There is a great emphasis on change as we grow into young adults; adapting to changing surroundings, friendships, priorities and ultimately changing selves. Yet, I rarely hear of loving our past selves who are not actually fully abandoned as we “grow-up.” They are still foundations for our new beings, so why can’t we celebrate and love them too? While I think it is healthy to embrace your new self (yay growth!), it is just as healthy to recognize that the person you once were can also have attributes to take pride in. As a matter of fact, I think doing so would prevent us from having grave existential crises when we recognize we have changed. As you shift into a person that you are proud of, you must not forget loving and forgiving yourself through the growing process.
Probably reinforced by the start of the college process, I’ve been having a real questioning of who I am. At this very moment, I don’t think I know. But I’ve been trying to embrace this process just as when I thought I knew myself. I’ve been learning to love self-critiquing and actions that seem out of character. I’ve been embracing “the flow” of life and giving myself the grace of being a teenager, being a student of experience and of the world. But more and more, I’ve been learning to appreciate who I once was.
The hope is that we are becoming better versions of ourselves as we grow-up. As you get older, your actions are determined by a lot of external influences, but they are also reflective of the development of your brain. It’s true, your brain isn’t fully developed until you are around 25 years old. And even more, an adult closer to 25 thinks with the prefrontal cortex, the rational part of the brain that “responds to situations with good judgement and an awareness of long-term consequence.” Teenagers, however, “process information with the amygdala,” which is the emotional part of the brain. While both the emotional and rational parts of our brains are developing, the emotional part is developed at a faster rate than our rationality. And so, when you look at things you have done in pure horror or embarrassment, there is a science to your actions. You simply couldn’t have been thinking as logically as you currently do now, in the past.
But with this greater understanding is a new forgiveness you should grant yourself. In many ways, forgiving your old actions will allow you to “grow from them,” and essentially depart from who you were. But, I’m also challenging you to look at your past self not as a completely separate being, but someone adopted into who you are today. Someone who has been improved. Your past self is someone to criticize and appreciate growth from, while loving them for getting you to where you are. There should be an appreciation for the experiences you were exposed to, the ones that gave you enough insight to not want to repeat, insight into the person you do not want to be. There should be a love and tenderness shown to your past self, for recognizing their youth and immaturity.
Honestly, you want to start reflecting on your far past tenderly now, so you can be kinder to yourself about your actions yesterday, last week, and last month. So you can forgive yourself for “smaller” mistakes like procrastinating, incomplete chores, not being your best self. Reflecting with tenderness is not about giving yourself excuses for your past actions, but for understanding enough to forgive.
Reflection of the past is also about recognizing that who you are at any point of your life needs love. And for even when you don’t fully know yourself, you should love and appreciate your existence alone. In the near future, when you realize you have changed from who your current self is, you will still be greeting your present self with complete love. Though you likely will look back and justifiably criticize your actions, you will assert yourself that all the beings you were dignified. This notion will also better assess your relationships with others, especially those relationships that you are only holding on to because of longevity. When you remove time and simply analyze if people of your past were treating you then with the love you deserve, it can be very telling about where your relationship now should stand with them.
But even more, you might discover that you weren’t loving yourself right at the time. It’ll give you a chance to rethink what your relationship to yourself was when you were younger and why that was. It might even let you know more things you need to work on now to fully love yourself right. And as you think, if you realize you were loving your past self in the past, love your past self in the present.
We should be grateful for the human ability to grow, to change and to be better. But in a mission of self-discovery, belonging and self-love, you must learn to backtrack and love all of you. That means looking at a past self who embarrassed you, seeing their full humanity at the time and their redemption in your present being. It’s a beautiful circle to observe, and I think it’ll make you love your present self even more. You are the most conscious, mature, and best version of yourself that you have ever been in your lifetime. And still, this you will grow into an even more fleshed out being with your future self.
Art Credits: @p__loki on Instagram