Hi. It’s Jenny at AnxietyBoss.com. Our question today comes to us from Dorian in Newark. How do I come to terms with my past life? I have done some bad things in the past and I want to not worry about it, but it is affecting my life.
There are number of possibilities. For many people, doing bad things in the past is connected to using drugs and alcohol. If this was the case, getting involved with an AA, or Alcoholics Anonymous, or NA, Narcotics Anonymous program could help. A major part of an AA or NA, also known as self-help or 12-step groups, is coming to terms with the past. You make a list of all of your flaws, faults, shortcomings and deficiencies and confess them to yourself, to another person, and to God. You make a list of the people that you’ve harmed and become willing to make amends to them all. You make direct amends whenever possible unless to do so could cause someone further injury.
Belief in a greater power than one’s self is a part of the program, but it’s not a requirement to join. The program is not affiliated with any specific religion nor do you have to be religious to join. It’s founded on Judeo Christian principles with some Buddhist principles included as well. The founders were devout men who studied many of the world’s major religions, and one of the co-founders had a profound spiritual personal experience.
If it was something other than drugs and alcohol, you have to find a way to let the guilt, shame, remorse or whatever it is you are feeling, go, so it doesn’t consume you or lead you back to doing things that you’ll regret. Consider that it can actually be good if someone is feeling these things. This is about knowing the difference between right and wrong and feeling badly if you hurt others, physically or emotionally.
Guilt, shame, and remorse are very powerful emotions which can motivate us to change behavior. Sometimes we feel them for a good reason. We have all done things we are less than proud of. Guilt and shame can also be undeserved. Sometimes we feel them without cause because other people place them on us undeservedly. This can happen because of their own issues. We then accept the guilt and shame because we trust them and we reason that they’re right and we must be wrong.
You may want to seek out a good psychotherapist to unburden yourself on, get perspective, and see alternatives or begin by talking to a trusted friend or family member or a member of the clergy or other spiritual advisor. If whatever is troubling you was the result of criminal behavior, be aware that there are limits on confidentiality and patient/therapist privilege. It would be wise to discuss these limits with your therapist before going too far in depth.