stressed out girl

“Upholder” Guilt

“I find it interesting that you feel guilty while relaxing, Renata. That’s typically an “Upholder” trait. Are you an overachiever?”

“In recovery, yes.”

This is a conversation that I had with my coach during one of our sessions when I mentioned that I hate the fact that I feel guilty for having downtime. Apparently, feeling unable to do nothing without hating yourself makes me an “overachiever.” Whatever, narc.

Is someone an overachiever if she obsessively takes on more projects and side jobs and must complete every single one to perfection and absolutely hates herself if she doesn’t do something perfectly? Since when is that a thing?

Sidenote: When she said that I sounded like an “Upholder,” she was referring to the Four Tendencies quiz that helps you to understand how you hold yourself accountable. Like any other personality quiz, it helps you see some of your tendencies, but doesn’t define how you do everything. It can just be a helpful guide on how you can work towards your goals effectively. Considering my difficulty with routine, it should be no surprise that I am one of the tendencies that struggles with internal accountability. I’m an “Obliger” meaning that external accountability helps me to complete my goals (as opposed to an “Upholder” who uses both internal and external accountability to achieve their goals), which is true! Having external accountability helps me to get things done, as well as makes me want to do things. As an extrovert, I’d rather be doing something with/for a person than alone, so I am much more excited to do things when others are involved.

When it comes to internal accountability, I have a tendency to tell myself that I need to do all of these different things and do all of them perfectly, so I’ve decided that it’s just better to not use internal accountability, and therefore not let myself down for no reason whatsoever! As I’ve written about previously, ever since I was young, I have always obsessively created goals for myself. I have since massively overcorrected to not having any goals, and now I am working on righting the ship so that I have meaningful and achievable goals instead of having either a plethora of meaningless and impossible goals or no goals at all. I’m working on finding the balance of holding myself accountable to reach my goals, but giving myself some slack if I don’t complete them perfectly or on a particular timeline. I’ve come to realize that my expectations of myself don’t need to be nonexistent, just realistic.

However, when you’re so used to being productive and pushing yourself, it can be hard to relax without feeling like you should be doing something. I know that I can handle doing several projects when I’m at my best, so shouldn’t I just always be working? It’s hard to know what to expect from myself when during my highs I can juggle several different projects and jobs, but at my lowest I can only watch TV and play picross. How can I not feel guilty doing nothing when I know that I’m capable of doing 30 things at once?! But highs and lows aside, everyone needs a break now and again.

With everything going on in the world, coaching school, and how stressful work has been, I’ve needed to spend my weekends relaxing. When I’m spending my weekdays working and stressing from morning until night, I need a couple of days of doing nothing in order to actually function when the week comes around again. For several weeks, I was working throughout the week and on the weekends, and my anxiety went through the roof. I stopped sleeping and started getting angry and snippy. Something had to change. Upon realizing how burnt out I was, I decided to dedicate my weekends to self-care and relaxation.

The first weekend that I devoted to relaxation, I was so exhausted, I was actually able to relax. Which honestly, was a pretty big deal for me. I reminded myself that I actually was being productive by allowing myself to relax because I would be able to function better the following week. I played Animal Crossing, watched TV, played games on my phone, and cuddled with my fiancé. It was so perfect and needed. 

That weekend went so well that I thought I should give it a try the following weekend. I was able to do it once, so that means that I perfected the art of relaxing, right? My overachiever brain considered this a “win.” Suck on that all of you overachievers who can’t relax! I am the queen of relaxation!

As it turns out, relaxing because you’re too exhausted to do anything else and actually taking downtime out for yourself are two different things. I didn’t necessarily feel guilty the following weekend, but I did feel bored. You mean I need to refrain from doing anything in order to fully relax? Ugh! 

Now, realistically I know that this isn’t true and that I have activities that can relax me, but I had decided that relaxation meant doing nothing, so that’s what I was going to do…or, er, not do. My weekend dragged and I became stressed for an entirely new reason: I had not, in fact, figured out how to relax.

This ties into my ridiculous expectations of myself as well. I’ve decided I’m going to relax, so I’m going to relax, dammit! Even if it’s not what I want to do! I begin a guilt spiral where I go from feeling guilty for not being productive to feeling guilty for not giving myself time to relax to feeling guilty that I can’t get myself to just relax even when I don’t feel the pull to be productive. It’s like I can’t win!

Now, in order to fully correct and avoid this shame spiral, I’m working on just listening to what I need in the moment. I know that being an overachiever 100% of the time isn’t possible because burnout will render me incapable of functioning. I took a week off from work in August, and I just took it one hour at a time. Did I feel like writing? Watching TV? Reading? Napping? I’m trying to learn to do what I want guilt-free because I know that my brain knows what I need in that moment.

Like getting a food craving because my body is in tune with its needs, my brain gives me cues as to what will help it function best as well. After all, I’m clearly not relaxing if I’m trying to force myself to do nothing when I just feel anxious because I want to be doing something.

With everything I have going on, it’s no surprise that “self-care” has come up in sessions with my coach.

“How have you been doing with self-care?”

This question always gives me pause, the image of a woman in a bubble bath with wine and a face mask popping into my head. But that’s just not me.

What do I enjoy? Practicing yoga, reading, writing, video games, cuddling with Dan, eating certain foods. Unfortunately, when depressed, even the things that bring me the most joy can just feel like chores. How can I know that I’m practicing self-care when I’m depressed no matter what I’m doing?

As per usual, I need to remember that the work that I’m doing is internal, not external. Self-care for me is allowing myself to figure out what I need in the moment and doing it. It’s allowing myself to pivot when what I’m doing isn’t bringing me joy and not hating my depressed brain when it’s keeping me from feeling joy. It’s allowing myself to feel joy when doing something that’s not necessarily productive.

Self-care is giving myself the grace to choose what I want to do in the moment without guilt or judgement. I’ll let you know when I actually figure out how to do that…

Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

6 thoughts on ““Upholder” Guilt

  1. I can relate. I’m one of those people who can’t sit still, I’m constantly doing something on my never ending list. These days I’ve included ‘nap’ on my list as well – you know, for some balance.

    All the best, Michelle (

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hey, if writing relaxation into your schedule is what helps you do it, then by all means! I wish I was better at napping…I usually can’t fall asleep in the middle of the day unless I’m can’t-keep-my-eyes-open exhausted 🥴

      Liked by 1 person

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