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Dana Beal, International Speaker, Author and Coach

Freedom in the Workplace: Is Hidden Guilt Limiting Your Confidence and Happiness?

By Danna Beal, M.Ed.
International Speaker
Author and Coach

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Original Publish Date: March 10, 2020

Suzanne, a highly respected and accomplished Chief HR Officer in a large prestigious hospital, carried a deep secret that had burdened her for years. She had earned her way up to this C-level position through hard work and fervent dedication, gaining vast experience as HR director in several hospitals prior to the Chief HR position. But Suzanne was haunted by the fact that she hadn’t completed her bachelor’s degree. Although she had told her bosses the truth and was promoted and hired anyway, the employees naturally assumed she was a college graduate. So, whenever the common subject of education or related issues were in the discussion, a sinking sense of dread and unworthiness came over her. Due to her hidden feelings of guilt, she compensated by being the first one to arrive at work, the last one to leave, the one to dutifully volunteer, and was always overprepared for every project. She rarely took a lunch break and simply ate while working at her desk. She unconsciously believed that if she worked so diligently, she would prove she was invaluable, somehow making up for her lack of a certificate. She ultimately sacrificed much of her personal life to avoid being exposed. Despite her excellent work she always felt like an imposter.

Suzanne is not alone in feelings of inadequacy. Millions of people have self-deprecating thoughts that they hide. Self-imposed guilt fuels doubts and insecurities in everyone to some degree. Wanting to appear confident, capable and powerful, people in the workplace feel they must keep their insecurities hidden. Fear of not having all the right answers is often seen as a weakness that must be concealed. Therefore, it takes great introspection and courage to look at the very weaknesses and insecurities that are blocking authentic power. The truly great leaders who operate from integrity, humility, compassion and vision have done the powerful work of facing their own fears. Creating an environment of freedom in the workplace starts with self-realized leaders that allow and encourage autonomy. However, it is ultimately up to each one of us to unlock the key to our own personal freedom and deep inner strength.

Children masquerading as powerful adults

Guilt is a debilitating emotion that has been reinforced by families and religions for centuries. Guilt has been used as a tool to control others. We have all been controlled by guilt in some form or another in various times in our lives. It started in childhood with our deference to adults when we needed to be loved and supported. Now as adults ourselves, we can be plagued with unrecognized guilt and shame that was conditioned long ago. The fear keeps us in check and limits our own power and autonomy. People often blindly follow authoritarians because of their own unexamined, self-imposed guilt. The disguised guilt continues to run the show in the background of our unconscious minds. The ego then steps in to create a role that it believes will earn us respect, keep us safe, give us security and validation. Our lack of transparency, even with ourselves, impedes our ability to express our true talents, creativity and productivity.

All of the roles played by the ego are actually reducing the very power they seek to insure. The ego is an actor trying to appear powerful. The underlying pain is not relieved, as exampled by Suzanne, and until we can be courageous enough to face and explore our own perceived deficiencies, we will suffer silently. Our ego role may even seem to work most of the time. And when it doesn’t, people tend to complain, be a victim, blame other people, and resort to alcohol, drugs and other addictions to ease the anxiety. To become authentically powerful and free from the reactions and counter-reactions in the workplace and the world you have to be willing to be vulnerable—something the ego wants to prevent. But only then can you be open to your own deep wisdom and truth. When we align with our true selves, we see that we (through the ego) are the ones writing the story of guilt and shame based on our childhood conditioning.

Recognizing guilt and shame as it arises

Freedom is a state of mind and can only be found within us. When you align with your inner core of strength and freedom, you cannot be manipulated or controlled. So, recognizing and then not falling into the guilty trap of unworthiness is the path to freedom. But guilt feelings can be so subtle that it is difficult to recognize them when they arise. They show up, according to people in my audiences from every industry and all over the country as fears of the following: rejection, humiliation, failure, being ignored, abandoned and not being loved or needed. Being shamed strikes a chord in most everyone and fear of being blamed or criticized keeps people constricted and limited in their full expression and contribution to the organization. Our self-persecution and deprecation keep us small and hold us back from our full expression, creativity and success.

Freedom from the entrapment of guilt

Shining a light on the dark shadow of guilt is categorically the most important work you can do to find freedom and joy. I recommend the diligent practice of the following steps so that you can wake up from stories of guilt and instead, stand brightly in the sunshine of Universal Love, success and happiness.

  1. Breathe—The moment any fearful or guilty emotion hits your gut or crosses your mind, take a deep breath and pause. Ask yourself if this situation or belief is even true? Is this just your first reaction, an incorrect judgment or misunderstanding?
  2. Be present—Quiet your mind by standing still and being present to the moment you are in—not some fearful past or imagined future. Look around, be silent and feel yourself calmly become present. Notice how the worry takes on a life of its own, if you let it and, instead, just calmly slow the thoughts down.
  3. As you align with your inner core, ask yourself of what is the real fear? Begin to face the actual situation and realize you don’t have to defend yourself. You can just speak truth—without blame. It is so exhausting to always be on guard. As you relax, those with whom you are interacting will feel your calming energy.
  4. Demonstrate respect and honor for yourself and others by making eye contact, being authentic, speaking with truth and seeking common ground. As you free yourself, you free everyone around you.

Danna Beal, M.Ed., lives in the Seattle, WA area where she is an international speaker, author, retreat/workshop leader, and executive coach. She has spoken to thousands of businesses and conferences and has been on countless radio shows, podcasts, and webinars discussing “Enlightened Leadership” and “Workplace Culture” based on her book, “The Extraordinary Workplace: Replacing Fear with Trust and Compassion.” Her audiences and clients have included: Seattle Science Foundation--Spine Surgeons Grand Rounds, Kaiser Permanente Grand Rounds, Oakland, CA, AHRA, Orlando, FL, Federal Aviation Administration, Overlake Hospital Perioperative Conference, Radia, numerous physician practices and hospitals. Her website is