What would you tell your younger self if you could have a conversation with them today? It turns out, we all ponder this question quite a lot, and a recent study shows, most adults consider what they’d say at least once a week. But have you ever wondered what your psychologist would tell your younger self? Likely, the advice would be a little different. After all, they know a lot about you, what you struggle with today, and how you could have saved yourself a lot of heartache with a few different choices and a bit more knowledge, if you’d had it then. Here are the 7 things your psychologist would tell your younger self…
1. You’re not the only one
Something we all struggle with, most especially when we’re in those formative years, is being the ‘only one’ who’s going through something. We feel isolated and alone in our teenage years, and frankly, it’s all part of the experience of growing up. But if we’d had the kind of knowledge our psychologists wish we’d had, we would have grown up knowing that all those niggling doubts and worries were totally normal, and that most of our peers were experiencing the same thing. It would have meant speaking up more about what we were having trouble with, and sharing more with our friends, family, teachers, and peers. The result? Feeling less isolated and learning at an early age that it’s completely normal to go through what you were going through.
2. Stop trying to grow up so fast
How often do you hear someone say, “Things were so simple back then”? Reminiscing about the past and our younger years is something many of us do, and it’s because we realise that in our haste to grow up and gain our independence, we missed the joys of being young and (relatively, though we didn’t know it then) carefree. Before the days of working full-time, raising kids, paying bills, and all the responsibilities of adulthood, our younger years were seemingly idyllic. If your psychologist could have a conversation with your younger self now, they’d tell you to stop wishing your younger years away and enjoy the ride.
3. Stop and smell the roses
The recent study by psychologist Robyn Kowalski suggests that this is a very common thought for most of us, herself included. She describes herself as being so ‘laser-focused on school’ as a teenager that she wishes she could have told her younger self to ‘lighten up a bit and enjoy life more.’
“I would have stopped to smell the roses, and that’s a message I shared with my own children,” the Clemson University professor told TODAY.
4. Your trauma needs addressing – the sooner the better
One of the main reasons people seek out a psychologist is to deal with the trauma that was never addressed at the time it happened. For many of us, that was in our younger years as children, teens, or young adults. Along with feeling alone in our issues, young people who experience trauma are likely to feel shame around the traumatic event. This is something that manifests itself over time, leading to a whole range of problems in later life; from depression and anxiety, to phobias, disordered eating, PTSD, low self-esteem, trouble relating to other people, difficulty in maintaining healthy relationships, and many potential dysfunctional habits and behaviours. If your psychologist could have a chat with your younger self today, they’d tell you to seek out help and deal with your trauma as soon as possible – because carrying that trauma and shame around is going to hold you back for years – and it doesn’t need to.
5. You are more powerful than you think
If there’s one thing any psychologist could impart to all their clients, it would be that YOU have the power to change your life. In fact, counselling and psychology are aimed at giving you the tools and the knowledge to make the changes you need in your life, and not on solving your issues for you. Your therapist would love for your younger self to know that it is you who holds the key to your own success and happiness, no matter what life throws at you. So, they’d tell your younger self, that you needn’t feel so helpless, you should stop searching for validation in all the wrong places, and start believing in your own innate ability to create the life you want to lead.
6. Don’t wait until things are dire to get help
As someone who has a great deal of insight into your struggles and challenges now, your psychologist can see just how much you needed to seek out help years ago. But, like many people, you didn’t think your concerns were ‘serious enough’ to see a psychologist or a counsellor. If there’s a piece of advice they could give to your younger self about therapy, it’s that it’s never too soon to reach out for help. In fact, the sooner you do, the sooner you can begin to heal from wounds of the past and get back control over your life. The sooner you seek out help, the sooner the brave, powerful, and happy version of yourself emerges.
7. Look back at your younger self with compassion
While some of the advice the study participants would give to their younger selves related to things they couldn’t change (like ‘don’t have kids so early’ or ‘don’t put off your studies’), quite a lot of it was still relevant today.
“That fascinated me,” said Kowalski. “Following the advice takes effort…(but) if people could take the advice that they had to offer, I think it would really make a difference.”
The important thing is to be kind to your younger self and look back on them with compassion. After all, you did the best at the time with the tools that you had. In fact, experts say that the happiest adults are those who use compassion when thinking about their past selves and use any regret to motivate future change.
What advice would you give your younger self? And what do you think your psychologist would say? In your next appointment, you might like to use this as a thought experiment and uncover just what advice both you and your therapist would have for Younger You. Importantly, how could this advice be used to make changes in your life today?