Why Judging Our Past So Harshly is Wrong

When we look back on the past, we’re often too critical and forget our past self did her best in circumstances she was in at that moment in time of her life.

I love a new beginning.

It could be a new year, new month, week or day. Even a new job or a new city.

Whatever it is, Day 1 energies me.

Every time we make a fresh start, part of us wants to forget all our past mishaps and leave them behind.

No wonder why a new beginning makes us feel disproportionately excited and positive.

It’s so contrasting to how we feel about our past, which most of the time seems like more of a failure than success.

But there’s a ploy in that assumption.

Below is to explore fallacies in such assumption, and why judging our past so harshly is wrong.

The Judgement of the Past and Its Fallacy

The moment we look back on the past with ‘I wish I had done differently’, we’re making mistakes because we’re assessing our past with the present eye.

We forget that our past self couldn’t have known certain things (that we now know).

Our past self was under the influence of different emotions and circumstances that made her take certain actions (we may not take today).

What does Our Past Self Say to Us?

Imagine you’re sitting in a table with your past self, having an honest conversation with each other.

You’ll notice the difference in maturity, contrasting interests you two are pursuing, the books you read, the amount of money you have in your bank account and so on.

You two are different people.

And the past you had taken many choices and lived with the consequences (good or bad), to arrive precisely where you’re right now.

So, trying to re-write the past is futile as you two have a unique identity embroiled in different emotions and life circumstances.

Back to our imaginary table, let’s invite one more person: your future self

She too will be a different person to the two of you.

For example, the future you may put a great deal of value on the family while the present you shows disinterest in them.

The bottom line is don’t criticise the past you.

Not only is it wrong, you also know she did all she could in the circumstances she was in at that moment in time of her life.

Instead of criticising her, show compassion towards her. 

Fragile Memory and Its Fallacy

Psychologists have long discovered that our memory isn’t entirely reliable. 

Our memories are false or exaggerating.

Say, for instance, your siblings like to talk about a mischievous thing you had allegedly done when little. 

Throughout years, they talk about it, for a good laugh, in every family gathering.

You don’t remember it ever happened.

But you start believing it did. (why would they talk about it otherwise?)

Not only do you start believing the story, you can now take yourself back to that specific moment and see yourself doing it with elaborate details of when, where and how.

It has been told by your siblings many times, after all.

Each time you revisit, you add more plausible details to the event to the point it’s now become a vivid memory.

…. until one of your long-lost uncles in the next family gathering throws a bombshell.

It was your sister, not you.

Undoing the Certainty

It’s highly likely things you remember may not be 100% true.

It may look certain because you’ve recounted it many times over the years.

You’ve likely added more details to the incomplete memories.

When I learned this, I decided my childhood memory wasn’t important to me.

Partly because, throughout most of my adult life, I struggled with an inferiority complex.

It made me become a defeatist.

And I always believed it had stemmed from my childhood memory.

But now I’m undoing my own false certainty about my childhood, thanks to my younger sister.

It’s possible a lot of things didn’t happen the way I interpreted, but playing it over and over, I convinced myself otherwise.

So, I’ve concluded:

That was me then. And this is me now.

Beginning with a Clean Slate

The moment we free ourselves from false certainty, we experience a serene state of mind.

We realise it isn’t our fault: whatever ‘it’ may be to each of us.

Our mind is no longer occupied with guilt, regret or fear and instead, filled with hope, possibility and anticipation.

My inferiority complex hasn’t disappeared completely.

But it occupies so small space in my mind that it hardly affects me any more.

Final Thoughts

If you’re ever tempted to belittle yourself with or criticise yourself over things that didn’t work out the way you wanted, it is entirely possible you didn’t fare as bad as you think.

Things that look so obvious to the present you may not have been so easy (or obvious) to the past you.

You’re likely being too critical, looking at the past events through a different lens.

And it’s even more possible you’ve added details and made it bigger than it was.

The past was lived by the past you.

The present you and the future you are again two different persons.

Unshackle yourself from your imperfect memory and perception. And give yourself a clean slate. 

Show compassion to the past you, thank her for having done all she could, let her be and live fully here and now.

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