Elite Reover

Why You Feel Guilty When You Relax

2 February 2023
Why You Feel Guilty When You Relax

What you will learn from this article:

  • The common childhood patterns that cause us to feel like we need to be working all the time and feel guilty when we are unproductive
  • How to unlearn these patterns

As therapists, we see many people coming to us with problems de-stressing and seeking online therapy in Singapore and mental wellness therapy in Singapore. Some of the most common problems they face are:

  • Finding it hard to stop thinking about work, when they are not working
  • Seeing not doing anything productive as a waste of their time
  • Feeling anxious, ashamed, guilty or inefficient when they are unable to complete their task list
  • Feeling as if they do not deserve rest and relaxation until they have done something productive

Why Conventional Mental Health Tips Do Not Work

The issue with conventional mental health tips is that it only addresses the symptoms.

Your boss can give you less work and let you go home early. You can schedule time for self-care. You can tell yourself that work will never end and try to let it go.

But all these will have a limited effect if you cannot get rid of that inner voice telling you that you are “lazy”, “unproductive”, and “wasting time” for doing all that.

Where the Inner Critic Comes From

Now where did this inner critic come from? For many, it goes back to childhood.

Think for a moment – have you ever met a baby or a child who feels guilty for playing? As children, it was in our nature to go in the direction of what brings us joy. We just did whatever we felt like doing.

So then, how did we learn that we need to be productive in order to be “good enough”, “happy” and “loved”?

We learned this from our parents and caregivers, when they:

  • Praised us for getting good grades and punished us for performing below their expectations in school
  • Frowned upon us when we spent too much time on recreational activities, and always pushed us to do things that are “educational”
  • Tied our value to how well-behaved, hard-working and intelligent we were

We learnt it whenever we were shown that it’s not ok to be ourselves. This led us to develop a belief of “I am only good enough if I do something productive and achieve something”..

Over time, we subconsciously internalized our parents’ or caregivers’ voice within us.

This becomes our inner critic that polices us so we always do things that are pleasing to others, and always receive love, praise and approval.

This keeps us trapped in the never-ending cycle of:

Caught in this loop, we never feel good enough. We never allow ourselves to do something from a space of true joy. We do things mainly out of fear – that we would lose approval if we stop being productive.

Struggle Between Our Inner Critic & Inner Child

Meanwhile, the child in us who wants to play and do what feels good is starving. Its need for spontaneity, fun, passion, creativity and unconditional love have not been met.

All it wants is for someone to truly see, appreciate and love it for who it is, without needing to have good grades, a respectable job, or to be skilled in an area.

It longs for someone to say, “You are worthy, valued and loved just as you are. Even if you have no skills, achievements, job or money; you are still my child and I love you”.

This struggle between our inner critic and our inner child can lead to burnout, depression, and even physical illnesses. These are signs that our inner child’s needs are not being met.

How to Heal

The path towards healing this pattern starts from first gaining awareness. Start by asking yourself:

  • What do I feel when I am not productive?
  • Why do I feel this way? What am I afraid will happen when I am not productive?
  • When was the first time in my life when I felt this way?

Once you have this awareness, you can explore ways to change your belief system, meet the needs of your inner child and heal the trauma associated with the part of you that feels guilty for being unproductive.


From our experience, the pattern explained here is very deep in many of us and intergenerational, which makes it challenging to overcome and heal.

One reason is that there is a deep fear of letting go of the part of us that makes us feel guilty when we are unproductive (which we could see as the inner critic or police).

The subconscious narrative of this fear is: “If I let this inner critic/police go, I will stop being productive. I will stop earning money, which will threaten my survival and happiness. I will stop being seen as a valuable person, and stop receiving approval and stop belonging in society.”

In reality, it is our human nature to both work and relax. When we relax for too long, we feel bored and feel like doing something that excites us or is meaningful. We know from personal experience that working on this fear does not make one become a lazy person. Instead, it empowers you to pursue your passions and purpose from a space of genuine joy.

If you are seeking online therapy or mental wellness therapy in Singapore, we at Intracresco are here to guide you. You do not have to fight this battle alone.

Learn more about how we at Intracresco can support your inner healing journey through our therapy services.

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