Could you benefit from writing a letter to your younger self?
Victoria Beckham got me thinking recently. The pop star turned fashion designer wrote a letter to her younger self
I can still remember pulling on my sneakers in high school and feeling embarrassed.
The entire class had branded shoes but mine were the budget alternative. At the time I thought my parents were ruining my life with their refusal to buy me the same as all my schoolmates.
I felt similar resentment when my mum and dad forbid me from shaving. I was certain I was the only 13 year old in the world who had to contend with hairy legs just because their parents didn’t think they were old enough to start de-fuzzing. Likewise when they used to restrict my telephone usage and hurry me to bed on time, I remember wondering if they were on a serious mission to make me stand out from the crowd in the worst possible way. These really were the burning issues that plagued my life as a teenager.
Maybe as a single child, not having an older sibling to tell me not to sweat this kind of stuff, I struggled more. Who knows.
But Victoria Beckham got me thinking recently. The pop star turned fashion designer wrote a letter to her younger self. Published in British Vogue it mentions everything from being bullied to experimenting with fashion. She told her 18-year-old self to wear less make-up and ‘celebrate what you’ve got’ when it came to her body.
I love the idea of sitting down and penning a letter to my teenage self and really think the process of addressing those teenage problems would be useful.
It’s certainly something that US-based Clinical Psychologist Dr Beck thinks could be beneficial.
She says: “As we develop we naturally integrate information from life events and our relationships into the story of our lives - the narratives we tell ourselves and the beliefs we form. Being a teenager isn’t easy. We're required to navigate a minefield of personal, social, and educational tasks which seem to get ever more complex.
“It's a stressful time for our personal development. We are forming our identity and starting to find our way in the world as an autonomous adult. Unsurprisingly, some of the beliefs we can form and actions we can take during these years can seem to have a negative tinge.
“Looking back in retrospect, our errors may seem obvious. It is tempting to laugh at or criticise ourselves for ever thinking or behaving the way we did. However we rarely take the time to update our thinking by actually listening to our younger self. It's not untypical to have the experience of feeling unhappy and alone as a young person. Communicating with our younger selves through writing gives us the opportunity to have that struggle acknowledged - often for the first time - and for you as an adult to offer the support and wisdom you've gained over the years. It can be incredibly validating to be the adult that tells you what you needed to hear, as well as an affirmation of who we are now.
Dr Beck says for some the exercise of writing a letter can bring about a sense of closure and self-compassion. Be aware of your boundaries if this is the case.
She adds: “For certain people, particularly those who have had very challenging early experiences, or who find it hard to be compassionate to themselves, this exercise may feel too overwhelming. Stick to your own limits if this is the case and consider seeking support if you need it.”
And when it comes to her own advice to her younger self?
“Do not be bothered if other people don't get you, the right people will. Don't compare yourself to others, it fosters negative emotions; we all have our own strengths and weaknesses. Accept yourself - you are good enough. Focus outside of yourself; do things for others. Allow yourself to let go once in a while. Life is too short not to.”
While Victoria’s letter touches on some serious topics, much of it is light hearted.
I asked a few people what they would tell their younger selves and, like Victoria’s, the advice was both serious and amusing.
Mahbub Ali says: “Accept your sensitivity and prepare yourself for an at times, cruel and unjust world. Prepare yourself for people leaving your life but cherish the people who are still in it. Prepare yourself for confusion and doubt, heartbreak and loving someone you have to let go of. Don't smoke- you'd have saved a lot. Most of all be proud of who you are and never aim to be anything than yourself. Also- that time in 1997 you shaved everything down below - give that a miss.”
Nina Barker’s advice would be to heed warnings! “I would tell my younger self to listen to my mum when she says credit cards are evil,” she says. “It's not free money, you have to pay it back!”
And finally, while advising the younger you, consider if what you’re saying could still prove useful today. Saudi-based Mishaal’s guidance to her younger self certainly is.
She says: “Don't pluck your eyebrows - they take years to grow back – thread them instead, don't stay late at the office - no one thanks you unless it's your own business, ask for ridiculous pay rises - you might just get them, stay out until 6am more and don't ever accidentally glance in a mirror when crying - you really do look horrific and do not need to see it. Most importantly though, anything you think you should have done or learnt when you were younger, do it now. You're your younger self right now compared to who you will be in 20 years’ time.”
What would your advice be?