We have all experienced it: intense remorse or regret over something that we have done. Maybe we said something out of anger or maybe we behaved in a way that is not in alignment with who we are. No matter how big or small the mistake was, the truth is- we are all humans and we have all made them. It could have been something as small as a speeding ticket or something so big it landed you in jail. Whatever the case may be, there is always a silver lining in our mistakes- even if it is difficult to see at first. Some of our greatest strides in personal development and growth occur when we are experiencing the aftermath of a painful experience. Knowing that everyone on this earth makes mistakes or has been on the receiving end of someone else’s mistakes, how come so many people are still defined by it? I have met so many people throughout my life that flood every conversation with their past and the mistakes that they have made because they cannot find a way to forgive themselves -or- they are trying to convince us that they have (I have been guilty of this, myself).
How often to you catch yourself reliving a moment in your past? What about dwelling on a choice you made in your past and replaying the scenario, wishing you would have done something differently? Reflecting on your past can be a great tool for measuring how much progress you have made, but if you find yourself dwelling on your past or feeling like your mistakes follow you around– you are not alone. I have noticed a pattern in people who have a negative internal dialogue- they have some heavy past mistakes. People who often have very negative things to say about themselves and/or suffer from depression or substance abuse, all seem (to me) to be dwelling on their past. Even if the person in question has been forgiven by others and repaired their reputation, a lot of times- they still haven’t forgiven themselves.
Your past can either be used as a tool to measure just how far you have come, or it can be used as a tool to justify crappy behavior such as anger, aggression, substance abuse, emotional intimacy, impulsivity, poor judgement, lack of trust, or other unsavory behaviors. I have met full grown adults who bring up their shitty childhood or what their spouse did four years ago every chance they get and they breathe so much life into their past problems that it suffocates their chance of being happy in the present moment. Their past mistakes and problems follow them everywhere they go, hovering above their head like a personal storm cloud. Another term for this is ‘Debbie Downer’, ring a bell? It can be so difficult to not cringe when they text you to hang out because their energy is draining; on one hand you care about the person but on the other, the interaction is always draining because you find yourself in every conversation with them suffering in silence and trying to be polite or offering advice that they never take. You are not alone! It doesn’t mean these people are bad people at all— it means that they need a reality check. A majority of these people are completely oblivious of the fact that they are their problem! They have been wallowing in their past for so long that it becomes second nature to complain and breath life into it. They use their past as an excuse for crappy adult behaviors and pull that card when they get called out on their issues. What are the most common past mistakes or circumstances that people dwell on? From what I have observed, they are: infidelity, substance abuse, physical abuse, death, illness, work related issues, financial issues, criminal charges, neglect, unresolved childhood trauma, betrayal, and other forms of addiction. Let me be clear– the people I am referring to that constantly dwell on this can either have been a victim of those things or made those mistakes themselves.
Some people have spent their entire lives feeling sorry for their past or mistakes they have made and all that does is make you feel like shit- so why do they do it? Do they just not know any better? Are they perpetuating cycles that have been repeating themselves generation after generation? More than likely- the answer is yes. So you made some bad decisions in your life? Haven’t we all? Some may be more severe than others- but do you really think you should be punished for the rest of your life for it? Even if someone isn’t directly forgiving you- not forgiving yourself is the most awful form of punishment there is! I do have some good news: you can always change! It is never too late to change and it is never too late to be a better version of yourself. It is never too late to go back to school or to get in shape. It is never too late to apologize to someone or forgive yourself. It is never too late to own your mistakes and let them go so you can move on and break free from your past.
Just recently I had a conversation with a young woman who was confiding in me about her recent breakup with her boyfriend. She told me that she had flirted back with another man via text and came clean with her boyfriend because it was eating her up so badly. With tears streaming down her face, she looked at me and said ‘I’m a horrible person’. When she uttered those words, I could tell by the look in her eyes that she truly felt in the depths of her soul that she was in fact a horrible person. I reiterated to her that she is the polar opposite of that- she had the courage to admit a wrongdoing and that is an admirable trait in itself. The truth is- we are all flawed human beings. I have made terrible mistakes in my past but I strive to be better than yesterday and never once let my past mistakes define me. If you can learn to truly forgive yourself and let go of painful past experiences, you will be able to finally be at peace.
We often don’t realize just how much of an impact that past trauma and mistakes can have on our current behavior. How has your past impacted your behaviors as an adult? I’ll go first- I grew up in utter chaos and was never taught how to regulate my emotions. As an adult, the second I would get overstimulated or stressed out- I would lash out on the nearest bystander (usually my husband). It was the equivalent of an adult tantrum and I was always remorseful and ashamed after my outburst. Once I connected the dots of my current crappy behaviors with patterns I recreated from my past, it was only then that I could actually regain control of my emotions and live a more pleasant life.
How can you find it within your heart to forgive yourself and to stop dwelling on your past? First off- if you are surrounded by people who don’t let you live your mistakes down or make you feel inferior for something you have done, well then it is time for a change in scenery. I would never continue a relationship-family or not- that made me constantly relive my past mistakes. If people you are surrounded by can’t let go of your past- then it’s time to let them go; family members and close friends included! Your mistakes are meant to guide you not define you. Can’t forgive yourself? Ok– why don’t you think for a second about what that mistake taught you? Look for the lesson; find the silver lining! Some of my biggest mistakes would have shifted my life’s path in a completely different direction, but guess what? I am SO HAPPY with my life and my children that how could that be bad? All of the steps I have taken since my past and my mistakes have led me to where I am today! Did that mistake make you stronger? Did it make you more resilient? Did it teach you something about yourself that you didn’t know? There is a lesson within every mistake, I promise you that! The more you talk about it- the more you keep it alive. Let those painful experiences of regret, shame, and betrayal die off. Starting right now, in this very moment- I want you to forgive yourself and forgive whatever painful past experiences you are holding on to. You can stop feeding your guilt and remorse by living in the present moment and to stop talking about it and breathing life into it every chance you get. It doesn’t mean that you have to forget the experience completely or that you can never talk about it again, it just means to stop re-living that experience. When you find those thoughts creeping up or feel the desire to bring it up again- just acknowledge the thoughts and let them pass. We are all worthy of forgiveness and you owe it to yourself to have a happy and fulfilling life, so turn the page and be thankful for the lessons your past has shown you and move forward with grit and grace.