When I was in 8th grade, I had an embarrassingly obsessive crush on a guy named Mickey*. Mickey was the new kid and everyone had a crush on him. He was quiet and mysterious, but somehow also silly and appealing. He sat behind me in English class, sometimes playing with my hair and making comments on how good my writing was. Despite what I considered clear flirtations, Mickey did not like me back. And yet, I spent the entire year chronicling every small interaction we had in my diary, convincing myself of his undying, and yet unexpressed love for me.
The thing is, I was a 13-year-old girl. My other crushes consisted of Lance Bass from *NSync, Prince William, and Jake Gyllenhaal. I loved people that were far, far away from me. My insightful mother later told me she believed it’s because I wasn’t actually ready to interact with the opposite sex. I was still very comfortable being in my kid skin. I liked flirtations, but I was terrified of sexuality or any kind of actual romantic connection. I still wanted to wear my bright colored leggings and giant sweatshirts and giggle and run away. I wasn’t ready. Lots of folks around me were, but I wasn’t. So, I liked guys whose faces I could put on my walls and the popular, unattainable boy at school.
Long story short, my 8th grade obsession with Mickey ended harshly after an excruciatingly embarrassing reveal of my love by accident via AOL Instant Messenger. (It’s complicated and awful. Trust me.) But transitioning into high school after a long, transformative summer, my crush on Mickey was finally dead. I went about high school having crushes on other folks, slowly working my way towards actual romantic contact. Mickey was out of my mind. The more I reflected, the more I didn’t understand why I had ever been interested in him in the first place.
Fast Forward to Present Day
I have a whole shelf of diaries and yearbooks in my mom’s house. Every now and then I peruse them, reflecting and connecting back with my younger self. Last Christmas I came upon my 8th grade diary. The details of my crush on Mickey were as specific, obsessive, and excruciating as I remember. As I moved on, I came across my Senior yearbook. It was four years after my terrible crush had ended, but I noticed a small scribbled sentence from Mickey himself. It read: “Dear Ariel. I have always loved you and we should get married. Love, Mickey”. My heart crashed. I read it again. The odd thing is that I don’t remember reading it the first time back in high school. Or maybe if I did, I thought it was funny? Or that Mickey had liked me all along? Yet now, in my 30’s, I was pained — he was making fun of me. Such blatant fun. And he had known the whole time. Even 4 years after my crush had ended, as we were finally leaving high school, he thought it would be funny to throw back in my face.
Adolescence is cruel. And so are 17-year-old boys.
Suddenly I was thrown into self-punishment and embarrassment. It’s so easy to berate my younger self for all of her mistakes — how could she have liked THAT GUY, how could she have WORN that, what was she THINKING, no seriously WHY THAT GUY, couldn’t she have made a DIFFERENT choice??
Well, sure. But I didn’t. And using my current self to punish my younger self sure feels like bullying. Self-bullying. It’s easy to forget how we carry the different aged versions of ourselves within us through the rest of our lives — our little kid selves, our awkward teenage selves, our post-high-school-trying-too-hard-to-be-adults selves, etc. To cultivate true self-compassion is to be kind to every one of those parts, each who in their own way just wants to feel connected and understood.
Learning to Forgive My Younger Self
Self-compassion is easier said than practiced, but perspective and forgiveness are a good place to start. Let’s also be clear that I was very privileged to have my biggest teenage worry be about a crush on someone. Not everyone has that luxury and it’s helpful for me to have that perspective now.
Forgiveness, on the other hand, is a little harder. I want forgiveness for the part of me who really did want to stay a kid. Forgiveness for my naiveté, for my youth, for my limited knowledge of self. I had nothing more, nothing less. That’s just what was, and for my resources and awareness at the time, there was no alternative. I was 13. I was doing what a 13-year-old should do — make mistakes.
I want to look back and say, hey ‘lil Ariel, it’s really okay. I support where you were. I understand it actually, and in a lot of ways, it led to a fuller, more aware Now-Self. Now-Self, for all of her foibles and flaws, is doing pretty well. And ‘lil Ariel really didn’t need the approval of Mickey and his friends. Actually, she never did, but she didn’t know that yet, and that’s part of the point.
We all have to move through times in our life that don’t make us proud. But they make us stronger, smarter, and more self-aware. Forgiving these past versions of ourselves makes us more present with who we truly are — what we like about ourselves, want for ourselves and not just what we agree to because we think we “should”.
What are the things you look back on and berate yourself for? What does that do for you now? Does it actually make you feel better? Does it take the edge off that cringe or does it make the cringe worse? What if kindness came in the place of your own inner bullies, the ones, who like Mickey himself, just want to throw it back in your face?
If I saw my younger self now, I’d still prefer she didn’t waste so much energy on Mickey. But I don’t have to berate her for it, and in a lot of ways I learned from that crush. That experience helped me pay closer attention to people that I liked in the future. It clued me up pretty quick to the ways that I can let fantasy and obsession sneak into my life. It taught me that when I start to focus too heavily on someone outside of myself, that what I actually need to be doing is looking inside.
It’s Okay to Forgive Your Past Self
What I want to leave you with is permission to forgive yourself. Whatever decision you regret or feel embarrassed by, I want to encourage you to come at it from a kinder place. I would never actually sit a 13-year-old girl down and tell her how ridiculous she was being, so why would I do that to myself now? Why would you do that to yourself? Let your past self inform you about who you are and what different things you can choose now.
If shame or guilt is coming up, it may be because your past actions are not in line with your current morals or values. I can tell what is more important to me now based on what I did that made me uncomfortable then. Obsessing and prioritizing someone else over myself isn’t in line with my current values, but at 13, that was not the case. What do you value? Are you living in line with those values now?
Self-forgiveness is not a one stop shop. It’s an ongoing process and because there are so many different ages within us, there are many parts of ourselves to strive to be kinder and more tender to. Think of your younger self with more permission and kindness, like you would any child going through pain or embarrassment. Also, there were probably lots of ways that you were awesome as a younger person too. Give yourself credit for that as well, and remember those strengths. Check in who you are now, what you value and if you are living in accordance with those truths.
As they say, the first cut is the deepest, and those embarrassments and moments of shame tend to be biggest the first time around. It’s not your first rodeo anymore and your Now Self is Now. Your Past Self is Past. You got this.