I was working through an exercise with a colleague in my Positive Psychology class a few weeks ago, and I shared with her advice I’d been given years ago. “If you feel guilty while doing it, it’s probably a good thing to do.” It blew her mind.

I’ve been connecting with other kids who grew up in the Unification Church and hearing their struggles with guilt. Too much guilt. Misplaced guilt. Responsibility for the world – and all of God’s pain – guilt.

I know that guilt. So I shared the advice with some of them too. It blew their minds.

I’ve fashioned my life – and my recovery – on this phrase. If I feel guilty when I do – or don’t do – something, then it’s most likely something that’s good for me to do (or not do). It’s most likely something that puts me first, or at least farther ahead. Something that takes into account my needs and wants.

These were all things I was taught not to do. I was taught – or at least I somehow learned – to put myself after most, if not all, people. To sacrifice my needs and wants.

I learned, in fact, to not have any needs and wants. I learned that wanting and needing were wrong. And dangerous. And selfish. And evil. And sinful.

I learned to sacrifice everything for God and the universe. I learned to “pay indemnity” – to suffer to pay for the sins of my ancestors and the sins of my descendants. And to be thankful that I had the opportunity to do so.

When my mom left us to join the Church, I was told I was fortunate to live without her. “How lucky you are to be able to sacrifice this way” the Church leaders all said. “Thank you for your offering.” “You’re so amazing and brave.” “How blessed you are.” “You giving up your mother is saving the world.”

This has all been hard programing to put down, and “If you feel guilty while doing it, it’s probably a good thing to do,” has been a helpful way to learn to put it down. To learn new things that that are more life-affirming and joy-bringing. That are more soul-filling and ease-enhancing.

I’ve developed the muscles to breathe through the guilt and shame that sometimes threaten to overcome and overwhelm me. I’ve been practicing this new approach for years. It’s been work, and it’s been worth it. I’ve learned – through years of practice and support from others – that I can get through it, and it won’t kill me. Even when it feels like it will. Or like it already did.

I still have overactive guilt and shame muscles. I possibly always will. But I can use the guilt for me – I can remember it’s a guiding force to point out what would most likely soothe my heart, mind, and soul – and that’s a good thing.

That guilt is a good thing.

I’d love to hear your thoughts, and please share this post with others if it resonates with you!