Okay. Yeah. I know. I thought I was done with the whole now-I’m-turning-forty articles too…but apparently not!
Because I’ve discovered a problem with the otherwise happy and positive middle-aged thing. I call it “Hindsight is Twenty-Twenty Really Sucks.”
I guess before this, I didn’t have enough time under my belt to have much hindsight. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m loving the wisdom that age brings and look forward to (hopefully) not repeating the mistakes of my youth. But I don’t see how the inside-gnawing regret and mental self-flagellation of “hindsight is twenty-twenty” is particularly constructive.
Behind my regret, is a kind-of retroactive self-disrespect. Retroactive low self-esteem. An eyeroll at my self of yore and the exclamation, “What was I thinking back then!?!”. The old Lenora of my imagination is a driveling idiot, oblivious and clueless, blundering through life, failing at pretty much everything.
But that’s not fair! Given the knowledge at our disposal in the past, we made the best possible decisions. I know I did and I’m sure you did too.
We need to cut ourselves a break. After all, this isn’t law. “Ignorance of narcissism is not excuse” does not apply here. (And I meant every word of that double negative! 😉 )
Ignorance is a jolly good “excuse” indeed! As I wrote in Have You Forgiven Yourself for Staying With Your Narcissist So Long?…
For many years I’ve said,
“You can only live as far as you can think.”
We couldn’t know about narcissism before we,
well, knew about narcissism.
There’s no Tardis to whisk us forward in time
so we can prematurely learn about narcissism
(and memorize the winning lottery numbers), more’s the pity!
It’s dirty pool to mentally flagellate our past selves for choices we made not knowing what we now know. Things like “Our nearest and dearest are narcissists.” What we chose to do and whom we chose to love we did cognitively, thoughtfully and with the best possible intentions based on the available information which did not include, “Hey, they’re narcissists!”
So let’s stop mentally beating ourselves up.
Truth is, without the knowledge of normalcy and narcissism, had I my life to live over, I’d probably lived it much the same way.
But I still have regrets not so much about what I did…but about what I didn’t do.
We always assume that everything will always be as it is now. Then life happens and you look back and think, “What the heck was I thinking!? I wasted so many opportunities.”
For me, I regret the restaurants didn’t try, the seafood I didn’t cook, the Asian ingredients I never bought. The Renaissance Festival my narcissists wouldn’t let me attend.
All these things are more difficult and more expensive to find where I live now. But you see, I never expected to leave the Twin Cities! Highsight being twenty-twenty, there were so many places I didn’t go, so many events I didn’t attend, so man restaurants I didn’t sample. Those opportunities probably won’t come again.
But those regrets aren’t constructive either unless they spur me on to enjoy the here and now to its maximum potential!
Please tell me you’re not like me. For some unbeknownst reason, I picture the old me as a complete idiot. Not just an idiot. A driveling idiot. Completely unaware of what was going on.
But that’s not fair.
Just because I don’t remember everything that happened twenty years ago, doesn’t mean I didn’t have my finger on the pulse. For all intents and purposes, I understood more of the dynamics at play than my narcissists.
This is when I like to go back and read old emails I sent and reminisce. In my old emails, I find the same person I am now, just a little more sunny, a little more head-in-the-clouds and 100% cult brainwashed.
But I’m basically the same person I was at 18 and at 39 (pictured above). My logic is the same. My thought processes are the same. My morals are the same. I just know more now.
“Youth,” it has been said, “is wasted on the young.” My dad said it. It’s a Wonderful Life said it. I s’pose most parents have said it at one time or another.
Watching my step-daughters reconnoiter their young adulthoods brings it all back in stark focus. It’s not easy. Starting out your adult life, you just don’t have enough time under your belt to have perspective. You don’t have enough life experience to notice patterns in people’s behaviors. At their age, I wanted to believe the best of everyone. I wanted this to be, in the words of my cousin Emily, “a lovely world.”
Y’know, it can be if 1) you’re really blessed and 2) you’re really careful. To be careful, you have to reply on the wisdom of your elders. But that’s hard because they just seem so negative, untrusting and jaded.
“Life,” my father used to quote, “is what happens when you’re making alternative plans.”
That’s true, isn’t it! Think back. The job you took, the person you married, the house you bought affected everything. Sometimes other people made our choices for us but it’s affected the rest of our lives.
The hindsight twenty-twenty thing is a mixed blessing. It’s a great Teacher and guide for the future. But I don’t like the “kick myself in the ass” part of it. That’s just not constructive. Not fair either.
That’s really the only thing I don’t like about (almost!) turning forty.