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The Story You Tell Yourself: Dealing with Shame and Moving Forward with Your Life
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.
Although it's described as a manual for job-hunters and career-changers, in fact the "flower exercise" in the back is well worth doing to restore joy in your life.
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!
Rather than continuing to make the same mistakes in your life, you can examine what factors led you to make those mistakes, and learn a new way of making choices.
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!
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.
Change Your Life Story!
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!