Not because we've done anything wrong, per se, just because we're taught from a young age to be empathetic, self-aware, and often, told to control our deeply-felt emotional reactions.
I can't speak for all women, of course. I can really only speak for myself and my friends--the women that I'm close to and therefore talk to about emotions like guilt on a regular basis--but I have to say that guilt is a feeling that I hear women talk about much more regularly than men.
Think about it: how often do you hear a guy say something like the following? "I feel so guilty for feeling this way, but I'm really thankful..." or "I have so much guilt about the fact that I received the raise and he didn't..." or, "I feel so guilty even saying this, but..."
I'm guessing not so often; but how often do you hear a woman say something like that? Personally, I hear it on the regs.
Now, I'm not saying that men don't experience guilt, because I know that they do--especially men who actually did something to feel guilty about, or religious men who have right + wrong hammered into them from a young age--but I don't think that they talk about it as much as women do, and I definitely don't think that they feel in in relation to small social situations, work, or basic emotional reactions as often as women do.
[In fact, a quick Google just told me that there was a study published in 2010 that showed that men of all ages feel significantly less guilt than women do.]
Recently, I was talking to a friend about a pretty tough family situation that she's going through. She started by saying "I feel so guilty for even thinking this, but..." and went on to tell me about her TOTALLY VALID emotions surrounding the subject. Her feelings made complete sense and I hated to hear that she was wrestling with any sort of guilt around them.
Another common type of guilt that I'm seeing come to the surface among women in my age-group? Mother guilt. I don't think I need to say much about this, as I think all of my female readers know what I'm talking about here: it's guilt over being at work instead of being at home with a child, or guilt about taking time for yourself when you could be playing with your baby, or even guilt around spending money on yourself when you should be saving money for your child's college fund.
The guilt is real, y'all. And we women are carrying a heavy load of it.
So what do we do? I'm still figuring that out myself, but as usual, I think the first step is becoming aware of it. When you find yourself feeling guilt or saying, "I feel so guilty for feeling this way...," examine that guilt. Is it founded or unfounded? When you hear a friend expressing her guilt, call her on it. Validate her emotions but encourage her to let go of the guilt.
Of course, if you really do have something to feel guilty about, make changes, take action, apologize, or do something to remedy the situation. But if your natural, valid emotions are causing you to feel guilty, try and let that go. Let yourself feel your feelings; journal, talk to someone, meditate, and try to release the burden so you can get back to living.
Ladies: our minutes are too freaking precious to use on guilt. How about we encourage each other to turn that guilt into gratitude and empathy, instead?