Sometimes, we may cringe from past memories — it’s those moments when we think to ourselves, “Oh wow, did I really do that? Was I that immature? Or insecure? Or a whiny, hormonal, little brat?”
Well, I’m not going to judge you for exhibiting that behavior, or doing X, Y or Z. Because I was a teenager, too, and was going through the same process — one that I’m still going through. We don’t have to be so hard on our past selves.
Melissa Lewis, a trainer, speaker and consultant, discusses our tendency to reflect upon our younger selves in a self-critical light in a 2008 article. Though she coaches individuals to move past their faults and perceived failures in regard to public speaking, I can pinpoint a common theme in a much larger context: forgiveness. I know sometimes people throw that word out there as if it’s the answer to all our problems, but in this instance, I really think it’s sound.
Lewis recommends the following exercise. It inevitably will be corny, but it’s cool to attempt anyway.
Close your eyes and imagine a younger version of yourself. Visualize the mistakes, the uncomfortable scenarios.
“The younger self looks at you timidly, filled with embarrassment and shame for the poor performance,” Lewis notes. (Again, let’s apply this beyond the public speaking realm.)
“After years of being angry at and embarrassed by this younger self, you feel compassion. Looking at this poor suffering soul, you realize it’s time to let him/her off the hook.”
Now relinquish your judgment and forgive your younger self for doing the best he or she could at the time. Soothe yourself with some comforting words (spoken or written) and acknowledge anything you may have learned.
Anthony Centore’s post references insight from Dr. Frederick Luskin at Stanford University.
“Learning to forgive helps people hurt less, experience less anger, feel less stress and suffer less depression. People who learn to forgive report significantly fewer symptoms of stress such as backache, muscle tension, dizziness, headaches and upset stomachs. In addition, people report improvements in appetite, sleep patterns, energy, and general well being.”
Centore’s tips for releasing judgment on our young selves include: talking about/expressing your emotions with others, being honest with yourself and letting go (it doesn’t happen overnight, but parting with your guilt is a start). In echoing his advice, simple acceptance is key.
“As an imperfect person, you will make mistakes in life,” the article stated. “Face it. You will hurt people sometimes, you will have regrets. It’s part of living in a less-than-perfect world. But you have a choice. Either your past will keep you in a rut of guilt and shame… or you will accept it for what it is and experience the freedom to move on and enjoy the now.”
So now, younger selves, don’t you see? We don’t have to look down upon you and feel upset about how it was way back when. Through reflection and forgiveness, we can understand that yes, we had (and still have) our faults, but we can rest easy knowing that there’s always room for growth.