Overcoming the Past
Living with the Past, Not In It
We've all done something we regret. Some time or another we've all "been that person" we wish we hadn't been. Many people have lived for an extended period of time, in a way they eventually decided they no longer wanted to live. What a gift we’re given, each and every day--the gift of a new start, there for the taking. If you’ve decided you want to make a change in your life or maybe live it entirely differently, then it’s done, if you’re willing to do the work. Choosing to become another (better) version of yourself is surely a positive step in personal growth. You must not expect to be a completely different person, but a WHOLE person, who accepts the past but spends more time looking toward the future.
Our lives are books of stories, constantly being written. Some parts are written for us, but likely far more than we realize, we have the chance to do some writing. By deciding to make a life change, you have taken pen in hand. How you implement those changes is how the story begins and unfolds.
So often when we decide we're through with a certain way of living, we just want to run away and never look back. But if you’re writing a story, how can you write without drawing from what you know? A retired teacher could never write about his teaching career without having taught his first day of school. Evolving from one person to another takes life experience followed by growth. You can't grow if you don't have a former phase or state from which to grow.
Those who are most successful at living a better version of themselves, acknowledge all their actions and life-choices. It’s a delicate balancing act that requires practice—accepting the less desirable self--but not allowing it to define the whole self. Successfully changed people choose to own all of whom they are. It’s a matter of living with consequences, not living in them. So many people cripple themselves with shame, guilt, or regret. If those thoughts dominate, growth will be stunted or even reversed.
You’re working hard to make positive changes, but those around you bring you down by responding to you or treating you as the person you no longer are. When we want to make a change we don't want to live in the past. But as much as we’d like, we can’t expect people to immediately begin treating us differently or expecting different behavior from us. It’s a process that requires patience with ourselves and others. It’s not what others (or even you) say that’s most important; it’s what you do that speaks the loudest. Narratives change when actions change.
While you’re exercising patience and living differently, ask yourself some questions. Does anyone else truly know you better than you? Do you want to write your own story or allow someone else to be the author? Perhaps the value you place on the opinions, beliefs, or perceptions of others, regarding you, is excessive or misplaced. If others can’t respect your wishes or support your efforts, you need some distance. This isn’t denying truths about your past. But when you decided to change, you ended a chapter.
After you’ve lived differently for a period of time, you can more credibly speak to it as such. You may want to share your changed thoughts, actions, and desires with friends, family, others. Sharing these things can help keep you accountable, help others understand your changes, and garner yourself support. It may also serve the purpose of quelling some of the “stories” about you that you now see as part of your past. If someone unnecessarily and repeatedly drags you down by bringing up the past, tell them you’d prefer to talk more about the present or future. If that’s not respected, then you probably need to distance yourself, maybe just temporarily, in order to stay on the right track. Be careful not to allow someone’s negative narrative about you, become your own self-talk. Some people don't want others to change or don't believe they can. Bringing up your past may be more about someone else not wanting to face truths about himself/herself. Just as you wish to receive grace and/or mercy instead of punishment, others do too.
Everyone has failed at something. Those who succeed after failure, do so because they choose not to accept what someone else, or even their own selves have said or believed about them. Surely they have self-doubt sometimes, they just don’t allow those negative thoughts to overtake them. They may have very high or even low self-esteem, but they have enough belief in themselves to keep trying. They take back the pen, and they take back authorship of their stories.