Imagine meeting an old group of friends or classmates. One person constantly belittled and even bullied others while growing up. Now, she listens well and even apologized for past actions. Another person, on the other hand, was shy and insecure. He still struggles to speak and usually complains about himself when he does speak.
Situations like this happen to me all of the time although not always in the same day. I meet people from the past who have changed tremendously while others are nearly identical. The questions arise, “Do people change? Can someone move on from the past? Are some people able to forget who they were?”
Well, the first question seems fairly simple. People do indeed change or at least grow. Some grow quickly while others take longer to blossom. Sadly, some people seem to shrink backwards instead. However, even that can lead to future growth.
Your growth will be different than mine. Maybe you can quickly understand how to relate to others and fit into a new job which leads you to rapid growth in a new place. Meanwhile, I might be ready to give up and struggle for months before I finally feel at ease. However, my slow growth should not be forgotten or downplayed. Each time I travel alone to a new place despite hyperventilating before leaving the apartment or say what I need instead of lying to make someone else happy, that is growth. Did you do that your first week? That’s great! Honestly, that’s wonderful for you. If it takes you longer too, I understand that. Maybe I grow quickly in other ways that you struggle. That’s simply the way people work; we all grow at different rates and in different ways. It’s both beautiful and confusing.
The second question is a bit more complicated. Nearly everyone will say that one can move on from the past. However, if you pry, many people are holding onto something from the past. There is one grudge, one frightening memory, one defining moment. That moment might not even be bad. Perhaps you were popular in school, and now you have a greater sense of confidence. Maybe you have a horrible experience that teaches you strength as you get through the pain. Perhaps a terrible memory keeps creeping back into your life, and you feel stuck in its trap.
Can people move on from these memories and situations in the past? Yes, I think they can. However, that does not negate that certain things happened. Nor does it mean you completely forget them or erase them from the past which moves into the third question.
Can you forget who you used to be in order to be someone totally different? Maybe you disagree, but I don’t think you can totally. Who you were defines part of who you are whether you like it or not. I am not the same awkward teenager that I was. She, however, will always be part of me. So will the little girl who felt terrified and ugly but also loved and enthusiastic about life. Everything I have done adds a bit to me. It can change with my growth but not erased. I am me. I was always me, no matter my age. There are moments that I wish weren’t part of my history, but they certainly still added to my life now. This can be negative such as poor body image and fear of speaking to others. However, there are good things too. I became less judgmental especially of looks with different situations I went through as well as my eating disorder. Even my traumatic experiences made me stronger. I would not wish them on anyone else or want them in my life, but I appreciate what I did learn from them.
So, can you escape the past? I certainly haven’t, but perhaps I just haven’t a good to do that. However, even if there were a way to escape and erase my past, I don’t think I would want that. Part of the richness of life is knowing who I was and who I am now. Linking those two, seeing the similarities, noticing the differences – that helps me to see true growth and hope.