WAfyWF: I’m a better me, but they don’t see it.

Dear Friends,

Happy Monday! Before I get into today’s question, I just wanted to let you know that I’ve re-opened the question submission form. I have loved the depth and variety of the questions submitted so far, and while I still can’t promise to answer every last one, I wanted to open up the form again and see what comes through. I’ve gotten a few silly questions that are fine, but I will definitely prioritize questions that seem like the asker genuinely wants an answer over ones that are just goofy. Also, while I’m willing to entertain all kinds of questions, there are some things I’m just not qualified to answer because they’re significantly outside the range of my experience and knowledge. With all the love in the world, I will decline to answer those questions only because I don’t want to give you bad advice. However, today’s question is on a topic I have lots of experience with, so without further ado…

Question: I’ve changed, but others don’t see it. What do I do?

I wasn’t always the best person, I took a good hard look at myself and worked hard to change not only my behavior towards others but my behavior towards myself.  Some people saw the before and after. What do you do to deal with those who won’t stop tainting the person you were before, but who know nothing of the person you’ve become?

Answer: They don’t have to see it. Your growth is valid anyway. Don’t stop.

Good on you for doing the self work. Unfortunately, others are not required to recognize our growth. 

They say what others think of us is none of our concern, but of course it’s hard to really live that out. We all want people to like us or at least to see us as good people. If you want people to stop thinking of you as the person you once were, there are a few things you can do: 

  1. Keep doing the self work. Most of us have experience with someone who makes a little bit of progress, uses that to get back in our good graces, and eventually backslides into being mean, manipulative, or what have you. Rather than asking people to believe that you have changed, just keep doing the work for your own sake. Be humble, keep getting better, and be vigilant for old patterns because they will crop up again. They always do.
  2. Apologize directly to those whose forgiveness you want, and be prepared to accept their answer or their silence. If you wronged someone and you know it, say you’re sorry, and don’t try to justify what you did or tell them why they should forgive you. The process of apologizing is more about your growth than their forgiveness. Due to their own limitations, they may not have the capacity to forgive yet, but owning your actions is a big step on that self-work path. When you have given a sincere apology, even if the other person isn’t ready to forgive, your emotional burden will be lightened, and you’re that much more free to move on with being a person you’re proud of rather than lingering over past mistakes. 
  3. Accept that some people will never fully embrace you. The people who still want to talk about the past are hung up on something, whether it’s something you did to them or another lingering issue. Maybe you remind them of a family member who was particularly difficult. Maybe they don’t know how to let go of conflict. Maybe you said something that made them look at themselves in an uncomfortable light and they never got over it. Maybe they have trauma that’s unrelated to you that makes it very hard for them to forgive. If they are carrying around a grudge, let them have it. That is not your burden. In the privacy of your own heart, forgive them for not being able to see your growth, and wish them healing. 
  4. Face forward. Once you’ve made the necessary apologies, put all of your energy and effort into being the person you want to be. Take lessons from your past and apply them to the relationships and opportunities that are in front of you now. Do you wish you had gossiped less? Then don’t gossip now, and actively work against it when others around you do. Do you wish you had been kinder? Then be kind now, and stand up against people who are unkind. Do you wish you had avoided negative influences? Then cut that shit out of your life now, and say no when more shows up at your door. 
  5. Recognize that your growth is not complete. You probably have made some big changes, and you probably feel a lot better about yourself now than whenever you started this process, but anyone who has been engaged in self work for a minute knows that there are ups and downs, and there are always more challenges on the horizon. Prepare yourself so that when the next challenge arises, you will be able to put your ego aside enough to stick to your convictions and keep acting like the person you want to be rather than falling into old patterns.
  6. Practice self-kindness, and I don’t just mean indulging your senses. Seek therapy and emotional support. Journal, meditate, self-reflect. Even if others don’t see all this effort, you can reaffirm your dedication to your own growth every day through these practices. 
  7. Surround yourself with people who support your continued growth. It may take a while to find those people, but keep showing up as the best version of yourself you can muster, and when these people show up for you, don’t be afraid to open up and ask them for support. People who see you making a genuine effort will appreciate that about you and want to be part of your journey. With their support, it will get easier.

I’m so happy to hear that you’re working on yourself because it’s something we all really should be doing in whatever capacity we can. At the end of the day, your self-work is about you becoming a better person and living a more fulfilled life. We have very little control over the perceptions and opinions of others, so don’t let your progress be stymied by their inability to see it.