by Karen Doniere | Featured Contributor
A few weeks ago, I was speaking to a friend and she stated that she felt ashamed of things she had done in her past. I listened for a while because I sensed that she needed to talk. When she slowed down long enough for me to reply, I let her have it. I replied: “it doesn’t matter what you did as a teenager, young woman, a few years ago, or even last week, for one reason and one reason only. You’re not the same person you were then, you’ve hopefully learned from your mistakes, and you deserve to let it all go.
Obviously, if you’ve hurt someone in any capacity, whether physically, emotionally, or financially, you should put forth effort to sincerely apologize and try to make amends. But, however you decide to handle it, don’t try to rationalize or justify your actions because it will make the situation worse. Despite whether your sincere apology is accepted or not, you have to accept that you mistakenly or intentionally hurt someone. And, realize that you are not your past.
Here are 3 unbelievable reasons why you are not your past.
1). Your past is just that – in the past.
I have an announcement to make: the past and what happened in the past is gone. And, there isn’t anything we can do to get a special redo. Merriam-Webster’s dictionary has several relevant definitions for the word past: gone or elapsed, and having existed or taken place in a period before the present and after. Of course, there are several things in my past that I wish I could do better or differently, but it’s not possible. So what do we do now? We can choose not to worry about what’s already happened in order to be fully present and enjoy the now. That means that you’re gonna think about something not so flattering from your past and feel some type of way about it. But, you can also control those not so flattering thoughts because you don’t have the time or energy to waste on entertaining them anymore.
2). Your past doesn’t define who are today.
Life is a journey. Everyone on the journey doesn’t have to take the same path and that’s okay. Maybe you’ve made a few minor or even a few major mistakes in your life that you’re truly ashamed of. Maybe you’ve even learned from them, worked hard not to repeat them, and moved on. Or, maybe you’re the kind of person who learns the hard way, but eventually learned the right way to do things. Either way, your past does not define who you are today. Your past probably shaped your attitudes, feelings, and possibly certain behaviors and habits. If you’re carrying expired and undue shame or regret because of something that happened many moons ago or several months ago, you have to realize that you’re not the same person and you’re so much more than a list of mistakes. Take the time to appreciate who you are today.
3). Our mistakes make us human.
Making mistakes on life’s journey is what makes us human. It also provides newfound wisdom. For example, remember when you first learned how to ride a bike but you couldn’t balance it right? Did you fall at least once? Did you get hurt, and did you learn from it? If you made the mistake of falling a couple of times while learning to ride a bike, it simply means that you have an experience to share that someone else may not have, and you were self-taught. It’s that simple. Our mistakes teach us what we need to know, and make us human and unique. Although we may have to cope with the results of those mistakes, if we’ve learned something valuable from them, they can make us beautiful and wise.
In the big scheme of things, does it really matter if you learned the hard way about how to be a great neighbor, or you learned from someone else’s experiences? It doesn’t matter and you deserve to stop living in the past. Here’s a little trick I learned a few years ago by trial and error: when any negative feelings from the past resurface about a mistake you’ve made, allow yourself 10 – 15 minutes to acknowledge it. Set a timer if you have to. Then, say goodbye and continue on with your day. It may sound weird at first, but this acknowledgment trick works well for me.
In his article, How To Break Free of The Past published in Psychology Today, Dr. Alex Lickerman states that “we can’t change our past but we can change our attitude about it.” Dr. Lickerman also says this: “We can do this by finding a way to create value out of events we judged as harmful. If we can genuinely utilize past events as springboards for growth, reinterpreting them into positive events that may have been traumatic but which were actually required for our development, we can free ourselves from the pain associated with our memories of them.”
In other words, learn to look at your mistakes and experiences as stepping stones and necessary opportunities for growth.
What are you gonna do with the wisdom you’ve gained from the missteps you’ve made on your journey? Share it and share it some more! Your journey is yours to appreciate, reflect on and share. Instead of feeling sad or defeated when you think about your past, you should feel accomplished and successful because you’ve made it so far. And, by sharing those special nuggets of wisdom with someone else, you can spare them the negative feelings you’ve experienced. Remember, that the past is just that: experiences that makes us unique and beautiful. How do you handle negative thoughts from your past? Please share your thoughts in the comments.
Lickerman, A. (2013). How To Break Free Of The Past. Psychology Today.
past. 2015. In Merriam-Webster.com.
Karen enjoys volunteering at her local domestic violence shelter, where she assists clients with polishing their resume and job interview skills. Her favorite titles are wife, and mom to three amazing young adults.