Well, at least it is not a shock to me.  I mean, I feel guilty when I pass someone and forget to smile at them because I was either distracted or thinking too hard.  This can be a personality issue (most likely since I have self-diagnosed myself as a people pleaser), but according to a new study out of Spain, it could also be because I am a woman.  The study found that females, particularly adolescents and women between the ages of 25-33, have demonstrated higher levels of guilt than males.

The researchers determined that it has something to do with the fact that levels of empathy in females far surpasses the levels that occur in men.  That is,  until the men get older, wherein it seems that their levels of empathy increases.  The study related a males’ increase in empathy with their settling down and marrying.  Hmmm…I will need to see some more research and numbers about this to prove that the act of  marriage is a cause of increased empathetic feeling in the male gender.  I can see the point; once someone is in a committed relationship, especially with children involved.  It would make sense that they would exhibit more guilt or feelings of empathy associated with those persons because their actions directly influence the life of that other person.  Whereas a man who is single would not have the same responsibilities to another person.  But the same could be said for a woman, and the study doesn’t indicate that a female’s empathy level also rises upon “settling down”.  Click here to read more about the study as reported by the NY Daily News web site.

That being said, I still believe that women do feel more guilt than men about many things: sex, spending time with the children, an ability to cook, their appearance, exercising, having a clean house… The list could go on and on depending on what is considered a valuable skill or asset to each woman. I think a lot of this guilt comes from new societal expectations of the “wonder woman”; the woman who can handle a great job, cook a great meal for her family, be sexy for her man, and be an excellent and loving mother, daughter, sister, cousin, etc., and look like the models in the magazines while doing it.  When women fall short on even one of those things (in their own minds because no one is perfect), there can be an increased sense of guilt within themselves because they are not living up to their own ideal (or the ideal they have learned to believe in).

It is my opinion that men have their own guilt about things such as being “the bread winner”; the man who provides for his family while being emotionally “strong” for the family (which can look a lot like indifference and uncaring to others if communication and sharing of feelings is not involved) and great at sex (which may or may not be good for the woman who, research has shown, needs an emotional connection to have good sex and if there is not a lot of emotional connection,  women are most likely reading their man’s “strength” as indifference), or even being good at sports or reading maps.  For men, it seems that the guilt over being able to do everything (looking good for his wife, being able to cook, raise the children, be good at sex, etc.) occurs less often than their guilt over their ability to be the “provider”.  Which lends credence to the fact that their guilt levels increase once they have “settled down”, because that type of worry over a man’s ability to provide automatically increases once they marry and have children.

Because this is a blog about positivity, I would like to conclude this blog entry by stating that whether or not women are gentically pre-disposed to feelings of guilt, we can turn this around and look at it as a good thing.  Women are more empathetic but it does not make them weaker.  Empathy provides a sense of understanding about other people’s feelings, allows a person to build strong relationships and show others that they care.   Empathy also allows people to strive to be the best that they can be, because inherently, they understand that the guilt that results doesn’t feel too good.  So women (and guilt-prone gents too!), try to be proactive in instances where your guilt can lead to negative feelings such as depression and a lowered self esteem.  When those feelings of guilt occur (oh no! I forgot her birthday or oh no! I forgot to take the chicken out of the freezer for dinner), remember to stay positive and think about resolving the situation without mentally beating yourself up.  There is always a belated birthday celebration or takeout.  There is also the fact that you are human and you will forget things, make mistakes, and will sometimes need help.  It’s ok. And you are still amazing in spite of it.

Listed below are some of my chosen highlights from the article entitled, “Guilty as charged: Women feel more guilt than men, study says” from the New York Daily News, by Issie Lapowsky:

  • The author’s name is Issie Lapowsky. Such a cool name.  If that had been my name, I too would have become a journalist so that it can be my byline.  Lapowsky! Pow!  =)
  • When describing the trend of men getting more empathy as they age, Elizabeth Shirtcliff, a psychologist and behavioral endocrinologist at the University of New Orleans, reported that it can best be described as “men as slow learners.”  Me thinks that was a bit of an insult to the male gender. What do you guys think?
  • It is reported that when men’s testosterone levels decrease, their empathy rises and they will exhibit a range of emotions more similar to a female.  Who else wants to spike their boyfriend’s iced tea with testosterone inhibitors?
  • “The female brain is predominately hard-wired for empathy. The male brain is predominately hard-wired for understanding and building systems.”—Simon Baron-Cohen.  Okaaay. No comment. I need more information about these systems and why this ability to understand and build them inhibits guilt and/or empathy.
  • “Studies have proven that girl infants often begin crying when other infants in the nursery are crying. Likewise, both young male monkeys and young male humans are more likely to play with trucks and cars when stuffed animals and dolls are equally accessible”.  I wonder what young male monkeys and humans playing with trucks and cars have to do with guilt and empathy?
  • The article is entitled “Guilty as charged”.  Women, you are under arrest for all this darn empathy! =) Just kidding.

Have a great guilt-free day!

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