You Are Not Who You Were

Photo by  Vince Fleming

Photo by Vince Fleming

See yourself as you are. 

Our self perception is a subtle thing.

Over the course of minutes, or even just seconds, our view of ourselves can undergo a substantial shift. 

This is both liberating and terrifying. 

If, for example, we find ourselves saying something that we don’t mean, acting in a way that is incongruent with who we endeavor to be, self shame and loathing can sneak their way into the fold.

Alternatively, if we recognize our beautiful qualities through some act, gesture, or memory, we can feel a palpable and self-affirming worthiness. 

We all go through phases. 

Teenage years, for instance, are often associated with heartbreak, confusion, and anger. For some, there is a tendency to hold onto things that we beat ourselves up for during that time. Fear of fitting in, the sadness that comes with hurting others, etc. 

Because these things were so habituated, it is easy to carry them forward into adulthood. 

Even if we have become completely different people, our self-perception may not align with who we actually are. We can judge ourselves, continually, for things that we did years and years ago. 

Don’t Judge Who You Were 

Most everyone has done some sh*tty things in life. 

You are not alone in having judged, hurt, manipulated, cheated, stolen, or whatever your flavor of the laundry list of life’s inconsistencies may be. 

Despite working to change habits and patterns that are no longer serving us and doing our very best at this whole human thing, old ways of being will always pop up. 

And because they are often so deeply engrained within us, because we have acted in those ways for so long, they can feel very normal, comfortable even, when they deviously slip their way back into our experiences. 

It can seem, in these moments where we revert to judging or lying or cheating, as if all the things that we’ve done to better ourselves are meaningless. It can feel as though we’re back to square one, which is often accompanied by feelings of hopelessness and disgust. 

To do this is to judge ourselves for how we’ve been, not who we are.

Remember Who You Want to Be 

It’s important that we remember the people that we endeavor to be. 

We’ll never really become them, of course. But that’s not the point. 

The people we want to become will always be, in the wonderful words of Matthew McConaughey, the people that we’re chasing. And we always need someone, or something to chase. Without that, growth would be impossible. 

Wanting to be a better person is a wonderful thing. This is not to say that it is satisfactory to simply want change. Romantic ideals about being good people, no matter how well intentioned, don’t really matter if we don’t take action to be better. And that change does not happen overnight.

Yet so long as you take action, no matter how small or inconsequential it may seem, you’re gaining in the chase. Just as you can’t climb a mountain in one step, you cannot change these habits and patterns with one action.

It takes time. Faith. Diligence.

There is no way to reach that summit without taking that first step and, after that, the next one. Your most important step then simply becomes the next one.

Just as you wouldn’t judge yourself so harshly for stumbling backwards a few steps down a mountain, don’t beat yourself up for doing something that you rather wouldn’t have. For reverting, if only for a moment, to a habit. This is not you. This is just that: a habit. 

Give yourself a massive break.

I’ll close this out with a little anecdote; it happens to be the tale that inspired this article. 

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I was sitting by a river (pictured to set the scene) engrossed in, for some reason or another, my ever-growing appreciation for my parents.

Over the course of the past several years, my relationship with them has been cultivated and nourished to become something I am tremendously proud of and grateful for.

Yet in my relationship with them, and in this moment particularly, there still exists long-held feelings of guilt and shame around the ways that I have (as any child has) hurt them. 

Just like every other human I know, I have hurt others just as I myself have been hurt. In spite of this, I don’t (at least most of the time) judge others when they hurt me. I’ve learned, slowly but surely, to see where they are coming from. To know that nothing is ever personal. 

If we show ourselves even an inkling of the forgiveness that we are able to show others, then I needn’t be writing this. 

Forgiveness in this regard is often an intensely personal practice. Forgiveness for others occurs within us. While an apology certainly may not hurt, your parents can forgive you without one. That is on them. 

We can learn to judge ourselves based not on how we’ve been, but on the goodness that we innately possess.

Any resentment that we, or anyone else for that matter, harbor is ours alone.

We can exist from a place of compassion and maintain perspective in realizing that nothing is truly personal, no matter how much the opposite may seem to be true.

In all likelihood, others don’t judge you or love you for who you’ve been. They see that innate goodness. 

Let your self-perception be informed by the majority of the actions you take on a daily basis. Love yourself for who you are.