What's your relationship with your younger self?

Tricycle on a sidewalk

Recently I asked someone what they studied in school and the answer they gave me went so much deeper than I had expected, revealing a troubled relationship with their younger self.

The story began at the end of high school when they were deciding where to go for college; as they spoke their body language included lots of looking downward and head shaking as if to say "no." It was a story of regret - of mistakes made, one after another. There was a field of study that had interested them but ultimately they never got to complete those studies.

I read a lot of regret in their telling the story - and this from someone who has accomplished things I can only dream of. Today they're successful in business - having created an entire market segment that didn't exist before - and healthy, powerful and vibrant.

I had to ask: "What's your relationship with that young person you just described to me? How would they have felt had they been sitting with us just now, listening to your story?"

In truth, they hadn't spent any time in that question - but in that moment they acknowledged that they had been pretty judgmental and negative about that younger self.

What's your relationship with your younger self?

It's easy to fantasize about "what could have been" had your younger self made different choices. Maybe you would have been with someone romantically whom you never had the courage to ask out, or made more money in your career. You could have lived life with fewer regrets.

I have two things to say about this:

  1. Fantasies like this are a waste of your time and sacred energy, and
  2. It's profoundly unkind to the person you are today
Fantasies like this are a waste of your time and sacred energy

There's no end to the suffering that we create for ourselves with our emotional attachment to wishing things were different from how they actually are. Remember, you have complete control over your mental focus. Why choose to focus on "bad" decisions you have made, or how things are worse than they "could have been"? Things are the way that they are, and the more of your sacred energy you put into wishing for something other than What Is, the more suffering you create for yourself.

It's profoundly unkind to the person you are today

When you think about a "bad" decision that your past self has made, there's a big, powerful part of you that is negatively judging that past self - and in that moment that past self is small, weak and vulnerable. The big, judgy part is in a very real sense being mean to that smaller, weak part - and this may feel comfortable to you because in your life's story, that past self made a mistake.

Yes, that small, weak part of you feels attacked. Perhaps you buy the story that that part deserves to feel that way.

This might raise a question in your mind: "Why am I being unkind to that small, weak part of myself? Am I really that mean?"

You're not.

The big, powerful part of you that is so judgy only has that one trick: judging and criticizing. That's all they know how to do. But go a little deeper and you'll learn that all this part of you wants is for you to be safe now and in the future.

Their message isn't about that past self: it's about you, right now, and in the future. And what they're telling you is to be careful, because they love you and want you to be safe.

But the language from this part of you is profoundly unkind, and their words are aimed at who you are today. The message might be more like "You make huge mistakes in life! Don't screw your life up as you did in the past!" The intention here is loving and pure; the technique and message is unkind, to put it mildly - but it's the only message that that part of you has. It's their only technique. Yelling. Judging. Shaming.

Change your relationship with your younger self

Now that you understand the loving, pure intention behind that negative self-judgment you can choose how to steer your ship through these waters. That judgy, shaming part of you will always be part of you - but now when you notice their voice in your psyche you can smile, recognize that they're coming from a place of love for you, thank that part of you for their love and concern and choose to turn down the volume on their voice.

That small, weak, vulnerable part of you that made the "wrong" decision is still here - feeling beat up and unloved. It's up to you to hold space in your heart for your younger self: they did the best they knew how to do with the tools and experience they had. And even if they "knew better" at the time, only you can extend love and understanding to that part of yourself.

And when you do, you're giving yourself permission to live right now - as fully as you can. You're allowing yourself to reach for your dreams and follow your heart.