I don’t conceive of having one self, a constant version of me. I never have. As a child I quite intentionally changed my name and decided all the bad things like abuse happened to that other version of me, so I didn’t have to bear it all alone. It’s not the fractured separate selves of an identity disorder , but a way of pacing traumas so they don’t feel as if they are all happening at once.
I have been many selves over the years. A devout churchgoer. A softball playing tomboy. A candy raver. A Sunday school teacher. A songwriter. A hitch hiker. There are things I’ve done in my past I can’t imagine doing today, and vice versa. I am not the same person. I have changed, and continue to do so.
It can be easy to hate my past selves, or blame them for the choices they made. My eleven year wedding anniversary just passed and I had to resist the temptation to self flagellate, to abuse that past self for being so ashamed to be an unwed mother she yoked herself to an abusive alcoholic.
When I was young I attended a therapy group for little girls who’d survived sexual abuse. The most valuable lesson I got from those sessions was how to forgive myself by loving others. Not blaming those other girls helped me not blame myself. Imagining that the victim was an outsider made gentleness easier.
Now I use that same tool to show mercy and compassion to my past selves, to recognize the constraints they lived under, and forgiver them for their bad decisions. Accepting my past selves doesn’t mean pretending very choice I made then was good. It’s recognizing that some weren’t, and that I still deserved love. When I was making bad decisions, some of which still impact me today, I was worthy of loving myself. I can’t always love myself in the moment, but I can do it later.