Mental Health · Personal · Recovery

Advice to My Teenage Self

My advice to my teenage self is this:
It’s okay to have regrets. Just don’t let them eat you whole.

“‘No regrets’ doesn’t mean living with courage, it means living without reflection. To live without regret is to believe you have nothing to learn, no amends to make, and no opportunity to be braver with your life… I believe that what we regret most are our failures of courage, whether it’s the courage to be kinder, to show up, to say how we feel, to set boundaries, to be good to ourselves. For that reason, regret can be the birthplace of empathy.”

– Brené Brown, Rising Strong (emphasis mine)

Let’s start from the beginning – from the dirt, we will grow.

My regrets almost exclusively involve boundaries. Boundaries that I didn’t set that caused me to hurt others and to allow others who I now know were not worth trusting to enter into the deepest parts of my soul and break me down instead of build me up.

I have reflected for a good many years about how others have treated me, the abuse that I now know was inflicted in some of my closest and most important relationships when I was a teenager, a few in my early twenties as well. It took me almost 3 years to label it as such, but it dawned on me and began softening my heart to my past and the suffering that I had endured. It made more sense. It validated it. It made me realize my own resilience and to learn about whom I would deem worth trusting and opening up to from there forward. It made me a better friend and person, for I knew what evil words could perpetrate.

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This is a loss line that I made in my training period for a grief organization where I will co-facilitate grief processing groups for children. Many of the losses have to do with a loss of faith in others because of what I experienced as a teenager and a young adult.
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Kintsukuroi (金繕い, きんつくろい, “golden repair”) is the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with gold. The philosophy is that cracks, rather than destroying a piece of art, actually make it more beautiful. A day after making the loss line, we were asked to create for ourselves a Kintsukuroi plate that reflected where we were stronger at the broken edges that our losses had brought.

However, it’s been just recently that I started realizing that it’s not just others who are the cracks that fill with gold in my soul as I heal: I’m also the cracks in others’ plates. I don’t know how many, and I don’t know how wide and deep they go. I hope I never snapped anyone in half, but I’m not guiltless, either. I’ve hurt people who mattered to me, sometimes accidentally and sometimes purposefully. Sometimes we were able to build a bridge to forgiveness. Sometimes we weren’t, whether out of stubbornness or utter destruction that could not be moved on from, despite my pleas and hopes to put the matters behind us.

When I was a teenager, being hurt left and right (sometimes accidentally and sometimes purposefully, too – this is another important distinction I’ve made when trying to understand others and myself) and not receiving compassion from the people I desired it most, I hurt them so that they could understand my hurt. Compassion literally means “to suffer with,” so if they didn’t give me empathy, I made them feel my pain. It wasn’t out of a purely evil impulse; I didn’t have enough coping skills. I didn’t know when to walk away from abuse. I didn’t know how to soothe myself in situations that weren’t abuse, but still hurt nonetheless. I didn’t know. Sometimes I did, but mostly I didn’t.

Photo of running legs on a path in the grass by Arek Adeoye on Unsplash.

After realizing I was the cracks in others’ plates, I’m able to claim for myself the word regret. I had run from my past, saying I wanted to live without regrets, but as Brené Brown writes, it’s an exercise in futility and smallness to not long to be better than your past self through examining the mistakes you’ve made and not trying to explain them away. We have to be willing to look at our darkest parts, not just others’. We have to acknowledge that we could and should have done better, that we should have taken a different fork in the road if the road we went down involved hurt or hurting someone else.


Image description: A female underwater who is swimming to the surface of the ocean.


I am beginning to acknowledge it. But I also have to allow it to propel me forward rather than get me stuck in old mud once again. I am learning how to do that.

My dear teenage self, walk away from those who hurt you, and refuse to hurt others in response. My dear present self, forgive yourself for not having known that. Forgive yourself for what you now regret, and move forward with courage and hope.

You are moving on from a simple “well, I learned” response to your past. Yes, you learned, but yes, you wish things had been different. However, you can’t undo them, and you don’t believe you entirely would if you could. You would change certain interactions, yes, but you are who you are because of your cracks.

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This is a doodle I drew in a notebook when I was in college. Little did I know that regret could both be the cage and a part of the bird’s flight.






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