I don’t know about you, but if I were to write a letter to my younger self I would most certainly begin with the advice to hear and see the way life was being modeled to me differently. To hear and see the way I received people’s thoughts about me differently. And to hear and see my value differently. Because, what I heard and saw through other people’s words and actions was not in my best interest, it did not build me up, didn’t produce a strong morality, and didn’t create feelings of acceptance, validity, or unconditional love.
Now this isn’t a slam on any single person. This is me identifying that the way I heard messages and words was skewed. I mean if someone said I did a good job on something I heard “this wasn’t perfect but maybe next time”. If someone said I looked good I heard “you’ve gained weight but look ok anyway”. If I walked past a group of people and heard laughter, I automatically thought they didn’t like me and were laughing at me. The list goes deep and very far back. I even remember as a child stomping down the hallway shouting nobody loves me simply because I was asked to go in another room to play.
There are a lot of variables that go into why I felt the way I did growing up and to why I heard things the way I did. That is not why I am writing this. I am writing this to share how I changed the way I hear and see my world so that it can be filled with acceptance, validity, value, and unconditional positive regard. Just the way my younger self longed for it to be.
We live in a world where most of our communication is written and not spoken. We live in a world where responses are knee jerk and instant. Not thought out or responsive at all, they are reactive. And because they are primarily written the reader is subject to hearing the message in whatever perceived tone they want to attach to it. So, if I am feeling vulnerable, I may hear the words “I can’t believe you did that” quite snarky, rude, or aggressively. But if I am feeling confident or accomplished, I may hear the words “I can’t believe you did that” quite uplifting, validating and supportively.
What about our perceptions? I grew up in Southern California and driving on the freeway system there generally leaves you subject to aggression. But it also challenges your inner critic. And I’m not talking about criticizing yourself, I’m referring to all the negative judgments directed at the other drivers from within your own mind. Think about it. If you are being tailgated what is your initial judgment of the person behind you? Do you see someone that is rude? Perhaps you assume they are a careless jerk. But I wonder what would happen for you internally if you decided to think more along the line of “wow, I don’t know this person, they seem to have an urgent need to get past me, I think I will move over and hope for them that everything is ok when they arrive at their destination”. Because the reality is you really don’t know what is going on in that other car. They could be rushing to the hospital because their child just got hit by a train.
So here are the four pieces of advice I would give younger me:
- Hear with an open filter. If it doesn’t sound right for you, ask yourself how you could hear it differently, so it brings you value. Always be willing to obtain clarification – inquiry is a powerful tool.
- See through an accepting lens. If it looks unattractive seek to pair it with something that is more appealing. Sometimes what we think we are seeing is not at all what is unfolding. Zoom in or out to gain perspective on what may not be visible on the surface.
- Have a valid purpose for your thoughts. Ask yourself if you have all the facts. If you are presuming without explicit knowledge you are assuming you know for a fact what you don’t know for sure.
- Make your words and actions count. If you need something specific, ask for help or make it happen for yourself. You are far more capable then you give yourself credit for. Remember, the people around you are not mind readers. You must use clear dialogue and articulate what you mean.
This is your life too. You can think, feel, and be however you want. Don’t wait for your desires to knock on your door. They won’t. Go out and bring them to life.