Why It's Hard to Be Kind to My Past Self's Mental Health Struggles


As a person who struggles with both perfectionism and depression, I’m not very good at being kind to myself. I speak to myself in ways I never would to another person and I’m pretty great at beating myself up for basically any offense, big, small, real or imagined.

I’m getting better at this, but I’ve realized I struggle a lot with being kind to the person I was in the past. One of the ironies of working through your mental health issues is it can honestly be kind of depressing. Yes, you’re learning how to correct your faulty thinking patterns and tendencies and where they came from and it makes your life going forward much better. But that doesn’t change the fact a lot of hard things happened in the past, things that maybe could have been avoided if you knew then what you know now.

For example, I’ve learned I can be extremely codependent, denying my own legitimate needs in an unhealthy way because I feel responsible for other people’s happiness. When I look back at my life now, I can see far too many decisions I made that were influenced by this tendency. These choices usually made me unhappy, but at the time, I was OK with it because I thought it was the right thing to do. I thought I was being a good Christian by putting other’s needs ahead of my own, but really, I was acting like I didn’t matter as a person.

It’s painful to realize this, especially because the unhealthiness of it all seems so obvious to me now. How could I have been so ignorant? Why did I waste so much time doing things I hated when it was completely unnecessary? How much happier could I have been then and how much less regret would I have now, if I hadn’t been influenced by those wrong thought patterns? I feel the loss of what could have been and it makes me really sad. And then I feel angry because feeling sad stinks and I’m being forced to experience sadness when it could have been prevented. It’s hard.

Feeling this sadness and anger is normal and even healthy, I think. But what isn’t healthy is when I go a step too far and chew out my past self for messing up. Instead of showing my past self grace and compassion for struggling for legitimate reasons, I feel shame and blame myself for not handling things perfectly. (Not that we can ever do anything perfectly anyway, but that’s the perfectionism talking.)

What I’m trying to do now is be kind to who I was and respect the choices I made in the past, even those that were influenced by poor mental health and caused me unnecessary pain. Even though I disagree with them now and wish I had done things differently, those decisions seemed like the right ones at the time. I was doing the best I could with what I had and fortunately, I have a lot more now.

I can also acknowledge the bravery it takes to face the hard realities of the past, precisely because it entails feeling regret, sadness and anger. And finally, it forces me to deal with the fact my feelings of sadness and anger probably wouldn’t be so intense if I wasn’t such a perfectionist who thinks that my life has to be perfect to be any good. It’s like the fun never ends! But I’ll try to break the cycle. Instead of beating myself up for being a perfectionist, I’ll try to be kind to myself instead. Baby steps.

This post originally appeared on The Beautiful Place blog.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo via bignoze.


Find this story helpful? Share it with someone you care about.


Related to Depression

My Depression Leaves Me Feeling Lost at Sea

I permanently reside on a makeshift sailboat in the center of an endless sea. It is always nighttime where I live. Although my compass has broken and my destination is unknown, I sit and wait anxiously for a miracle. All is not still, though. Rain pours down from above as the foundation of my raft [...]
woman enjoying sunset in field long hair

When People Don't Understand the Good Days With Depression

Those of us living with depression can be good at hiding it. We can seem “normal” during the day but cry at night because we feel too “different” than everyone else. We can have loving families and steady jobs, but still feel utterly useless. Then there are the actual good times when we’re genuinely happy, [...]
black and white image woman in garden long hair sadness

Addressing the Final Taboo That Is Talking About Mental Illness

To my wonderful family and friends, As some of you may have personally experienced and many of you have come to realize over the years, our mental health needs a great deal of attention. It’s the final taboo and it needs to be acknowledged and addressed. Depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and anxiety are not signs [...]
BLACK AND WHITE IMAGE OF EYES AND COVERED FACE

How My Depression and PTSD Make Me Question My Faith

Editor’s note: If you experience suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. The current thing my doctor is insisting I work on is finding it within myself to believe I am worth loving — by myself, by others, even by God. [...]