Writing About Shame or Regrets

If somebody comes out and says, My story is crazier than yours. that makes people feel safe  to maybe look at  their own story again.All too often those of us writing memoirs only for our families, try to sugarcoat uncomfortable stories or leave them out altogether. If that’s the way you want to do it, that’s still better than not writing anything at all. However, you might miss the opportunity to make someone else feel okay about their own story or even provide a guide for a moment yet to happen.

If you’re ready to tackle writing about shame or regrets, remember you’re not alone. Undoubtedly, most of the best-selling memoirs deal with shame and regrets. I loved The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls and you only need to read the first chapter to see how the weight of shame and regret will be lifted from the author as she shares her story. (Still, you won’t be able to put it down until the final chapter! Read more about it below.)
Jerry Waxler describes writing about regret in this way:
“When I remember my life, sometimes I get hot flashes when I stumble on things that make me feel stupid, things I wish had never happened. Regrets can be so uncomfortable they sometimes make me want to run away from my memories altogether. If you feel your regrets are interfering with your desire to write, you have company. We’re in it together. We all have regrets of varying degrees of intensity burning away in our past. And so, even though your regrets are uncomfortable, they offer another lovely benefit to writing your memoir. You will gain a deeper understanding not only into your own mind but into the inner workings of everyone you know.”1

The beauty of writing is that you can try it out without anyone watching or reading over your shoulder. Why not pull one of those stories out from where you’ve tried stuffing it in the corner of your mind. Be as gentle and kind to yourself as you would your best friend. Explore the circumstances, the choices, the thoughts you had at the time, the thoughts you have now, the possible alternate routes that were missed, and the lessons learned. Remember, you’re not building a defense, you’re just trying to make peace with a memory.

Free write as honestly as you possibly can with no expectation of anyone ever reading it. Let it sit for at least a few days before you read it to yourself, dig deeper if necessary, rewrite it, and see if it starts to lose some of its power.


The Glass Castle is a remarkable memoir of resilience and redemption, and a revelatory look into a family at once deeply dysfunctional and uniquely vibrant. When sober, Jeannette’s brilliant and charismatic father captured his children’s imagination, teaching them physics, geology, and how to embrace life fearlessly. But when he drank, he was dishonest and destructive. Her mother was a free spirit who abhorred the idea of domesticity and didn’t want the responsibility of raising a family.

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The Walls children learned to take care of themselves. They fed, clothed, and protected one another, and eventually found their way to New York. Their parents followed them, choosing to be homeless even as their children prospered.

The Glass Castle is truly astonishing—a memoir permeated by the intense love of a peculiar but loyal family.

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