How many times have you wished you could go back and give your younger self a hug, or maybe a good shake, to spare them (you) from all the tough stuff that’s still to come?
On the one hand, I know that there is huge value in learning the lessons and doing the work. I don’t know if I would *actually* go back and tell myself the things below. But on the other hand, it’s cathartic and therapeutic to imagine what you would say, you know?
So here are 6 things I would tell a younger me about shyness, mental health, and accepting myself (including my body):
#1 You don’t have to please everyone all the time
I’m not saying you can’t please people ever. I’m just saying you don’t have to do it at the expense of your own needs. (I say, as someone who still does it. But this is a time travel letter so I can change the past which then changes the future, right, so do as I say and not as I have done thus far in my/our life.)
If you spend your life as a chronic people pleaser, it will lead to:
- thinking of yourself as a social chameleon
- censoring and filtering yourself to match the energy and personalities of the people around you because you’re afraid of how people will react if they know the “real” you
- feeling like your preferences (and often just your existence ) are an imposition on others
The more time you spend grooming yourself to be as inoffensive as possible to the world, the more you will be tormented by the question, “Who am I, then?”
Don’t live your life apologetically.
#2 It’s okay to make mistakes
Perfection is a toxic mind mirage, and pursuing it will shatter your self-confidence and productivity. You will become desperate to just reach perfection so that you can finally relax.
Perfectionism in the clinical sense is not healthy. It goes beyond just being driven, or “Type A,” or having high personal standards. It is disordered thinking.
Here is the ridiculous list of things you will strive to make perfect:
You’ll want to be:
- the PERFECT mother
- the PERFECT wife
- the PERFECT entrepreneur
You’ll be obsessed with nailing down:
- the PERFECT daily routines
- the PERFECT home organization system
- the PERFECT wardrobes for you and your children
- the PERFECT meal plans
- the PERFECT workout routines
- the PERFECT defensive driving techniques (not even kidding)
- the PERFECT path that PERFECTLY balances your PERFECT career choice and PERFECTLY PURSUED passions
What, was that annoying to read? Was there clearly an excessive emphasis on the word PERFECT?
YES, YOUNGER SELF. TRY LIVING WITH THAT TRACK ON REPEAT IN YOUR BRAIN FOR 20 YEARS.
Actually no, DON’T TRY THAT. I forgot the goal of this letter for a sec.
Listen. You will NEVER, EVER get “there.” Because “there” will keep moving even if you get closer to it.
Good enough is good enough and you’re good enough so stop it. (But also seek help because you don’t need to get over this alone.)
#3 Your body is okay
I’m not going to say “your body is perfect and flawless and you make sunsets cry” or any other platitudes that do no one any good.
No one has the perfect body. (If they did, they probably wouldn’t think it was perfect anyway and also everyone poops so next time you’re putting other people up on a pedestal just remember it’s not the only kind of pedestal they sit on.)
Someday, you’ll look back at photos of yourself over the years and realize how totally okay you’ve been all along.
But at the time, you were worried about things like:
- Stretch marks
- The scar from where the doctors saved you and your son’s lives with an emergency c-section (your tummy now hangs over the scar, creating what you consider a “shelf of shame“)
- The fact that you think your face looks “weird” and “like a naked mole-rat” without glasses on. (You really need to work on your self-talk.)
- The angle of your teeth (“underachieving on the bottom and overachieving on top”)
- The slope of your nose (“it gets way too proud of itself halfway down and then wallows in its own shame at the bottom”)
- Your cuticles (“who gave them permission to just keep GROWING all the time?”)
- Your hair (“too ginger / not ginger enough / not the right kind of ginger / too curly / bad curly / too mom / too cocker spaniel / too unkempt / mutates when I sleep on it”)
And so on. You fixate on various things and then move on until you come back to them and realize they’re still there.
And in case you’re wondering, you will seek help for this and be screened for body dysmorphia. You will be told you don’t meet the diagnostic criteria, which will floor you, because if this level of body-criticism isn’t clinically significant, does that mean there are countless other women walking around thinking the same things about their perfectly imperfect bodies?
Look. It’s okay to care about your appearance and about looking/feeling pretty and dolling yourself up and exercising and all that stuff.
But don’t believe for a second that how you look is the most interesting thing about you.
#4 You are worthy of self-care
Many of us have a brain bully who whispers things like:
- “The real you does not take care of herself.”
- “You’re just faking it right now, going through a phase where you’re trying on self-care for size, but it won’t last because you never stick with anything.”
- “You don’t really deserve this.”
The advice is simple here and comes from a future friend: “Fuck you, brain bully.”
It’s okay to take care of yourself. Act like you love yourself and slowly it’ll start to rub off on you. (It’s not that easy but it’s a start.)
#5 You deserve to heal
Eventually, when you burn out and hit your emotional rock bottom, you will see a psychiatrist and she will give you the permission you didn’t know you needed to start taking care of your mental health.
You’ll find out that over the past 20 years, you’ve developed severe social anxiety as well as perfectionism, generalized anxiety, and, eventually, depression.
And you will be RELIEVED to hear this… because you always thought you just “sucked at being a human.”
You will finally understand that this is more than just “sadness” or “shyness” or “being kind of hard on yourself.”
If you had been trying to walk around with a broken leg, you would have noticed it, addressed it, and let it heal.
Take your mental health as seriously as your physical health. Treat your mental and emotional wounds like a broken bone. Because broken bones can heal.
#6 You. Are. Good. Enough.
You have been seeing yourself through a cloudy, cracked, warped filter.
It’s the FILTER that needs to change. Not who YOU are inside.
Take a step back sometimes. Get out of your own head and take an honest look at other people’s imperfections.
Think about the people you care about and love. Do you see their imperfections and love them anyway? Of course you do, because you see the whole person. Start doing that with yourself. Start seeing your whole good messy self. (Yes, even when you have cocker-spaniel hair days.)
Give yourself permission to be a work in progress. Forever.
Life is not a fairy tale with a happily ever after. Not every day will go in the win column.
I don’t have it all figured out and I’m not writing to you from a place of “perfection.”
But that is exactly the point.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Let me know in the comments. 🙂
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