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The Story You Tell Yourself: Dealing with Shame and Moving Forward with Your Life

Updated on June 7, 2014

Getting Past the Past

We've all of us done things of which we are not proud. Some of us may even have permanent physical reminders of the poor life choices we have made, such as tattoos or scars; and the way we think about those choices we made in the past can affect our relationships, our careers, and our future success. Even if we realize that no-one is perfect, until we can get past our own past, and change the narrative we tell ourselves, we are not as easily able to choose our future. And so much of that has to do with the stories we tell ourselves about our pasts. Fortunately, we can change those life narratives and learn to get on with our new lives! It's not an easy process, and oftentimes a downright painful one, but you really can change your life and your life story--and once you can do that, you can learn to get past the past, and face your future with far more confidence and far less emotional baggage.

To Change, You Must Examine Your Life Story

In getting past your past, the first thing to do is to examine your past poor life choices. In order to change your life story, you must first know what life your story really is, in addition to the life story you've been telling yourself all this time. So sit down, objectively, and look at your past in detail. List your actions that were the result of poor choices, and evaluate them.

  • How bad was the action you chose?
  • Whom and how many people did action you chose hurt?
  • Can you remember what prompted you to make that life choice?
  • How can you avoid the situation that prompted you to make that life choice?
  • What different, more positive life choices can you make in the future?
  • What have you learned from your action?
  • Have you attempted to redress the harm from your action? What steps have you taken?

Once you have examined your life choices, you can begin to take action to change your story!

I have done something in the past that I am ashamed of now.

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No good at writing, or too slow? Try using a tape recorder.


Getting Your Life Story Straight

Now that you have objectively assessed your past actions of which you are ashamed, it's time to choose a new direction for your life story. This involves taking what you've learned, as well as the reparations you have tried to make to atone for your past bad actions, and choosing where your future should lead. Choosing a new life story is a difficult task, and should take you quite a bit of time to accomplish. However, it's extremely important to not become discouraged, but rather to keep at the process until you can confidently assure yourself of the answers to these questions. You may wish to write in a journal (keep it hidden), or use a tape recorder (keep the tape hidden) to collect all your thoughts together.

When Others Were Involved

Sometimes our poor life choices can have a ripple effect. It's absolutely essential to changing your life story that you examine the ripple effect from your past actions, and do what you can to make things right. There's really no exception to this if you want to get over your past and find true forgiveness. Repentance and atonement are vital pieces of the process!

If you've hurt someone already, don't hurt them again by bringing up the past until and unless they are ready to hear you. Forcing your process on them in the present is just as bad as hurting them in the past. So choose your words and your timing with care, and ask permission of anyone you've injured, and don't just spring a discussion of the past on them without warning!

More Help

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From Now On

Some examples of changing your story:

Your story starts with, "I am a person who did this bad thing X." The problem is that most people stop telling their life story at this point. In order proceed, now you must change the story:

"I am the person who did this bad thing X, and"

  • I turned my life around after that.
  • I decided to teach others how to make better choices.
  • I repaired the damage from that bad thing and now am in good graces with everyone I hurt.
  • I decided to make the world a better place.
  • Choose your own ending!

The Dirty Shame Saloon
The Dirty Shame Saloon | Source

Make Your New Life Story the Truth

Now that you have chosen the new ending to your life story, it's time to make that new ending to your life story come true. Whether that means apologizing to those whom you may have hurt, and trying to make amends for your past wrongs, whether you wronged someone emotionally, physically, financially, or some other way, or moving ahead and writing a book, giving lectures in schools, volunteering, or some other action, you must work to make your new life story real. Once you can begin this process, you will start to feel the weight of your past mistakes begin to lessen the control it has on your life now, and you will feel your positive choices assuming control. By continuing to reinforce this changed life story by your daily actions, you will be able to let go of the emotional baggage that chains you to your past.

Outside Help

Sometimes changing your life story is not something that can be accomplished on your own. In that case, you should talk over your situation with a trusted friend, a counselor, a priest or minister or other spiritual advisor, a lawyer in the case of something that was illegal, or a relative. You should know and trust anyone you turn to for help; a professional is bound by certain laws and codes of ethics, whereas a relative or a friend is not--so sometimes the money you pay for professional advice may be well worth it.

My Wish for You

I hope that you will be able to move past whatever poor choices you have made previously. In addition to not making that same choice again, I wish you healing and wisdom, and the ability to tell your wonderful story of how you overcame your poor choices! Here's to a brighter future and better choices in your life!


Submit a Comment

  • BennyTheWriter profile image

    BennyTheWriter 7 years ago from Northeastern U.S.A.

    This is a really crucial article. So many people walk around defeated by the past, letting their failures define them. This is an excellent reminder that it's possible to turn one's own life around, and that starting the process is not as hard as one might think.

  • Shadesbreath profile image

    Shadesbreath 7 years ago from California

    Very nicely done. Being human is a recipe for making horrific decisions. I think your approach in this hub is reasonable and doable. In studying memoir as an artform (one that is hugely prevalent these days), looking into the nature of self examination is interesting. As you said in a comment above, it's very easy to forgive oneself, or to think you have and just ignore what you have done to others. But to truly address wrong, the kind of deep wounding wrong you talk about, is a process that requires effort beyond repeating some daytime TV mantra about "I'm okay, it's okay to be human" drivel.

  • classicalgeek profile image

    classicalgeek 7 years ago

    I hope that this helps your son--I wrote it for a friend of mine who will probably never read it, but that is his choice.

    Thank you for telling me you had trouble with the Amazon link. I cannot replicate the problem you had but I'll try again later.

  • TLMinut profile image

    TLMinut 7 years ago

    This is so helpful - my 15 year old son is very judgmental and rigidly moral, apparently due to things he did in the past. But good grief, he's still a kid! He thinks he was so horrible, a total brat and awful person so now ... never mind, I just want to go through this with him. I've told him these things but hearing from other than Mom sometimes works better.

    (Your Amazon link didn't work, right under "Getting Your Story Straight" and then "More Help")

  • shibashake profile image

    shibashake 7 years ago

    I like this piece.

    "Forgiving yourself and justifying your past actions to yourself is ridiculously easy and we do it every day."

    I think that truly forgiving ourselves is a difficult thing to do. That is why many people turn towards religion where there is a prescribed path towards forgiveness.

    I really like your emphasis on self-awareness in the article above. If we do not lie to ourselves, then we will end up making much better decisions, decisions we are less likely to regret in the long run.

    As for being a better person - what defines a better person? The most difficult life decisions do not usually have a clear good or bad. Sometimes we may have to hurt some in order to protect others. Which makes us better? I do not know.

    I just try to make the best decisions for me and the people and animals I care about most.

    Thanks for the very thought provoking piece.

  • classicalgeek profile image

    classicalgeek 7 years ago

    Unfortunately many people are going to read this hub as learning to forgive yourself. Forgiving yourself and justifying your past actions to yourself is ridiculously easy and we do it every day. Repentance and atonement, and a real turnabout in your life is difficult, painful, and sometimes dangerous. But there is a reward that is worth all the pain and effort, and that is being a better person and making the world a better place.

  • samboiam profile image

    samboiam 7 years ago from Texas

    What an excellent hub. Forgiving oneself is a process some times it is a daily decision. This is what I tell people. Do not judge me based on my past but upon the potential of my future.

  • profile image

    trose 7 years ago

    Really good hub. Forgiveness is so important for both parties, whether you are forgiving yourself or someone else. It helps you to propel forward and not stay stuck in anger, bitterness or shame. Life isn't perfect and mistakes are there for us to learn from and remind us of our humanity. Great information here...keep it up!

  • classicalgeek profile image

    classicalgeek 7 years ago


    Thank you so much for your kind words. I would add only that I have certainly made choices that at the time I knew were wrong, and knew would lead to bad consequences, but I chose not to care about those at the moment. I just don't always try my best, I'm often not the best person I can be (and sometimes I choose to be the worst person I know how to be!) and I know it all too well.

  • tonymac04 profile image

    Tony McGregor 7 years ago from South Africa

    The choices we make and the actions based on them often have very far-reaching consequences which are not always apparent at the time. It is often only with hindsight that we recognise the foolishness of a particular choice, or the damaging conseuqences flowing from it.

    I like all your suggesstions for dealing with the aftermath of poor choices, and I would add just one, that it is important to remember that we all of us are all the time being the best we can be at that moment, unless we are deliberately deceiving ourselves. So a choice is seldom bad at the time, it becomes so later when the consequences kick in!

    I have certainly made choices and decisions which have turned out to be really destructive and dealing with the resultant guilt and remorse is not always easy, as you point out. Professional help is definitely a good idea. It's hard dealing with these things alone, I know from, personal experience.

    Thanks for a tough and essential piece.

    Love and peace