Your Past Is Not Who You Are
I don’t think there are many people who can say they haven’t done something they aren’t particularly proud of. Whether it’s the way we treated someone, the way we allowed ourselves to be treated or a particular way we’ve acted.
As the years go by we get older, more mature, wiser, more patient, and tolerant. There’s a reason the phrase “young and stupid” exists. When we’re young we don’t have the benefit of years of experience. Many young people are naive, they’re out to prove themselves and think they are right despite what the world thinks.
As the years go by it’s easy to look at the things we’ve done in the past with a bit of embarrassment, “what was I thinking?”, regret and even shame. It’s tough for a lot of people to get past these actions and move forward being the person they want to be, the person they know they can be. Here are some things to think about if you feel your past defines you.
Don’t be defined by your past
1.Own up. If you’ve done something you’re not particularly proud of, the fact that you’re not proud of it is actually a good thing. It means you are aware enough to know this isn’t how you should be behaving or at least not how you want to be behaving. Acknowledge what you’re doing and take a closer look. Try and get to the bottom of why you’re doing it. Are you insecure, afraid, uneducated on a subject? Is it habitual, all you know how to do, or what you grew up with? Try to get some insight into the why.
2. Make it right. When you have a clear understanding of why you acted in a particular way think of more appropriate ways to express yourself in the future. Apologize to those you have hurt, wronged or betrayed – even if it’s yourself. This is sometimes the hardest thing to do. Admitting you’ve screwed up or hurt someone is humbling but also very empowering.
3. Forgive yourself. This is the most important part of not being defined by your past. You screwed up. So what? We all have, and yes some a lot more than others. Forgiveness is a choice and it doesn’t mean you’re belittling what happened or saying that it was okay on some level. No, instead you are giving yourself permission to be human, to have screwed up but to also make a positive change. If you continue to punish yourself by not letting it go, your less likely to change the behavior that got you feeling this way in the first place.
4. Do something. If you really and truly want to change you need to be an active participant in that change. Research different coping techniques, talk to a family member or friend you can trust, or get professional help through a counselor or therapist. There is a world of difference between wanting to or knowing you need to change and actually doing something about it.
Don’t define others by theirs
1. People can change. I wouldn’t want people to define me by what I was like as a teenager or young adult. I too was “young and stupid”. I was emotional, head strong and worried a lot of what everyone else thought of me. I was likely perceived as meek, mild or a pushover and I guess to a certain extent I was. But I have changed since then. A lot. People who may not have particularly liked me as a teenager may get on with me better now than when we were in high school together. However, if they’ve held onto the notion that I’m the same person I was all those years ago they wouldn’t give me a chance and we may both be missing out on a great new experience and friendship. I’m sure you feel different than you did several years ago. Experiences, values, outlooks on life they all help change us as people.
2. Be open. When someone comes to you and says “hey I’m sorry”, give them a chance. It’s normal to be skeptical, especially if this is the 10th time they are apologizing for yet another occurrence of the same thing. It all comes back to those emotional bank accounts. It’s okay to be weary and on guard but at least be open to the fact that they may really have changed this time. Do I think you should just go into it blindly? No not at all. Look a bit deeper and see what they have done or are doing (step 4 above) that might indicate this time is different somehow. Is this person attending counseling, reading, or working hard to truly better themselves?
3. Be helpful. Sometimes people truly don’t know what to do or where to start in order to change a behavior or habit. Lend an ear or a shoulder and offer help where you can. Offer to find them resources to get them started, names of counselors, books on the subject or other people who have over come something similar.
When it comes to aligning your actions with your ideal way of being don’t limit yourself by operating within the confines of what you were or what you’ve done. You’ve done it, said it, lived it and there’s nothing you can do about it. You can however, change the way you act from this second on ward.
I truly believe the vast majority of people are not evil or even bad people. The vast majority of people have screwed up, they’ve made poor decisions or simply haven’t been taught skills such as empathy, compassion or even responsibility.
Figure out who you want to be, then find a way to conduct yourself in a manner that is consistent with who that person is.
You don’t have to be who you’ve always been.
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Photo courtesy of: .Habeeba