This post is part of a series exploring how our various relationships affect our resilience. Check out the introductory post: Resilience in Relationship.
Who you are today is different than who you were yesterday or years ago. What is your connection to your past self? How does that impact your resilience? Being able to move on, to bounce back or trudge forward is much harder to do if you are weighed down with regret, anger or self-doubt.
Your past self made decisions, started and ended relationships, chose paths that you are now on. Some wonderful, some terrible. Some really seemed like a good idea at the time. Other seemingly minor choices brought you to a place you never imagined. While your past brought you to where you are now, you are not your past self. Past selves are like siblings or cousins – they have a lot in common with you, but are not the same person.
How do we help our resilience today through our relationship with our past selves?
If you find yourself ruminating on a past event learn from it and let it go. Transform it from a self-judgement to a lesson learned. My divorcing self was so unsure of her ability to make it in this world that she walked into a bad relationship for support. A huge take away from this, one of my lessons learned – ask for what you need! Continuing the negative loop “what was I thinking?” serves no one. What have you learned from your past? How can you take this lesson into the future – either for yourself or someone else?
Yes, mistakes were made. It is so easy to beat up on this distant person. This does not strengthen you. A woman I knew blamed herself deeply for not standing up for herself when she was younger. As she explored this time in her life I asked, “wait, how old were you?” She was 7. In the telling of the tale, she had projected her current self into the past event. She had forgotten that her past self was a young child who was tiny with no independent resources. She was not being fair to her past self. When you remember your past self, do your best to remember the whole story. What resources did you have available to you? How have you changed? Think of what is possible today may have not been an option in the past.
What if my past mistake hurt someone else? This choice I made impacted others. That is a hard truth. Obviously, there can be a lot of complexity here. Be realistic – is there harm? Is it as severe as you are imagining or is your brain catastrophizing? If possible, talk to the person you believe you have harmed and ask them. If this is significant, you will want to work with a sponsor or therapist to unpack this part of your story. Guilt weights you down, preventing you from being resilient and helping others. Responsibility allows you the opportunity to make amends and move forward.
Your past self lived in a different time, and had a different set of skills. My middle school self heard about a chance to be a peer counselor and wished and wished that someone would ask her to participate, never mentioning to anyone that she was interested. What was she thinking? Why did she believe that this was so impossible? More to the point, are there things in my life now which feel that impossible? How is your thinking the same or different than your past self? Investigating your past self’s thought patterns can help you adjust your expectations today.
Honor the hard things that you have been through. As much as I am the person who walked into that bad relationship, I am also the one who walked out of it. Own that you are the hero of your own story. Where did you run into an obstacle and met the challenge? Look back and think, “I am so proud of that kid.” Remembering the strength you showed in the past can encourage you to draw on that same strength today.
In trauma informed care we are encouraged to think “I wonder what happened to you?” rather than “What is wrong with you?” Applying this to your past selves can be an interesting process. By exercising compassion and curiosity toward past versions of yourself, you may find you learn from the process instead of getting stuck in regret or guilt. Recognizing the strength and ingenuity of your past self empowers you to navigate current challenges with greater skill.