Forgiving past versions of ourselves

Are you ever triggered by a photo, a memory, a thought that suddenly forces you to remember a time when you acted really stupid or hurtfully? Maybe you said the wrong thing or acted like a fool or were entirely stubborn even when you knew better. Whatever it was, thinking back on the incident makes you cringe in the present. It fills you with a particular kind of existential dread that seems inescapable, neither time nor distraction can fade it. You tell yourself all the platitudes — we’re all on a journey, you know better now, we can only do our best in the moment, this just goes to show how much you’ve progressed. But no matter what you tell yourself, it doesn’t change the feeling in your stomach or the fact that, whatever it is that happened, you are forced to digest it now.

I find myself wrestling with this concept again and again; how to cope with past ignorances and failings, however small or big they may be. What to do with the subsequent feelings of guilt and shame in the present. How to release myself from the burden of perfection. Wondering why it is I care so much in the first place; is it because I’m self-centered or because I simply have a conscience? Why can’t I just let things be?

Answers for these questions aren’t the kind that smack you in the face, clear-eyed in their certitude. No, answers to these kinds of questions come in a more nuanced variety. Because, sure, we can resolve to move forward from a place of greater awareness, vowing to not make the same mistakes twice. Or, however fruitlessly, we can agonize over our shortcomings and lament how much of an idiot we used to be. But the more mature thing, it seems to me now, is to try out forgiveness. That rather lofty concept that allows for transcendence and release. That acknowledges the past without letting it consume us. Absolves transgressions without erasing their existence or the impact they made. And while at first glance, this can seem like the easy way out, closer inspection reveals it’s, in fact, the most difficult path of all. It requires us to stand up and look our mistakes in the eye while allowing all the neuroses and feelings attached to recede into the background. Finding forgiveness for who we were or what we did before in order to move forward from a place of ownership and acceptance. Thanking the past versions of ourselves for all of their brilliant, flawed humanity. Feeling their markings and scars and yearnings within us and rather than letting their imperfections weigh us down, feeling how, inch by inch, they have also raised us up.

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Have you ever been triggered to confront your past failings? How did you deal with it?

*The concept of thanking versions of your past self was inspired by @bethanytoews.

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