There’s sometimes a temptation to look back on things that happened when we were kids, and judge our behavior based on what we are capable of now.
We look back and tell ourselves that we “should” have escaped.
We look back and tell ourselves that we “should” have set boundaries.
We look back and tell ourselves we “should” have sought help.
We look back and tell ourselves that we “should” have said no.
Sometimes we look back at situations and we are disgusted by the priorities of the person we were once upon a time.
And we say to ourselves, “It’s no excuse that I was a child at the time…I SHOULD have known better, and I SHOULD have done better.”
For man people this even extends to their adult lives: they judge what they “should” have done five or ten or twenty years ago, based on the knowledge, skills, resources, and perspectives they have now.
All of which can result in feeling angry and guilty…almost as if we NEED to punish our current self, for the failings of our past self.
(After all, if we DON’T punish ourselves now, that means that our past self will GET AWAY WITH IT, and that’s not fair, right?)
It’s all enormously unfair…and enormously unhelpful.
The “me” who looks back at the “me” of decades past is not objective.
I don’t know what I was or was not capable of back them.
Sure, there’s stuff I wish I would have done…but there’s no guarantee that I would have been able to do that stuff at the time.
As I write this, I’m a 43 year old with three degrees in psychology. Am I expecting the “me” of my first ten or twelve years to know or be able to do the things that the “me” of today can do?
Of course not.
If we didn’t do something “back then,” it’s usually for a pretty simple reason: we couldn’t.
If we were being abused and we didn’t stop it, it’s usually because didn’t even register “stopping it” as an option— or something that we “should” want to do, let alone be able to do.
We only had the resources we had available to us then. We didn’t have the resources we now have.
We didn’t have the size, the intellectual development, the therapy, the coping skills, the supports, or the simple life perspective that we have now.
When we’re kids, the needs, wants, and reactions of the adults around us really seem like the only thing that matters.
We don’t know that we’re going to live multiple decades, and we’re going to meet a lot of adults who are going to have a lot of reactions.
When we’re kids, we really think that the approval and acceptance of a handful of certain people really is all we need or want in the world.
We don’t know that, over the course of our lives, there are going to be LOTS of people who accept AND reject us…and we’ll survive.
When we’re kids, we really think that that adult has “chosen” us for a “secret” relationship because we’re “special.”
We don’t know that this “secret’ relationship that we’re being told to never, ever tell anyone about, will eventually harm our capacity for intimacy, our willingness to trust, or our very sense of self.
I often tell people that we have nothing to “forgive” ourselves for if we were abused, and I mean that. “Forgiveness” is for people who have done something wrong, and we didn’t.
So it’s not a matter of “forgiving” anything…it’s a matter of ACCEPTING that we were who we were.
We could only do what we could do…and we couldn’t do what we couldn’t do.
And that’s okay.
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