Defense Date


Graduation Date

Spring 2013


Immediate Access

Submission Type


Degree Name



Clinical Psychology


McAnulty College and Graduate School of Liberal Arts

Committee Chair

Eva Simms

Committee Member

Will Adams

Committee Member

Russell Walsh


Embodied research, Ethics, First-time mothers, Focusing technique, Maternal guilt, Phenomenological


The present study is an existential phenomenological investigation of the experiences of maternal guilt of five first-time mothers with infant children. Maternal guilt is a powerful, pervasive, and complex phenomenon that effects and is experienced by mothers in different ways. This research explores the experiences of these five mothers in feeling guilt related to being a mother and, using an adapted research methodology utilizing Focusing Technique (Gendlin, 1981), their embodied reflections about a particular memory of feeling maternal guilt. This study utilizes procedures explicated by Colaizzi (1978), Giorgi & Giorgi (2003), Todres (2007), von Eckartsberg (1998), Walsh (1995; 2004) and Wertz (1984). All participants provided data via a written account of a particular memory of feeling a sense of guilt related to being a mother, an individual interview which incorporated a modified Focusing component, and written and verbal feedback related to the write-up of the provisional thematic analysis of the interview. The interpreted analyses of the five interviews indicate seven formulated themes; physical and emotional connection to their babies, intense feelings of responsibility, feelings of being divided, multi-dimensionality of guilt with other emotions, pre-verbal miscommunication, anxiety over the unknown in the beginning, and social expectations and comparisons. The findings suggest that the process of embodied reflection regarding a new mother's emotional experiences of guilt can foster important awareness for how she can care for her own and her child's needs. Relationships between contemporary cultural discourses on motherhood and philosophical interpretations of guilt are discussed. Implications for creating networks of support and community for new parents are also explored.