Lily Kershaw is a journalist and student studying French and Portuguese at Oxford University
The desire for self-improvement and development is an almost universal one. I do not know a single person who has not at least attempted to start a new diet, a new exercise regime, a new skincare routine, try out meditation, or any number of new-age advice which is constantly cropping up on social media. There is always a constant focus on the new, the next steps, looking forward; we have this burning desire to rebuild ourselves in some way or another, never really pausing to fully appreciate what we’ve built, nor what we have come from. I have fallen for all of these at some point or another, and I am not about to write about why growth is bad, in fact, I feel that growth is necessary. Instead, I want to write about forgiveness, more specifically, I want to write about forgiveness for your past self.
True growth is not totally rejecting anything beneath perfection, but, rather accepting that mistakes are a necessary aspect of learning and improving
So often, it is easy to have anger or shame for who we used to be. We resent our past mistakes and cringe at what once seemed like good ideas. None of these emotions are necessarily wrong, but they certainly are not productive, and often ignore the value of our past mistakes. It is possible to both recognise that your past actions were wrong, while also showing some forgiveness towards who you used to be. True growth is not totally rejecting anything beneath perfection, but, rather accepting that mistakes are a necessary aspect of learning and improving. Hindsight is always far stronger than foresight, and the only reason you are capable of such regret in the first place is that you have had the privilege of learning from your past errors.
Self-forgiveness is not just about moving forward. Instead, it is about acknowledging your past mistakes, and showing compassion towards your younger self. Oftentimes, I have felt anger towards who I used to be, placing so much space between that version of myself and who I am currently, that it felt like I was angry at a totally different person. This sort of distance is unhealthy and totally neglects the fact that, deep down, I am far more similar to who I used to be than I am different. Hating your past self is just self-hatred with extra steps, and you won’t be able to truly move forward unless you show yourself the compassion that you are willing to show to others.
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Being able to extend this forgiveness towards yourself will also make you more kind towards those who find themselves making the same mistakes that you regret making. No longer will you jump to anger or necessarily frustration but, rather, you will be more prepared to forgive them and extend a welcoming hand of advice rather than the aggressive hand of disappointment. It is worth noting that being able to cringe at your past errors, is evidence that you have grown from them.
Additionally, when you allow yourself to be held back by resentment for your past self, you cannot act as a good friend in the present; you find yourself focusing far more on what you did wrong, giving far less attention to what you can do right. Self-hatred is often another form of self-obsession; you are constantly reflecting but never in an objective nor a productive sense. Instead, you are drawn deeper and deeper into the gravity of your own ego, believing that your mistakes were so profound that they deserve constant attention regardless of how long ago they were.
... for the most part, the only vindication we truly need is our own
This compassion is, in fact, selfless, because it forces your attention outward, to those around you rather than constantly thinking about yourself and your past. We all deserve forgiveness at some point or another, but why rely on others to do that forgiving when, for the most part, the only vindication we truly need is our own?