I remember saying these words to a good friend shortly after walking away from a toxic relationship:
“Well, that’s four years of my life wasted.”
This chapter in my life was tainted by negativity. I didn’t value myself enough to step away sooner.
This sentiment would echo in my thoughts for a long time afterward. I was thankful to myself for finally being courageous enough to leave. But this was overshadowed by stronger emotions of self-blame, disappointment, and regret.
I knew, deep down, that the relationship wasn’t good for me.
Naively, I hoped that my partner would change and that it would get better. The relationship went on far longer than it should have, and I blamed myself for being weak. The experience was chalked up as another example of me making poor decisions, having no boundaries, and being treated like rubbish.
How I now choose to interpret this experience is symptomatic of how we are all conditioned to view past actions, decisions, and relationships through the typical lens of judgment and self-criticism.
When we choose to explore the past, we unwittingly open ourselves up to the full force of the inner critic that is the narrator, judge, and executioner. The flurry of emotions and words that come forth as you attach meaning to past events are rarely helpful. We call ourselves cowards and pushovers; we feel foolish, guilty, insecure, naïve, shameful, unlovable, and weak. In these moments, when we talk to ourselves, there’s no compassion, kindness, or desire to understand past behaviors. We bully ourselves, and this does nothing more than reinforce negative self-beliefs we hold about ourselves and the world around us.
I’m not saying that you numb the feelings your past evokes and never once look back to review previous chapters of your life.
It’s perfectly normal to reflect on the past, but how and for what purpose we choose to engage with it is hugely important.
We tend to think that we consciously learn and grow by critically analyzing our past. However, when we start from a place of negativity, the potential for constructive learning greatly diminishes.
You will learn a great deal more when you stop judging your past self and instead reflect—to accept, forgive, learn, and eventually, let go.
Exploring your past should be an exercise in compassionate inquiry that leads to a deeper understanding and ultimately strengthens your relationship with yourself.
Begin with the awareness that we always look upon the past from a place of distance, as a different version of ourselves, and from here, it’s easier to see things we could’ve done differently.
But herein lies the falsity of hindsight, fuelled by the ego’s powerful tools of blame and guilt. Avoid this trap. Remember that what you chose to do was the only thing you could do at that time with what you knew and felt; who you were, and the circumstances in which you found yourself.
As Deepak Chopra observes, “The most positive action we can take about the past is to change our perception of it.”
You have the power to change your perspective and reframe your past self’s narrative into a story that empowers you. Reframing the narrative doesn’t mean glossing over mistakes or pretending a situation was great when it may not have been. Instead, it’s about discovering what we can learn if we choose to ask the right questions with a compassionate heart. And then letting go to make space for growth.
Rather than feeling as if you have lost precious time to bad situations, feel grateful for each setback. Your past experiences are lessons for your future self.
Be grateful for each relationship and what you learned about yourself by giving away your heart and taking it back to rebuild from scratch.
Say thanks to every friendship and what you learned about yourself through embracing and letting go of different people.
Be grateful for your career choices and what they continue to teach you about yourself through working in and out of alignment with your purpose.
The woman you are learning to love more each day wouldn’t be here without her past.
In fact, you stand here in this moment a more authentic version of yourself because the learning experience of the past is your fuel to break old patterns and challenge limiting beliefs. Allow your history to shape you, but don’t limit your present and future self by allowing the past to define you forever.
“Well, that’s four years of my life wasted.”
Ten years have passed since. In that time, two more relationships have been and gone; new friendships have come, and some let go. A transient career path has played out, and a spiritual journey back to my true self has begun.
I’m learning to reframe the narrative of my past through a lens of compassion, gratitude, and growth.
Looking back, behind every ‘poor’ choice, there was low self-esteem, low self-worth, negative limiting beliefs, and people-pleasing.
I was stuck in a cycle of seeking external validation that perpetuated the betrayal of my authentic self.
Each bad chapter was a whisper from the universe to pay attention, act, and come back to my true self. I was deaf to this whisper for a long time until it became a scream. Finally, I listened.
I can now forgive and accept the past without thinking if only.
If only I had left that toxic relationship sooner.
If only I had spoken up for myself.
If only I had done the inner work when I was younger…
That time has gone, and I know I am not the person I once was. Yet, I am grateful for the past betrayals, disappointments, challenges, and heartbreaks. They have shaped and strengthened me into who I am as I walk the path back to my authentic self.
We all have pasts, and we’ve all made choices that maybe weren’t the best for us. But remember, your past is now just a story. You get to tell it again—this time, as an empowering story that has taught you valuable lessons. The past pushes you forward to become a more authentic you.
Your life experience is your strength, so don’t wish it different or deny it.
Move towards it.