September 8, 2021
Jihu Lee (she/her/hers), Low Entropy Volunteer Writer
It is only normal that we cringe at our past selves. As human beings, we are not meant to live with a spotless moral slate, meaning we will never be one hundred percent satisfied with our past choices and actions. Perhaps you wish you could have treated your siblings with more kindness, or you regret saying hurtful things to your friend out of anger. What is considered a wrongdoing to another or to oneself may differ from person to person. But it is important that we master the balance between holding ourselves accountable for past choices and forgiving ourselves for not knowing better at the time.
If you cringe at your old self, it means you have grown, because the acknowledgment of an unsatisfactory choice is key to change. The important step afterward is turning our regret into accountability and action. That way, regret becomes motivation for growth and discipline, rather than a price to pay. The only way to move forward and evolve is to actively work on ourselves, instead of letting our old choices constrain us and convince us that we can’t change, or that it’ll be too difficult to change.
Growth is only possible through setbacks and mistakes. Many people even advocate for the idea that there are no such things as mistakes, but rather turning points for change. If we were to see only perfection in hindsight, that would exclude any possibility for our growth in the future. It is so important that we recognize setbacks as new chapters in our lives, so that we don’t punish ourselves for being imperfect, as if any person is free of flaws.
By forgiving ourselves for choices we wish we could have made differently, we are freeing ourselves from the prison of rumination and guilt. When we are trapped in the past, we miss out on living in the present and lose the opportunity to make a difference for the future. Thus, forgiving ourselves is one of the optimal forms of self-care. I think one misconception regarding self-forgiveness is that, by refusing to punish ourselves, we are avoiding responsibility for our actions. There seems to be this prevailing idea that beating ourselves to the ground is the only acceptable form of repentance. However, self-punishment zooms our attention to the parts we find wrong about ourselves and is ultimately problem-oriented. Forgiveness and grace, on the other hand, accounts for both responsibility and our capacity to grow.
If we can master the knowledge that better versions of ourselves arise from empathy towards our pasts, we can extend a similar understanding to those around us. If someone has hurt us, we could benefit by trusting that they will make amends in the future, whether or not it will directly involve us anymore. That doesn’t mean we have to come to terms with the other person’s actions and the impact they had on us. Forgiveness and reconciliation are not the same. Instead, by simply recognizing that others can have the potential to grow, we detach ourselves from the pain they caused and ultimately keep them from having power over us.
Thus, not surprisingly, the level of respect we garner for ourselves affects the quality of our interpersonal relationships. It can strengthen boundaries and improve the circle of people we allow in our lives. We will also heighten our sense of empathy and become better at apologizing or taking responsibility for our actions.
Be aware that not every action has the same degree of impact, therefore it becomes our responsibility to make amends accordingly. The bottom line is that it is the nature of humanity to see better in hindsight, but we have the power to use the lessons and newfound knowledge to make an impact on our future. On top of it all, kindness towards oneself is highly important in bringing about progress. Like the way a plant can’t grow without light or water, you can’t foster personal growth if you constantly deprive yourself of hope and encouragement. Self-punishment is not the rent you have to pay for being human in this world. So remember that the next time you advocate for kindness towards others, it should include you.
My name is Jihu, and I’m from Salt Lake City, Utah! I have been with Low Entropy since May 2021. Some of the things I love are reading, writing, listening to music, playing with my dogs and spending time with my sister!
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