years of motherhood. This biochemical alertness cannot just be switched off. So for example, you are finally getting some well deserved me-time, instead of enjoying it, you end up feeling guilt.” Where there is love, there is guilt. Kristin mentions that we should view guilt as expression of love. Our constant urge to ‘get it right’ or the fear of judgment of others is similar to the process of dukkha and sukkha, where “stress and joy are felt simultaneously.” Try to remember that you are your children’s roll-model. All our children need is our complete physical and emotional presence. “They also need us to be honest with them in order to help regulate their emotions.” By realizing that you want what is best for your children and showing them that taking care of yourself is a good thing, you “set them up to take control of their own life”.

Coping with (mom) guilt

Realizing what it is, is one thing but coping with “mom guilt” is another. Keeping in mind that these feelings are natural and that they too, are a part of you, helps in the process of understanding rather than viewing it as something negative. The first step in acknowledging the feeling is to define it. Whether it helps to talk about it with friends or writing it down in a journal, will help in healing. “Ask yourself what triggered it…Invite yourself to hold it with kindness and understanding… Like with all critical thoughts, try not to judge yourself. Notice it’s presence and let it pass through.”

Communicating our experiences is key when it comes to living our life unapologetically. Once you know who you are, you are able to communicate what you need to those around you. While we each define the need to thrive in our own
way, for most of us it is the feeling that we are aligned with our own values. “When we face a challenge that feels too big to master, it causes us to feel stuck and uneasy. This is when you need to start communicating to those around you, even when you don’t know what to say or why you feel the way you do, verbalizing your experiences is a start.” From there you can start doing to more of what gives you energy and empowers your emotional well being. Because “to thrive, we need to know ourselves”.

Kristin recently wrote a book on motherhood, moving through challenging times and finding your inner spark. For more info of her book (Dutch & English), visit KristinVikjord.com