Haunted by past events

By Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

For years, I have been haunted by past events which I have later regretted. From when I was age 5 and stole some marbles from my mom’s friend’s board game, up until recently when I chastized a contractor for not doing what I asked when he did some work in my house, and numerous events in between, I, who am known for a poor memory, remember every event in vivid detail of things I did wrong, people I have hurt, or poor decisions I have made. These thoughts come to me almost daily, mainly when I am alone. I relive and agonize over the events and they create a very depressing state of mind. I am college educated, have a successful career, a great marriage, yet I am haunted by, what I consider, every personal failure in my past. I know I cannot go back and make everything right, (though I have learned dearly from my failures), but I am tired of the replay and reminder or past shortcomings. I can’t imagine this is normal. At times it feels like I am living in Purgatory, paying for mistakes over and over. How can I break this cycle?

A: 48 years of atonement for a childhood misdemeanor is more than enough! Although your high moral standards are laudable, they seem to be on overdrive. No wonder you feel like you are living in Purgatory. It sounds terrible!

It’s possible that your continuous internal “tape” of everything you ever did wrong is a kind of obsessive-compulsive disorder. I suggest you find a counselor for a formal evaluation. If I’m right, there are both medications and methods of talk therapy that can provide you with some relief. Techniques of cognitive behavior therapy like “thought stopping,” for example, can help you manage your thoughts. Medicine may help with the anxiety and depression that often go with this kind of obsessive thinking.

Click on the “Find Help” tab on our homepage to locate a therapist near you. Or ask your doctor for a referral.

I hope you will follow through and get yourself the support and help you need. I really do think you’ve suffered for far too long.

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 12 Apr 2010

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2010). Haunted by past events. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 20, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2010/04/12/haunted-by-past-events-2/