When we go through a huge change, it’s easy to look back at the person we once were and feel shame or regret. We obsess over things we said, decisions we made, ideas we held. We look back and say “how could I have done that? Why was I so stupid? I should have known better.” So how do we stop feeling ashamed of our old self?
3 Steps to Letting Go of Shame & Regret
Step 1: Stop the Negative Talk
Stop berating yourself. If you wouldn’t say it to a friend, don’t say it to yourself. Studies show that the way you think about yourself affects your health. Mayo Clinic has some tips on changing self-talk from negative to positive. Try changing phrases like “I can’t believe I did that” to “I made a mistake, but that’s not who I am now.”
Step 2: Recognize that you were Learning
The person you are now wouldn’t have done those things, but you only learned those lessons by making mistakes in the first place. In spite of how perfect we wish we were, none of us gets through life making the right decision at every turn.
- Is there an idea you no longer believe in? You had the courage to change your mind.
- Hate the way you used to dress? You were learning to express yourself.
- You said something hurtful? It taught you greater compassion.
We tend to think of our past selves as being “young and dumb,” but there’s nothing dumb about learning. Your experiences in high school or college, with your first relationship, and with your first job are all part of the learning curve of life. And as many lessons as you’ve learned already, there will hopefully be more to come.
Step 3: Identify the Positive
What did you learn from your past? How are you different now? Realize the things you love about yourself in this stage of life. Be specific. Write down affirmations about yourself on sticky notes and place them in visible places like your bathroom mirror or car dashboard. This will help banish those negative thoughts and replace them with positive ones!
Unless you have a good reason to feel guilty about something you did, your past self is no one to be ashamed of. That person’s decisions—both good and bad—made you into who you are, and your old self deserves better than to be constantly abused by you. You are the only person who can fully understand the ideas, feelings, and motivations that shaped your past self, which means you can offer that person the type of forgiveness no one else can.
So cut yourself some slack. Because one day you’ll look back on who you are now, and you’ll be tempted to ask the same questions. Why did I say that? Why did I think that? Why did I do that? And you’ll know to say, “I was learning.”
You owe yourself some love.