There are times in my relationship coaching practice that my clients bring really great questions.  A woman recently asked me “When do I tell a partner about something I did in my past that was really bad?

Here’s what I know as a generality when it comes to the desire to be open and honest with another versus sabotaging a relationship.

If you are feeling great shame about your past, the time is not now to reveal this to a partner as the work is to accept and resolve this element of your past – first.  It is your work not someone else’s to give you acceptance for a behavior that you are not wishing to embrace yourself.  The degree to which you love yourself enough to accept yourself – all of you – the light and the dark, is the degree to which you will find acceptance and love “out there” from others.

Consider, that the purpose of coming together in a sacred relationship is to mutually uplift each other to your highest potential, lovingly grow through those opportunities where all you wish to do is close up and to experience greater fulfillment and joy together.   It’s about bringing out the best in each other.

Now, back to the question, here’s the simplified process to resolve shame around a particular dark moment in your past life.

  1. Speak your truth. Write down the story that goes with this particular event in your life.  If you’ve got a close friend or coach that you feel safe with and who will truly be a nonjudgmental listener, then do that.  Embrace all of it, leave nothing out as best as you are able. Being able to even articulate the shameful story that keeps you stuck in life is so critical.  Gloria Steinberg was quoted as saying “The Truth shall set you free, but first it will piss you off.”   You may get angry, you may get sad – just be with whatever is there.  This is your moment to finally be free.
  2. Separate out the behaviour.   What I mean with this is that doing a deed, does not define who you are at a soul level.  It is just an external act and is separate and distinct from your highest self.   It is ok to keep the behaviour as a act that was not so stellar however it does not serve you and your spiritual growth.  It happened and that is all that happened. Shame is when you own it as if it is who you are.  You only feel bad because you hold the two as one.
  3. Be self-compassionate.  Remember, you were doing the best you could in your life at that particular time in your life, with the knowledge and resources you had at your disposal. Sure, right now, you have hind sight and with that a different wisdom or set of life values but know you would not be right here, right now, feeling shame unless you had that original experience in the first place.   If a close friend, disclosed this to you, would you treat them with more compassion than you give yourself?  Be kind to yourself.
  4.  Celebrate the learning.   What did you learn from that experience?  Has it shaped Who You Are?  Can you see how it served your greater good?  What aspects were good about it?  It’s powerful to write all the positive learnings out so you can see them in black and white.  It’s far more important to understand, we all miss the mark at times in our lives; we fumble, stumble and sometimes tumble.  The genius is YOU got back up, shook off the dust and got back up!
  5. Forgive Yourself.  Forgiveness is powerful.  I liken forgiveness to acceptance and acceptance is equal to love.  Love yourself more than you ever have around this event.  Forgiveness is like peeling an onion – there are many layers and along the way there may be tears.  So, let whatever is there flow out of you like a river washes out to sea, carrying it all away.  A good mantra to repeat is “I did the best I could, with what I had at the time”.  Be gentle with yourself as you would a small child.
  6. Recreate a new story.  You have a story here – it is a gift to you.  Make it a powerful one that serves you.  Take the time to write it out and speak it out.   You are not here on this planet to wallow in shame but to experience moments that cause it to occur and then to consciously transform those moments when shame shows up.  Find the gold nugget in your story and speak truth from an empowered, loving place.
  7. Discern when to reveal.   When dating and you have something important to share that may be a deal breaker for the other, such as a transmittable disease, I’ve found it best to share this relatively sooner than later, before either of your are fully invested in the relationship.  However, that said, if you are wanting to share something that has no impact on your present relationship but is a point of shame for you – do not share this until you have resolved the shame around it first.  And then who knows, it may never need to be spoken.  It’s in the past where it belongs, do not bring it into your future.  If you are in committed relationship, married and you have something you need to share that is coming between the two of you, then do your own work first, then bring the learnings to your partner when you are both in a good place of being lovingly connected and have this opportunity to deep into more intimacy.   If it’s truly very charged topic, then perhaps seek a third party to help keep the peace.

This article was originally published on in February 2016.