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Your Best — and Only — Self

A post crossed my news feed recently that caught my attention: “The bravest thing you can do,” it said, “is to love the worst parts of yourself.”

And I thought, well, that's interesting. And at first I agreed. Yes, we should love the worst parts of ourselves.

Then I thought, Wait a minute — to acknowledge “worst” parts suggests there are “bad” parts to begin with.

Or parts that are flawed.

And I think that's just not the case. There are no “worst” parts — only those that are misunderstood or misinterpreted or undervalued or under-appreciated or inexperienced or fearful or whatever else more aptly defines those qualities whose expression may not represent how we truly want to be in the world, or be in relationship with others.

We all look back over our personal histories and cringe at some of the things we’ve done and choices we’ve made. But it’s important to remember that at every moment, at every turn, at every crossroads, we were doing the best we could with the tools we had and with our limited knowledge of how to use them. And there’s nothing bad about that.

Here’s how I would rewrite that post: “The bravest thing you can do is to love the parts of yourself that didn’t know better, don’t know better, or are learning to do better.”

Writing exercise/prompt: Note: For this exercise be sure to bring both honesty and compassion.

At the top of a piece of paper or on a page in your journal write the phrase “If only I had/hadn’t... ” Then think of something you wish you’d done differently or would do differently if you could magically go back in time and bring all your wisdom and experience with you. It can be something small or something big; a one-off situation or a long-term behavior. (This is where the honesty comes in.)

When you have identified a choice or action, write it down in as much detail as feels comfortable.

Then with your wiser and more experienced self as the narrator, turn that choice or action — and the circumstances around it — into a piece of short fiction (as few as 500 words). You can write in first-person or third-person, whichever you prefer, and create characters who represent you and the others in this particular narrative. Let the narrator do the explaining as you touch on the different factors that influenced you, and what might have been going on for you at the time — what issues or situations you were struggling with, what you didn’t know, what you were afraid to see. Perhaps your actions or choices were rooted in a deep fear of abandonment or rejection. Perhaps you’d just never had the opportunity to master skills you needed at the time. Let this all be part of the story.

Fictionalizing your story creates objectivity and allows you to put some distance between yourself and the action so you can observe it more fully and consider it from several different angles.

And tell your story with all the compassion and self-love you can muster — as much as you would for a friend or a loved one who was coming to you for guidance or support. As the brilliant author, poet and essayist Maya Angelou said, “You did what you knew how to do. When you knew better, you did better.” Give yourself a break.

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