How to Deal with Others Who Use Your Past Against You

You don’t learn to read as a child without failing. Nobody accuses you of being bad reader now because you were constantly falling at it when you were a child. It’s no secret that we all fail and that pain forces us to evolve into getting better. 

Adult mistakes are different. No matter how much we’ve changed, somebody may choose to remind us of things we did years ago that were wrong. Just like the old song lyric says, “please don’t confront me with my failures, I have not forgotten them.” 

It bursts your bubble when someone pressures you to defend prior decisions when you know you have made better ones since. It feels like you can’t escape the old you and that all your work to become better is in vain.

Consider the Relationship First

An essential element to consider is your relationship with the person who brings up your past. If you have a good relationship with this person, they may believe that reminding you of the past will help you become better. Or they may feel you aren’t changing. 

People seldom see the whole context. So they rely on the limited knowledge, which may include the old version of you that they knew. They also tend to analyze others where they desire to improve themselves. So when they bring up your earlier shortcomings, they’re usually talking to themselves about parts of their lives where they want to be better. They seek to grab your happiness because of their own insecurities. It is projection. 

Strangers or people you have a bad relationship with are motivated by humiliating or dominating you. Someone who doesn’t want you to grow as a person will constantly remind you of your faults to manipulate you. Seeing you succeed reveals their own failures. They are likely envious, irritated, or bitter about the improvements you’re making. How dare someone like you succeed? They gain a fantasy of power over you by tossing you in the cage of your past decisions. They hope to make you a hostage of your past. 

How Can You Stop People from Reminding You of Your Past? 

You can’t. 

It’s impossible to stop others from talking about your old failures. You can’t stop people from seeing you the way you used to be. You can’t stop people from focusing on your failures more than your victories. Instead, they must reach that decision on their own time, if ever. 

Nobody else can torture you when you’ve embraced what you’ve learned from it. Do you still judge yourself for your past mistakes? Do you still punish yourself for them? Do you forgive yourself? Do you think about what could have been? Or do you adopt those mistakes as an essential part of the lessons you’ve learned? Do you think about what still could be? 

When you define yourself by your past, you will only live a portion of your potential. You may have been victimized, wronged, or harmed. It’s no longer helpful to define yourself in terms of what happened. It’s like wearing clothes that don’t fit. Isn’t it time for new ones? 

Be an actor instead of a reactor. An actor is like a pool stick. A reactor is a pool ball. It’s better to call the shots than to be bounced around the table. You show grace by living in peace with something you can’t change. 

Owning the past removes the power from the person who brings it up. They can’t manipulate you. But it will still be upsetting. It is still unpleasant that the individual sees the worst in you. But your separation makes it their burden instead of yours. 

Why defend yourself against someone committed to finding a version of you that doesn’t exist anymore? Let them accuse the ten-year-old of being a poor walker because they were falling down at age three. Acknowledge the improved version of yourself. There is no use in looking back. You aren’t going that way. If they want to find the old you, tell them to look in the morgue. That person doesn’t exist anymore. 

When Someone Keeps Bringing Up Your Past, What Should You Do?

Ask yourself whether this is a person you want a relationship with. 

Perhaps it’s a coworker with whom you’ve previously collaborated on a project where you missed a deadline and left them rushing to cover. They’re not going to forget that you didn’t follow through on your promises.

We sometimes overlook the human element at work. Individuals carry their own emotional baggage to work with them. Maybe you provoked that person’s trust issues, and now they’ll always feel like they can’t trust your word since that’s how they function in their personal life. 

Recognize their emotions. You might need to apologize for making them feel like they could depend on you and then leave them to finish the assignment. Make it clear that you value their time and are grateful for their support. If they find themselves in an emergency, offer to help with another assignment. And, together, find out a solution to make sure it doesn’t happen again in the future so they can feel safe working with them.

It might be a partner, family member, or friend. Despite your efforts to regain trust, they continue to exploit your previous sins against you. Counting your sins makes them feel like a saint. But they don’t know the whole story. 

Acknowledge and communicate their emotions while doing the same with your own. It’s easy to believe the attempt at discussion is futile. But to improve your relationship, you must tell them how it feels to be slapped in the face with your flaws, and for them to ignore your efforts to stop being that person. You know the whole story, pain, and sacrifice. 

If they keep refusing to notice your progress, you must assess whether the relationship is psychologically and emotionally healthy for you to continue. Since they judge you by your past, they should not be surprised when they become part of it. 

Rather than let someone bring up your past to make you feel awful, let it empower you into a more profound acceptance of yourself. Discover what you learned about healing the pain from the past that has helped you. As someone who experienced deep despair from that mistake, you are less likely to engage in that wrongdoing than someone who hasn’t already felt that pain. 

Use this experience to help you create stronger boundaries. Let it educate you about who you should keep in your life and who you have outgrown. Make it help you rather than rule you. 

Forgive them. That doesn’t imply you condone their actions. But when you keep a grudge, you’re handing over control of your mind to that individual. When you don’t forgive, that person will occupy rent-free space in your mind. You’re better than that.

You never know what is happening in the lives of the difficult people who bring up your past. So before you start doing the same thing they’re doing to you, remember they are fighting their own silent battles. They don’t know the whole story about you. And you don’t know the whole story about them. 

Forgive yourself. History doesn’t change. But the way we perceive it does. If you don’t forgive yourself, you’ll take your damaged self’s emotional agony into new relationships and situations. Think about the reasons that you must let go. Don’t ruminate on the past. Some of the thoughts that prevent you from finding solutions include. 

  • “If I let go, I’m approving their harmful behavior.”
  • “Life is unfair.”
  • “I am justified in staying stuck because I was wronged.”
  • “It was so bad that I can’t heal.”
  • “It is someone else’s responsibility to make this better for me.”
  • “I need an apology.”

All of your emotions are valid. It’s critical to experience them before moving on. But when you perpetually nurse your grudges, it hurts you more than it troubles them. When we flood our brains with negative beliefs, there is barely any room for positive thoughts. Welcome joy back into your life instead of choosing to feel the hurt. 

Nobody’s life should be defined by the pain they feel. It is unhealthy, adding to our stress and undermining our ability to focus, work, or study. It impacts every relationship we have. Every day we choose to cling to that pain is another day everybody around us has to feel its consequences. Life is like an I Love Lucy episode. There is Lucy’s version, Ethel’s version, and What Really Happened. We get stuck in our version and it isn’t What Really Happened.

Don’t feed these limiting thoughts. Your life begins now. You can always start anew. Dwelling on what happened and dripping your feelings all over the place will keep you in misery. Indulging, concealing, or stuffing your emotions does not work. Instead, bring intellect and transparency to your immediate experience. 

Have hope for the future.  If you want to heal from the past, put your attention on your present. Instead of thinking about what could have been if you had not made that mistake, think about what still could be. Sometimes people with the worst pasts end up creating the best futures.

It doesn’t matter who you used to be. All that matters is who you have become.

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