There are times for everyone – or at least for a lot of us – of silent reflections, deep sighs and raw sum ups. Your life becomes this weird movie, and even though the protagonist is none other than yourself, it seems hard to recognize that person now. Understanding why they made the decisions they ended up making might be even harder. So how the heck can you reconnect with your old self and make some sense of your past choices without beating yourself up too much?
It’s true: you can analyze yourself to the nth degree and still don’t see how you could be so____________ – fill the gap with the word you wish. For me, at this moment, it would be stupid, selfish, stubborn – anything and everything starting with an ’s’, apparently.
Whether the dilemma arises from previous relationships or career choices…all right, who am I kidding here? These choked up ‘I was such an ass’ moments are almost always rooted in the heartbreak we caused ourselves or others. Self-sabotage is my superpower.
The past 2-3 years were perhaps the most chaotic for me in terms of my love life and the relationship I had with myself as well. I didn’t know what expectations I should have for my partner, (because) I didn’t quite decide what I expected of myself in the first place. I was just confused. And now, looking back at that period I must admit: I was an idiot.
However ridiculous it sounds, this shift in me happened around the time of my 30th birthday. (Cliché alert!) Some aspects of my life that had no or very little meaning to me suddenly did become important which set this whole other kind of self-observation in motion. Unfortunately, I had quite a few traumatic experiences throughout my young adulthood, ranging from verbal to actual physical abuse. Those experiences tainted my view and without me realizing, I began to see the worst in people – regardless of those qualities actually being there or not, so most of the time it was more like ‘the worst there could be in someone’. Along with that, I was only focusing on my own flaws as well. Which, of course, started a vicious circle of distrust, insecurities, continuously running possible future scenarios in my head and drawing present conclusions on previous experiences which turned out to be the biggest mistake. I give you an example: I judged almost every move of my then-boyfriend based on my previous, mostly bad experiences with men. 90% of the time, his intentions were good and pure, yet I managed to twist and turn them all out, until it was misinterpreted to such an extent that it seemed there was no other way for me but to run, to leave before I would end up getting hurt. It’s needless to say that I did all this inside my head, so he had no way to respond or address the root of the problem. Eight months later? I’m sitting here and writing this, finally understanding what I was going through as well as anyone could, owning up to these mistakes, trying real hard to rewire my brain.
Now that I’m in this predicament, I feel like I have the following choices to make, not once but every day for a while, until my system gets rid of those poisonous thoughts and allow the new, healthy ones to build in:
Accepting is not labeling it as “another failure”
It’s hard to forgive to someone who caused you pain. What’s even harder? To forgive yourself for being the kind of asshole you would call out and point at if it was a B class romantic comedy on Netflix. These days, I talk back to my insecurities like a fierce teenager, and I don’t ever let them take the wheel. So when I look back and try to make sense of my own mechanisms, I have to be able to be gentle. I need to be able to do it with love, just like I would if it was about someone else in my life. I do feel like shit sometimes, knowing what a major f@ckup I performed during these past couple of years. But the truth is, if the only action I take is beating myself up, it won’t get me anywhere in the long run. I have to say ‘Hey, girl, you screwed up, yes, you did. But at least you recognize it now. Come here, it’s gonna be alright.’ – and I give myself the kind of hug my Mom would and does whenever we talk about this. Accepting that you made mistakes does not mean that you should consider yourself a complete failure. (In fact, failure is more about not being able to recognize where and why you were wrong.)
Pinpoint where you took wrong turns
I had to give myself exact examples: saying that you were wrong in general won’t get you anywhere. It’s like drawing yourself a map, putting a big fat red X to all the places where you got lost along the way. Next time when you’ll look at it, you’ll know what turns you shouldn’t make and what other directions you should seek.
Acknowledge without judgement
When trying to draw this self-reflection map of yours, try to do it as objectively as possible. Don’t let your emotions – guilt or the helplessness of not being able to hop into your time machine and go back to change the past – overwhelm you. If you let yourself indulge in your emotions too much, it can easily lead to pathos. Instead of judging yourself, take these emotions and thoughts, direct them towards focusing on the present and future. You have a chance now to learn from your mistakes and make sure you won’t make them again.
Someone once told me that dwelling on our past mistakes in the kind of ‘How could we ever be so stupid?’ way is useless. As you go through life, you make decisions based on the information you have at the time. So how could you blame yourself for something you didn’t even know or understand then? You took whatever puzzle pieces you had available right then and there, and you came to those given conclusions. Most probably, you didn’t do it with bad intentions, you just didn’t have enough of the skills, knowledge or self-awareness needed to come to a better, smarter resolution. You don’t still blame yourself for falling on your face after racing down a hill with your bike at the age of 10, right? You just didn’t see how steep the hill was, and lacking that simple observation made the whole idea seem harmless. (Hopefully, you managed to learn your lesson with that, too.)