Everyone has their own “It” that they’re trying to get over, but most of us have something that thing that happened in our lives that caused us to develop some of our worst traits. Maybe it was a relationship, a crappy parent, a bad friend… whatever it was, it changed us. It hardened us. And now, you are someone you don’t recognize – someone you don’t want to be.
I want to preface this article by saying that I’m not here to diminish anyone’s issues or struggles – it’s real for everyone – I’m just here to tell you why holding on to them isn’t doing you any good.
For brevity’s sake, I’ll just give you the Sparknotes version of my own personal experience with this. Suffice it to say, I had a pretty terrible childhood and was raised by pretty terrible parents. Long story short, I had an array of crippling social issues upon entering adulthood and moving out of the house.
At first, these issues manifested themselves in the form of social anxiety and awkwardness. I didn’t really know how to interact with other people properly, and I needed validation for even the tiniest of things. All the time. It got so bad that if a friend didn’t respond to a text message within five minutes, I naturally assumed that they hated me and I would start crying. It was pretty bad. Others picked up on this tendency, and it made me a good target for ridicule, which brought on another slew of issues – issues that ended up defining my twenties.
Being an easy target for others to use to boost their own self-esteem caused me to react accordingly. I became hard, bitter, mean, angry. It was a defense mechanism. But I drastically overcompensated, and I became a real asshole. I found myself going out of my way to put other people down, as so many had done to me. I was snapping at everyone for nonexistent or unjustified slights against me.
I remained this way for several years, pushing people away, not being able to maintain relationships, and being generally, all-around miserable. It wasn’t until I took the time to do some hard self-reflection that I began to realize that the person I had become is not the person who I was at my core, and it was not the person I wanted to be. So I began to change wherever I could, but I could never get back to the person I was way back when. I did, and still do, have the tendency to let my pain and experience cause me to needlessly lash out at people.
I improved a lot, for sure, but I plateaued after a certain point, and I was still not the nicest person. It was a relationship with a very sweet boy that put things into perspective for me and showed me that my change wasn’t yet complete. He broke up with me one day, rather unexpectedly in my eyes, and as his reason, he cited my meanness and insensitivity – something I had heard many times before.
I can’t say why this particular relationship was the tipping point for me. Maybe it was because I really liked him, or maybe it was because I thought I had changed enough, but either way, it really got me. I called my dad (my adoptive father, not biological), and I just… started crying… for the second time in my adult life. I was a little boy lying on his bed, crying his eyes out to his daddy over the phone.
“Dad, am I a bad person?” I asked him. I explained to him everything that had happened with the guy I was seeing, and how people thought I was a mean person, and just everything about my struggle to come back from that.
He asked me, “If so many people are telling you that you’re mean, do you have any idea why you might be?”
I told him that the things that happened to me as a child with my biological parents set into a motion a series of events and issues from which I never fully recovered. I kept myself mired in the pain they had caused me, even as a 28-year old man. They made me that way. It was their fault.
And then my dad said something to me that will stay with me forever, “Eric, I know what your parents did to you was terrible. I know that it changed you and gave you these problems… but Eric, they aren’t here anymore. You haven’t seen or spoken to them in over ten years. You’re a grown man. You are responsible for fixing the things you don’t like about yourself. It isn’t their fault anymore. You can either choose to let what they did continue to rule your life, or you can realize that you don’t want to be what they made you and you can change yourself.”
“It’s not their fault anymore.” This stuck with me so much. It’s true – things will happen. Sometimes these things will be so impactful that they will change you.
I spent so much time defending and justifying my pain, anger, sadness, and bitterness, and I’m here to tell you that you’re entitled to all of those things. You can have all of those feelings, but I also want to tell you that the world keeps turning. No one is going to argue that you have no right to feel the way you do, but as long as you hold on to them in a way that changes you for the worse, you will likely be unable to maintain meaningful relationships if these traits are pushing people away. Everyone is dealing with their own stuff, and while they may be sympathetic to you, they may not have the emotional bandwidth to carry your issues along with their own – and really, you shouldn’t expect them to.
So I want to tell you to get over it, not in a dismissive or condescending way, but in the most uplifting sense possible. Get over it for yourself so you can be a person you love and want to be – so you can have relationships with people.
It happened. It hurt. It sucked. But… it happened, and it ended. Don’t continue to give it power. You’re better than that. You’re more than your past wounds. You can acknowledge and accept the pain – you don’t have to forget it – but just don’t let yourself become a product of it.
Don’t let the past make you into someone you don’t want to be.