How can I recover from previous inappropriate actions?
August 9, 2013 6:49 AM   Subscribe

When I was in my late teens and early twenties I did some really weird and retrospectively embarrassing things. How can I stop obsessing over these mistakes and move on? Now that I am relatively "normal", how can I do damage control when my past actions are brought to light?

I am female, happily married, and now in my late twenties. I feel relatively stable and "normal" now with occasional feelings of insecurity, shame, and awkwardness. These feelings are very strong when I am confronted with memories of early college or an unexpected meeting with a person from my past who I haven't seen in a long time. This has been occurring more often since we recently moved to a bigger city and run into more people.

I was raised by parents who, among other things, made bad social decisions and encouraged me to behave similarly. It took me a long time to break those negative behavior patterns. My reaction to having been emotionally abused, taught poor social skills, and struggling with financial security was to become overly emotional and weird in my attempts to seek approval from others. In the past I "burned bridges", cried too often and too easily, had a difficult time controlling my emotional responses, divulged intimate details of my life too freely, made weird romantic or otherwise intimate advances to too many people, was overly self-deprecating, said awkward things while intoxicated, closely associated with others who behaved inappropriately, and in general said and did things I regret having said and done. How can I stop myself from ruminating on bad decisions? How can I show those who knew me then that I'm not the weird girl anymore?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (38 answers total) 46 users marked this as a favorite
>How can I stop myself from ruminating on bad decisions?

Between this and your bad decisions description, it *sounds* like you're having problems with anxiety. Presumably, you need to forgive yourself and learn how to cope with your anxiety.

>How can I show those who knew me then that I'm not the weird girl anymore?

Are you even interested in hanging out with these people? If so, be your current, stable, level headed self. Form bonds, be happy with each other.

"Well, I was having a really tough time adjusting to everything that was happening to me and the way I found to cope with that was to be a little crazy. I feel a lot better now."
posted by pmv at 6:57 AM on August 9, 2013 [5 favorites]

I deal with a lot of shame and regret too. But I have accepted that That Stupid Boy *is* me. He's always going to be a part of me. He is where I was at that point. And he was doing the best he could. But just because my standards for myself have raised, and just because my coping skills and/or knowledge-base have expanded, doesn't mean that I am in any way superior to That Stupid Boy. I'm just older. I'm just a smidge wiser. And I have the benefit of his mistakes to teach me how not to remake them.

Forgive The Weird Girl, because she was doing the best she could at the time. Thank The Weird Girl for teaching you. And don't wall her off, because she still has more things to teach you. You can't control how other people see you. Trying to control your image, trying to erase your past, it just never works and it isn't healthy. You need to just wake up every day and be the best you. Others will figure it all out.
posted by jph at 6:58 AM on August 9, 2013 [75 favorites]

This may or may not be useful, but I came to a decision a little while ago that the me of three years ago was a jerk and that anything he did could safely be discounted, because I am no longer the same person.

That is three years before today, whenever today happens to be.

It was an enormously liberating decision as regards feeling bad about previous choices.
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 6:58 AM on August 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

If it makes you feel any better, we all did this stuff when we were younger. Seriously, I did some seriously cray-cray stuff back in the day.

CBT can really help with overcoming these intrusive thoughts. EFT is something that can help you from fixating on stuff.

Really though, just keep telling yourself that we're all walking around cringing about something that's ancient history.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:02 AM on August 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

It's often helpful to realize that the people you were "weird" around weren't necessarily paying that much attention or don't remember those incidents the way you do.

I once said something really bizarre and horrible to a friend in high school and I carried that weight around with me, as one of a mental list of bizarre things I'd said in an effort to be funny that really weren't funny. Every once in awhile, I'd be reminded of one of them and I'd end up pulling out all the others and ruminating over them, as well, deeply depressing myself over my social inadequacies.

But she was at my 10 year high school reunion, and I mentioned the remark I'd made, and how I'd always felt bad about it, and she had no idea what I was talking about. She wasn't lying to make me feel better, she was deeply confused by the conversation, and even when I explicitly mentioned what had happened, she still had no idea.

So, at that point, I had a choice -- I could either add this awkward conversation at the high school reunion to my list of things I've done that were weird and uncomfortable, or I could forgive myself for all of those moments.

I still remember this one example, because it is the example that allowed me to forgive myself, and I remember one of the other ones, I don't know why, but there used to be dozens of embarrassing moments on my list of awful things I had said and done, and now I only even remember two.
posted by jacquilynne at 7:02 AM on August 9, 2013 [8 favorites]

You can show them by being your new self. In general, people are eager to forget/pass over "weird behavior" - most of the people from your past will be happy to narrate this as "When I first knew her, she was kind of awkward and did some goofy things, but that was just because she needed time to grow to her full potential". Seriously, everyone will 100% collaborate with you on this - just be your new, functional self and they will all be glad. Part of this is because they will be sincerely glad for you, part of it because people want to avoid awkwardness. After a few normal interactions and a little time goes by, I promise that virtually everyone will bracket your earlier behavior.

Which you are probably exaggerating a bit in your head anyway. Remember that many, many people did similar things - you may have been the primary one in your friendship circle, but I assure you that oversharing, approval-seeking, etc are very widespread behaviors. In a large population, there are many people who went through similar childhoods and made similar choices - and the vast majority of them have moved on to stable, happy adulthood.

When I consider my own painful and embarrassing past, I remind myself that I didn't hurt anyone (making someone slightly uncomfortable briefly is not "hurting them"); I work on forgiving myself for having struggled with things because of my upbringing; I remind myself that all these social dynamics take two people (or more!) and it wasn't just me flailing about. Most of all, I try to gain perspective - okay, so I was sort of an unpleasant person to be around for a few years in my late teens and early twenties. Whatever! I also [did some good stuff] during that time, and honestly I wasn't exactly history's greatest monster, I was just a kid who had been severely bullied and deeply lonely and didn't have social skills. If I met a little version of me now, I'd be nice to her and try to help her skip over the stuff I went through, not exclude her because she was a weirdo.

Also, I think there's this internet normalizing effect that isn't always great - we look at our past behavior in terms of "did I overstep boundaries", "did I exercise inadequate self care", "was I 'creepy'" ,etc - fitting our past selves into little boxes of internet/advice column definition. You weren't a Miss Manners column, you were a kid with individual circumstances - and while it's very useful to get advice, I think it's a very bad idea to re-narrate your past life as "I failed to live up to a very white, middle class, early 21st century set of norms for female behavior, unlike regular people".
posted by Frowner at 7:03 AM on August 9, 2013 [21 favorites]

Almost 25 years ago to the day, I did something particularly shitty to a friend. We've long since made amends, and today he is the only friend from my childhood I still keep in touch with. But I still ruminate on my bad behavior, and two and a half decades later, there is still some deep shame for me in what I did, all the more so because I see in that moment the germ of bad behavior I still struggle to be mindful of not succumbing to.

So perhaps these are fractures that may never knit together exactly again. But like a once-broken bone, said to be stronger where it's fused back together, you can maybe take some comfort that knowledge of your past indiscretions helps to avoid them in the future.

You may never get the people who knew your before to forgive you, but it's important that you forgive yourself.

Good luck.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 7:05 AM on August 9, 2013 [3 favorites]

Listen, everyone has embarrassing/shameful memories from when they were younger. It's basically what your late teens/early 20s are made for: awkward memory creation.

But the good thing is that just about everyone at that age is a self-absorbed little shit, so hardly anyone ever remembers the crap other people did. Everyone just gets to remember the crappy stuff they themselves did. It's like when you've got a huge zit and you're all "omg everyone can see it," but really most people are so consumed feeling awkward about themselves that they neither see nor give two shits about the zit you have. It's both a blessing and a curse.

The trick is being able to forgive yourself. Forgiving yourself isn't the same thing as saying that those actions were ok or good, but rather, "I did those things, they have been done, but they are over now and that's not who I am anymore."

If someone you run into actually has the gall to bring up any ancient history, you can just nonchalantly say, "yeah, I had a tough time trying to find my place back anyway, what are you up to these days?"
posted by phunniemee at 7:13 AM on August 9, 2013 [8 favorites]

First of all, you are definitely not alone in this. So perhaps change your thinking from being a "weird girl" to "a woman who ruminates". "Weird girl" is an identity label. "A woman who ruminates" is a behaviour.

That is the first half of the battle, for as long as you consider "weird girl" to be your identity, you cannot do anything about it. For we do not create our own social identities, rather they are contextual. In some situations, you are a "daughter", in some you are a "wife", in some you are a "mefite", in some you are a "customer". Since it is contextual, realise that "weird" is only one of many identities, if you choose to allow it to be an identity at all.

How do you do this? For each 'negative' you listed, there is a counter. When you look back, you see behaviours that now you realise are unproductive, but then, that you was just being herself. The best her she knew how to be, and you have to give her credit for that. She wasn't a weird girl, she was growing up, in the best way she knew how, dealing with the cards she had been dealt.

Gratitude helps. You cannot change what you did – and you should want to, for each of those experiences led you to who you are today. If you are happy where you are today, that immediately validates all of your previous experiences. You could not be who you are without those experiences! Therefore, if you are happy, then those experiences – and that weird girl – made you this happy person. Love yourself for that.

Second, rumination. Ah good old rumination. I don't think it's uncommon for people who have changed a lot to ruminate. When you can see the differences in your own personality over a period of ten years, it's natural to think back and start seeing that person from the outside, and the differences today. Rumination itself is a sort of self-assessment and self-consciousness.

When I go back to San Francisco, I can ruminate quite a lot. It was a long time ago, and I was literally a very different person. A lot of my core values haven't changed, but many of my behaviours have. What I am learning, time after time, is that so has everybody else's! I am focused on my own behaviours, and how I have changed, but nobody else is. They are all focused on how much they have changed!.

It's actually really funny. If you think long enough about it, you will laugh. Really think hard that if all these people you are meeting have super-accurate photographic memories, and when you meet them again, they are instantly going back to those moments you remember so well, and judging you by them. Imagine that was the case! It's really funny to consider that you would basically have to have a super-genius who is obsessed with ten-year previous version of you, to remember those situations in enough detail to make issue of it.

So, you're really the only one who cares. Think about if you met someone like you. Maybe you thought they were a bit messy and indulgent. Maybe a bit dramatic. And you met them today. And they were so self-assured and happy. They left all that behind in the last ten years, and they were just in a great place. How would you feel? Would your natural inclination be to drag them down, back to the place they were? Probably not. You would want to celebrate their differences as they would want to celebrate your differences. Anyone looking to keep you pinned to who you were is just not worth reconnecting with.

So then why do you care? Why do you ruminate? Probably because you are afraid of repeating those behaviours again? Afraid that even though you feel like you've grown a lot, you know you are capable of some behaviours, and are afraid they will return? This is also quite funny. It's as if we can't really change, only appear to change. That without constant vigilance, you are going to start crying and make weird intimacy decisions. That is there! It happened! OMG what if it happens again? Everything will be ruined!

This is the problem with the weird girl identity. You see behavioural cues for it, and if you exhibit those, you may be going back to her... and your DO NOT WANT TO BE HER AGAIN. OMG.

When you couldn't be her again if you tried. You have changed massively. Repeating those behaviours will not return you to being that person, any more than you could have become the person you are now back then. She is gone, for better or for worse. Also in ruminating, people often miss part of that time. The innocence that made you trusting. The openness that made you emotional. The abandon that made you free. You've learned and grown, and now the weird girl is gone.

I'll bet if you tried, you could remember a good memory for each bad memory. A great time for every weird time. CBT would have you try and rationalise the bad memories by pairing them with more realistic thoughts. I was overly emotional because I was young and didn't know any better. It wasn't a choice, as much as it was an experience. So let it be!

In the end, no one is thinking of you as a weird girl but you probably. And if they do still think that they're the ones that haven't changed and there's nothing that can be done about that.

In general, this isn't about other people as much as it is about you accepting that part of yourself and learning to celebrate it. She was a wonderful, beautiful person learning the ropes. She had successes and failures. She had good days and bad. You don't need to pity her or be afraid of her, but just find a place for her to always live within you. If anyone mentions those times, don't be embarrassed, just laugh. If you find someone that wants to harp on those times, leave them for someone who wants to talk about today or tomorrow, not yesterday.

And I'm not just saying this. I feel like that sometimes. In fact, I spent ten years trying to rid myself of some behaviours and ways of being. I was successful. I traveled quite far, personality-wise (so I feel and have been told). When I realised that (about five years ago... success!), I realised that actually I really liked some of my weirdness. And have now spent five years getting some of it back. Go figure. :)
posted by nickrussell at 7:21 AM on August 9, 2013 [9 favorites]

How can I show those who knew me then that I'm not the weird girl anymore?

By not being a weird girl. Be the best person you can be, and that is what people will think of when they think of you. Honestly, most people are self-absorbed and do not remember things well. If they even remember you used to be weird, they will say to each other "do you remember anonymous used to be so weird? huh, she's so awesome now, hard to believe," and then they will go on to talk about sports or whatever else and not even remember that conversation.

But yes, the real thing you must do is let go of it. You've changed, you're a good person, everything else is water under the bridge. Why are you thinking about bad things from the past? I agree that cognitive behavioral therapy might be able to help you think about good things from the future instead.
posted by epanalepsis at 7:23 AM on August 9, 2013

It might be helpful to think about his as two sort of separate issues: (1) the ruminating over the past behavior and (2) the generalized regret. Therapeutic options such as mindfulness training and/or CBT can really really help you stop the ruminating. You can train yourself to come back to the moment and stop these unproductive thoughts.

I find dealing with the regret part to be hard, especially in circumstances like you describe--similar to you, I feel like people from my past have this impression of me as a particular person who was a reckless and crazy party girl with no boundaries. I had zero self awareness at the time--I actually thought that people respected this behavior and liked me because of it. And maybe in some ways they did. In coming to peace with the me I was all I can do is be grateful that I learned from my mistakes and I've figured out who I want to be and how I want to act in the world. I don't think we grow up all at once--like Just this guy, y'know points out--chances are that 10 years or 10 months from now I will look back on something that I've done with some regret. The best I can do to prevent that future is to convince myself that I am behaving in each present moment with integrity and dignity and authenticity to my values.
posted by gubenuj at 7:29 AM on August 9, 2013

Agreeing with everyone else that people usually don't remember it the way you do, or don't care. Embarrassment over the past means you've grown and you don't do that stuff any more.

One exception would be if you think you've actually hurt someone. It may be possible to apologize/make amends. However, a lot of times going directly to the person involved is inappropriate-- like if it is a ex who would probably rather not hear from you-- or impossible, and it's better to pay it forward, to use a hackneyed phrase.
posted by BibiRose at 7:30 AM on August 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

1. Ask your best friends about the stupid embarrassing immature shit they did when they were younger.

2. Meet (or imagine meeting) people from the past who were witness to your immaturity. Be your awesome now self. They will notice the change. (this happened to me)

3. Ask your long term friends on feedback about how you've grown.

4. Play with a baby. 6months - 9months. See the emotional tantrums and craziness they do. Up and down within seconds! Realize that until we're taught how to deal with emotions, we are emotional babies. What you did was normal, given the amount of teaching you received. But you're a new person now!
posted by St. Peepsburg at 7:32 AM on August 9, 2013

My reaction to having been emotionally abused, taught poor social skills, and struggling with financial security was to become When I was in highschool and college, I was overly emotional and weird in my attempts to seek approval from others. In the past I "burned bridges", cried too often and too easily, had a difficult time controlling my emotional responses, divulged intimate details of my life too freely, made weird romantic or otherwise intimate advances to too many people, was overly self-deprecating, said awkward things while intoxicated, closely associated with others who behaved inappropriately, and in general said and did things I regret having said and done.

I swear to God, that IS college and highschool for whacking great percentages of the population. You are not a special snowflake in being mortified by your behaviour before the age of 22. Don't pathologise it.

And don't make the mistake of thinking everyone remembers your actions with the same grinding clarity and embarrassment you do. Like, really, nobody is paying that much attention or cares 10 years later, except maybe you.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:32 AM on August 9, 2013 [10 favorites]

I struggle with this in a major way. Usually between the hours of 3 and 6 in the morning, staring at the ceiling while my mind replays every embarrassment, faux pas, badly handled confrontation, offensive remark, etc that I've ever committed.

My approach may not be the healthiest but I find I have to just adopt a bit of passivity about it. I can't change the past. I can't orchestrate a series of social situations where I can demonstrate to my old acquaintances that maybe I'm not the old me. I can't determine whether they defined me by those bad behaviors or whether maybe they too are reminded of their own past bad behaviors when they see me again. All of that is out of my hands.

All I can do instead is drill down inwards and, every day, work on being the person I want to be and not letting the wild horses of insecurity run away with the carriage. Get up. Be kind and gentle with my kids. Focus at work. Be generous. Cultivate good hobbies. Don't drink too much. And most of all, be forgiving. Maybe you'll never truly stop being embarrassed about past behaviors. Those who know more about CBT can speak to that. But over time, the sum total of who you are will contain a lot more history that you can look back on with the realization that maybe you are, in fact, okay.
posted by chicxulub at 7:34 AM on August 9, 2013 [5 favorites]

I struggle with this too- but you know, it's almost like being embarassed because you used to poop in diapers. That's disgusting! But you couldn't help it, you didn't have the muscle control to do anything differently. And you didn't have the training to understand that it was gross. Nobody holds it against you! And when people see you now, they'll just be impressed and have an idea of you as someone who "really turned out well" or "is really doing great". Unless you are stuck in a small town that clings to reputations, you can change who you are and people will roll with it.
posted by windykites at 7:38 AM on August 9, 2013 [4 favorites]

How can I show those who knew me then that I'm not the weird girl anymore?

Anxiety is the culprit here, not your past. This is approval seeking. Stop doing that. You are who you are now, that is all that matters. These people are from your past and there is no way for you to erase your past behaviors from their memories, they are intertwined (although your youthful indiscretions play a very minor role). So let go trying to undo it, you never will and you will become "the weird girl" again if approval seeking becomes your goal again.

That said, I have been known to say "good god I was an idiot back then!" when running into someone from my idiot years. Because I was! But that's not me anymore and mine is the only opinion about that that matters.
posted by headnsouth at 7:44 AM on August 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

Also, this is not a new problem; Ralph Waldo Emerson offers some advice:

Finish Each Day

Finish every day and be
done with it.
You have done what
you could.
Some blunders and
no doubt have crept in;
forget them as soon as
you can.

Tomorrow is a new
begin it well and
and with too high a
to be cumbered with
your old nonsense.

This day is all that is
good and fair.
It is too dear,
with its hopes and
to waste a moment on
posted by windykites at 7:51 AM on August 9, 2013 [36 favorites]

Your past always makes you who you are for better or for worse. All those decisions you made back then led you to who are right now. Think about that.

You would not be as "normal" as you currently are without those experiences whether they are good or bad. So revel in the adversity that you conquered and be glad for them, not unhappy. There are plenty of people that have lived a sheltered life and have never experienced bad decisions or lived under adversity. Many of those people will do stupid things as a result in their adult life or are shallow, not understanding other's problems.
posted by JJ86 at 7:53 AM on August 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

Tip: most of those people don't even want to think about that time in their lives, because you may have been too busy with yourself to notice but they were also doing stuff that makes them facepalm today. And they hope you don't remember it.

Spend some time focusing on letting it go, living in the present, and putting into perspective that all people will always have been more immature when they were younger. That's kind of the definition.

You have to leave this behind you. It happened, it cannot unhappen, and nothing you can do today - except NOT do those things again - will help.

If you can't let it go, you may need to spend some time in therapy getting some coaching on how to process it and leave it alone. You may also need to formally treat your anxiety for a while.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:56 AM on August 9, 2013

In the past I "burned bridges", cried too often and too easily, had a difficult time controlling my emotional responses, divulged intimate details of my life too freely, made weird romantic or otherwise intimate advances to too many people, was overly self-deprecating, said awkward things while intoxicated, closely associated with others who behaved inappropriately, and in general said and did things I regret having said and done.

Not to make light of how you are feeling, but this sounds like every person's younger experiences. Seriously. Certainly mine, and all of my friends', and pretty much exactly what I witnessed in basically everyone I knew in university. I know you feel that your experiences and behaviours were beyond the pale and how everyone you meet from your past must think "Oh my god, she was such a freak back then!" but in truth, most people probably only half remember you, they probably don't remember most of your big regrets and 'shameful' incidents. Because pretty much everyone was weird in one way or another when they were young, and because pretty much everyone knows that they have grown and changes since then, most people don't expect you to be exact the same. NOT having changed would be what makes you weird, not the weird stuff you did when you were youger.

Let me give you a personal example:
When I was in high school I:
- glued a kleenex to the ass of the guy I had a crush on
- was fixated on my boobs and used to sit in math class, staring down my own shirt at my clevage (no, not kidding)
- ACCIDENTLY stabbed a pencil in to the arm of the boy I had a crush on (same guy as the kleenex guy)
- never went to school dances and openly and loudly judged everyone who DID as being "sheep"
- wore a shit ton of blue mascara
- smelled back (I know I did, long story)
- made very obvious, mockery worthy flirtatious overtures towards a very obviously gay classmate (not the kleenex guy)
- obsessed loudly and scarily over Dawson's Creek, and told everyone about the slash fanfiction I wrote
- Excessively affectionate and clingy with my female friends to the point where they all got suuuuuper uncomfortable around me because they figured it was because I was gay and hitting on them.

When I was in university I:
- used to sit in the hallway, on the floor, by the bathroom, doing nothing, for no particular reason. People would be all "Um, what are you doing?" and I would be all "Nothing.". I think I was trying to seem forlorn and interesting or something. I just looked absolutely nuts.
- prided myself in my see through tops (and I was very overweight... it wasn't pretty)
- obsessed loudly and scarily over Harry Potter, and told everyone about the slash fanfiction I wrote
- went on an INSANE, loud, angry rampage when someone stole my little Harry Potter figured off of my door as a joke. I mean RAMPAGE. Banging on everyone's door, screaming profanities, etc.
- told people an unbelievable amount of very personal information, including graphic descriptions of my stomach disorder

I am now a well adjusted member of society, happy, about to get married, have a great career, a step mom to a great kid. When I meet people from my past they don't fixate on how weird I used to be because EVERYONE was weird back then. They frankly don't remember most of it. They just "catch up", learn who I am NOW, and then remember that.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 8:00 AM on August 9, 2013 [16 favorites]

One exception would be if you think you've actually hurt someone. It may be possible to apologize/make amends.

As far as I've been told, this is why they do apologies as part of AA. Because it gives voice to past mistakes and lets people move on from them. It's a symbol that the person accepts what they did, are sorry for it, and is now putting it behind them. (As far as I know...)
posted by nickrussell at 8:09 AM on August 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

One final point:
No one in their teenage years or early twenties knows who the fuck they are or what they fuck they are doing. Everyone is battling to overcome obstacles and issues, even the people who seemed to have it all figured out back then. Everyone is just making it up as they go, trying to just figure out how the freg they are supposed to fit in society. Because of that, pretty much everyone in their teenage years and early twenties does some pretty stupid stuff that they would never consider doing when they are even 5 or 10 years older. Those early years are one big pile of test drives of different versions of yourself, before you finally decide on the person you feel best being and then go with it. You seem happy with who you are, you seem to have a life you're happy with, so it is obvious to me that all your test drives were worth it. They helped you be very sure who you are and who you want to be. This is all good stuff.

If anyone you meet from your past only sees you as you were and not as you are now, that is nuts. Like windykites said, that is like judging someone because they wore poopy diapers when they were a baby.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 8:18 AM on August 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

Be kind to yourself. Think about how far you've come. People don't tend to think about you as much as you think they do, but if anything they're probably impressed with how you've gotten your shit together.

Your parents didn't fully set you up to succeed and in many ways set you up to fail. As a result it took you a long time to get to where you wanted to go. This isn't uncommon (I personally feel the same way about my parents). It's a reason to be kind, not just to yourself but to others.

You can't do anything about the past -- the best you can do is understand it. But you can't change it. Try to accept and love your past self. Focus on the present and the future, where you do have control over things and can shape outcomes. All of your experiences in life, good and bad, have turned you into the person you are today.

I think the hardest thing is being kind to yourself. You don't have to prove anything to anyone else, you don't have to show other people that you're not "weird" anymore -- it's really your own approval that you want. I'm not sure how to go about this -- how to tell that voice in your head to shut up, that you really are OK and worthy of love and kindness -- but that's what you need to do.
posted by leopard at 8:20 AM on August 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

'In the past I "burned bridges", cried too often and too easily, had a difficult time controlling my emotional responses, divulged intimate details of my life too freely, made weird romantic or otherwise intimate advances to too many people, was overly self-deprecating, said awkward things while intoxicated, closely associated with others who behaved inappropriately, and in general said and did things I regret having said and done.'

I'm afraid I didn't read all the responses, but where I'm from this is called 'being twenty.' I can't think of anyone in my social circle who didn't do similar things when you were young. You are human, and doing odd, embarrassing, over the top, weird, face-palming things is normal.
posted by nerdfish at 8:41 AM on August 9, 2013 [5 favorites]

You're always your own worst critic.

Your anxiety stems from fear that others remember all the stoopid things you did. Most people won't care/remember all the things you did in the past, or are not bothered by them.

Besides, the older you get, the further away from those memories you also get. Take it from me - I did some really dumb things in my youth that bothered me for most of my 20s. Now, closer to 40, I think, "Meh, who cares?"

Be the person you want to be NOW. Forget and let go of how you conducted yourself back then. Laugh about it, and disempower those memories. Know in your heart you are not that person any more.
posted by MeatheadBrokeMyChair at 8:48 AM on August 9, 2013

First, accept that you cannot change the past. It took me a little while, but I learned to embrace it rather than hide from it. I view it as "look how far I have come". I think the real tragedy here would be if you weren't able to look back and recognize that certain things you said or did are not what you would consider appropriate today.

Second, the old adage about not being able to choose your relatives is relevant here. You were taught to behave differently than you now believe is appropriate. You cannot help that. How about again appreciating that as you have aged, you have matured as well and now that you are able to make your own independent decisions and judgements, you are going things differently. If someone from the past cannot accept that, that is their problem not yours.

Third, actions speak louder than words. I would not try to convince anyone you meet from your past that you are different. I would show them through your current actions and how you comport yourself now.

I have news for you. 5, 10, 15 years from now you will be different than you are now. We are always growing, maturing and evolving. As long as you are comfortable with your intentions, how we are perceived is beyond our control. Worry about your character, not your reputation.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 8:52 AM on August 9, 2013

How can I show those who knew me then that I'm not the weird girl anymore?

At this point, if people even remember any of those things, it's going to be in terms of all those things we did when when were younger.
posted by yohko at 8:58 AM on August 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

OP, I completely understand where you are coming from, and I empathize with your predicament very much. It is such a tough place to be.

Like chicxulub, I still spend a lot of time almost every late night/early morning tossing and turning, ruminating and making myself sick over all the mistakes I've made. It makes my heart ache to contemplate how much damage I did while I was busy operating under the assumption that it was possible for a person to literally die of sadness and regret.
I still snark with friends who've known me for a long time that the younger version of me died of alcohol poisoning in the mid-aughts, because I was a seriously devoted hellraiser pretty much right up until the point at which I woke up having just turned 27, and I did not recognize the person looking back at me in the mirror.

No amount of other people trying to convince me that what I did when I was younger had been totally normal could ever disabuse me of the notion that my behavior was shameful and wrong. I won't try to do that here because I know that it has the capacity to make you feel even worse, like your actions were uniquely awful, or that your inability to eliminate your feelings of guilt is itself worthy of shame. (The entity responsible for my "NO! you just don't UNDERSTAND!"-esque reactions to their kind and generous attempts is the thirteen-year-old goth girl who lives in my head.)
So instead of stubbornly attempting to eliminate your shame outright, or convince yourself that it wasn't as bad as you've made it out to be, I would recommend working toward simply accepting your history as it is specifically because it helped make you into the valued partner and wonderful person that you are today. You don't have to celebrate it, but you can be grateful for its value as a learning experience, albeit a difficult and painful one.

When I was struggling with questions like yours, I had the good fortune of stumbling upon Tara Brach's Radical Acceptance. In very gentle and simple language, it really taught me to meet myself where I am rather than running full-speed toward some vague, poorly defined goalpost of perceived adulthood that would do nothing but move elsewhere if I ever managed to reach it. I still keep the book on my bedside table to help dissolve those pesky bouts of 3 AM existential ennui, and will forever remain devoted to buying a copy for anyone who is similarly plagued with self-castigation, rumination, and doubt.

Above all: Meditate! Please, please meditate. Or at least give it a shot. Learning how to do so is a non-stop comedy of errors, but the most important part is that you will learn how to let go of thoughts like so many ascendant balloons, rather than drilling down into them in order to surround yourself with mourning, shame, and regret. Letting go is key. It will help you in so many aspects of daily life, and you will find your distress start to naturally retreat the longer you embrace the habit.

Finally, these previous AskMe queries might help you feel a bit better in the interim:
+ How to deal with memories of long past embarrassments?
+ Help me deal with negative patterns of thinking
+ How can I stop dwelling on the past and live in the present instead?
+ How can I deal with my acute feelings of shame?

Good luck, you can do this!
posted by divined by radio at 9:38 AM on August 9, 2013 [6 favorites]

If it helps at all, my teens and early 20s were a clusterfuck of amazing proportions. Not only was I awkward and socially inappropriate, but I was in a relationship with an abusive older man, delayed maturing for many years, had no career path, and depressed all the time. I was WAY worse than you because not only did I do the normal crazy stuff, I did way more crazy stuff on top of that.

It took me years to dig out to where I am now. Really, it could be way worse. Maybe that will help you realize that normal-range awkwardness and craziness is not so bad. Once you get to a better place, try to let it go. (I know it's hard.)
posted by 3491again at 10:02 AM on August 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

I don't have much to say that hasn't already been said, but I just wanted to emphasize that you are so not alone in feeling this way - it's completely normal! I think some of us do it do a greater extent than others, but that's OK - it just means you have to work a little harder to let go.

I got too drunk and had a horrible night a few months back - really made a fool of myself. I felt physically sick about it for days, and continued ruminating about what an idiot I was for weeks. Now, on one level, this anxiety was a good thing - it was a slap in the face for me that I needed to really be aware of how much and how quickly I was drinking and forced me to realize that I was developing a really unhealthy habit of trying to cope with uncomfortable feelings/situations with alcohol. No bueno. But since then, I've successfully cut back on the drinking, mainly by just being more aware. It's made me realize that after two drinks in 1-2 hours I'm fairly buzzed - before this I was easily consuming 2-3 times this and thinking I could handle it. So - positive life change.

But I also continued to stress about what a fool I was and worried that my friends thought less of me. I became convinced that every time someone couldn't hang out with me it was because they were avoiding me because I had acted like a drunken idiot one night. This was literally still bugging me up until two weeks ago - I kept trying to make plans with a close friend and they had other plans for the next 4 weekends. I broke down in tears and was 100% convinced that this person was avoiding me because of said incident. I called my boyfriend, asked if I could vent for a minute, and told him my thoughts/feelings. He was incredulous - he could not grasp how on earth I was getting to that conclusion. He said point blank "you are being really irrational right now, your thoughts have no basis in reality, and it's really unhealthy that you're doing this to yourself." I knew that he was right, but remained indignant. We had barely changed topics when I get a text message on my phone from my friend

"hey, sorry I was short earlier - I was running out the door. I'll give you a call tomorrow, I'd really like to figure out a way to hang out sooner than later."

Yesterday I found out that same friend has been having such a terrible summer he's decided to pack up his things and move to the other side of the country for awhile to re-center himself. I was so busy thinking about my own problems that I didn't even stop to consider that someone else might be going through their own shit.

So, the moral of the story (besides don't get drunk if you are a bad drunk!) is that you have no idea what is actually going on in anyone else's head except your own. Everyone is fighting their own battles. Looking back, I can think of at least one or two examples where all of my friends had a particularly bad/embarrassing night. And not only did I not give them much thought after the fact or change the way I looked at that person at all, they were stories that were funny and endearing to me in hindsight. We're all human, and we all fuck up. Learn from it, if there is anything to learn, and move on.

Now, if I understand you correctly you are talking about an extended period of time that you regret - but honestly I think the same rules apply. No one is the same person they were three years ago or even a year ago. We change, we grow, we adapt. Sometimes this means that friends you were once close with drift away - but again, that's a totally normal, albeit painful, part of growing up.

I read a quote the other day that really resonated with me:
"Insecurity comes from comparing your behind the scenes to everyone else's highlight reel."

I bet the majority of people who you worry think that you are "weird" are much busier thinking about their own lives or something they regret from their past than how "weird" you used to be.

Let it go, learn to love yourself, and others will too.
posted by Bokonon11 at 10:55 AM on August 9, 2013 [4 favorites]

In the past I "burned bridges", cried too often and too easily, had a difficult time controlling my emotional responses, divulged intimate details of my life too freely, made weird romantic or otherwise intimate advances to too many people, was overly self-deprecating, said awkward things while intoxicated, closely associated with others who behaved inappropriately, and in general said and did things I regret having said and done.

Oh, my god, I just want to give you a giant hug and tell you to forgive yourself because where I'm from, this is called being young, and not only did I do all of this, but so did all of my friends. I'm still friends with some of those people now, and I certainly don't judge them for things they did in high school. I have a feeling that based on your experiences, you wouldn't judge someone because of their behavior in high school/college and would have only the most generous interpretation of their actions back then. While you've grown older and gained perspective on your own and others' behavior, so have your former classmates. If someone reacts negatively to you because of your high-school self, they're the ones who've failed to mature and you shouldn't really care about what they may think.
posted by pineappleheart at 11:01 AM on August 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

> "Insecurity comes from comparing your behind the scenes to everyone else's highlight reel."

This quote is so spot-on, I love it. Thanks for sharing..
posted by Falwless at 11:17 AM on August 9, 2013

Response by poster: I was a weird kid. A REALLY weird kid. I probably still am, though I've achieved a level of social acceptability and have enough social skills to realize how terrible mine used to be.

I used to sit around wincing about who I was. Now I just have to laugh. That was me, back then, I was sheltered and had no clue what I was doing. But I've improved through the years and have become a completely different person. My old weirdness isn't proof I suck, it's proof that I've worked hard to come a long way to get to where I am now. I'm at the point where I am OK bringing up things like the Jedi costume I wore in my senior high school photos, because people's reactions make it pretty clear that they would not have ever expected that from me.

So learn to look back on the quirkiness and laugh. Be confident that if you were to meet any of the people from your past they'd realize within ten minutes how much you've changed.
posted by Anonymous at 5:18 PM on August 9, 2013

I have a friend "Joe" who is incredibly confident. One of the hallmarks of his confidence is that he will completely own actions that are usually considered embarrassing, but he won't be embarrassed. Once he went through a period of not showering enough. Our common friend "Mary" finally confronted him and said, "If you want to ride in my car in the future, you need to take more showers." Rather than become embarrassed, he said, "Cool, thanks for letting me know."

Another time, several people thought he had over-stated his recent luck with women, and gently laughed at him, "Oh, your long string of hot dates was all with the same person?" He just thought for a second and then said, "Yeah, it was." Then it didn't seem embarrassing any more. (Incidentally, it turned out that there was a miscommunication, and in fact he did have a long string of hot dates with different people.)

I often try to channel him when I remember actions I did that embarrass me. My immediate fear is that someone else will laugh at me. But then I remind myself that even if they do, I could just shrug it off. Even if they say, "Remember when you made a weird romantic overture to that guy?" or "It was weird when you burned that bridge unnecessarily!", I could just shrug and say, "Yeah, that's what I did."
posted by cheesecake at 6:58 PM on August 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

I used to be able to remember embarrassing or wrong things I did very vividly, having almost the same reaction as I'd had when they happened--as a grown-up, I could still flush and feel anxious over a mistake I made when I was 10 years old.

How I got over it was that whenever one of these things came to mind, I would repeat to myself, "I forgive myself, and I accept the forgiveness of others," three or four times. Coupled with this, when new things happened that were potentially embarrassing, I would not let myself ruminate on them, but would also repeat this and then shift to thinking about something else, so that they couldn't get embedded in my memories.
posted by not that girl at 7:31 PM on August 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

I think that this is both a universal phenomenon (at least for those who manage to develop some reflection during "those" years), and something that can be more productively reflected upon with some humor.
posted by Benjy at 8:24 AM on August 10, 2013

I own my ridiculous high school/early college behaviors, including those others may comment on in a "you were a trainwreck!" sort of way, which does happen. Because do you know what memories people who did not at times do asinine things have? I have to assume bland, bland memories of being appropriate and restrained. There is far more art in a messy, flawed life, think carefully before you wish yours away - especially if you've managed to survive it and it is no longer causing chaos.

But about those people and memories you run into.

The person you were then was acting out of insecurity and inexperience. Decide to be confident now rather than regressing, you won't need to explain anything to anyone. When you run into people from your past, decide to be warm and open and unselfconscious (even if you're faking it a little at the start): "Hey, how are you? Long time! Life's great, what are you up to? Wow, that sounds interesting. Really good to run into you." Anyone in their late twenties who cares much at all about what you were doing in your early twenties.... isn't doing so well in their late twenties.
posted by skermunkil at 4:51 PM on September 9, 2013

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