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The 5 Stages of Grieving Your Past Self -- so You Can Move Forward
Man grieving crying
Emotional Health

The 5 Stages of Grieving Your Past Self -- so You Can Move Forward

When you go through a big change, you can feel like a new person, but grieving your past self is a big part of moving forward.

What did you want to be when you grew up?

I wanted to be an archaeologist. From the time I was very little I was determined. I was going to be an archaeologist for sure. There was no other option.

And then I grew up. And I am not an archaeologist.

Don't get me wrong, my life is great-- even though I am not in Greece excavating pottery shards. But when I first realized that dream was not going to become a reality, I was sad. For many reasons, but mostly because when I realized that I was not going to be an archaeologist was the day I dropped out of college.

Never in my wildest dreams did I think I wouldn't finish school. To say it was a blow is an understatement.

It was incredibly painful, but I had become a mom and I needed to provide for my kids above anything. In order to avoid feeling my sadness I pushed on to the next thing.

I found a new career and focused on that. And each time I changed companies or got a promotion or started a new endeavor, I kept up with this process: abandoning the past version of myself in order to establish a new one.

So how did I do it?

I abandoned my past self to move forward

Moving from version to version of ourselves is a common practice. When we move forward on to something that is good, why would we want to feel anything other than positivity towards it?

On top of that, everyone in our life wants to talk about how awesome the change is so it is only natural to want to dedicate yourself to that positive attitude as well.

And there are other times that we do this also, specifically after we have gone through any sort of trauma or major life change. Things like an abusive relationship, a house fire, even having a baby or getting married.

Because we are moving into a new stage of life we want to focus on the positives of it more than anything else. We try to push past the things we are giving up or that are being taken from us to create a new version of ourselves. This new version has new things and wants new dreams.

I began to lose myself

Yes, this process is fine if you need a life raft for a moment but unfortunately, is not very effective when it comes to actually resolving and healing our past. And, it also limits your ability to honor your future.

What I began to notice was, with every life change and every decision, every time I abandoned a version of myself to make a better one or to move on as fast as possible, I was actually just ignoring my needs.

It was a way of avoiding any feelings that were dense or hard to feel in favor of focusing on the positive ones that were easier to process.

Which is not positive after all.

The side-effects of ignoring grief

I started struggling emotionally because I had never taken the time to honor the past versions of myself that I had simply been leaving behind.

I had never grieved for the dreams I had given up or goals I would never reach or the communities I had lost. I realized that if I was going to truly learn how to be in alignment with myself I needed to honor who I used to be.

Grief is not typically viewed in a positive light

In fact, even the word grief conjures up images of wearing all black and death. But grief is an incredibly healthy process and something that we should all be intimately comfortable with.

First, let me say this, everyone grieves in different ways so if you want to start honoring your past by grieving the selves you used to be, you may already know how to do that based on your personal brand of grieving. But, if you are reading this thinking how the heck do I even start grieving myself, there are a few quick ways to get the process started.

The 5 stages of grieving yourself


The typical model that people use to think about grief is the Kubler-Ross model, which outlines five stages of grief.

These stages are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, then acceptance -- a cycle of grief. And, if you think back on a time when you went through a big life change you may have experienced some iteration of these stages, though, at the time, you may not have be conscious of why.

If you go through a big change where you are stepping into a new version of yourself, this model can be very helpful to you.

Take the time to honor the feelings that are coming up for you by journaling or talking with a friend, or even just simply crying. Allow yourself to experience what you are going through even if you don't think you should be feeling what you are.

Your feelings are valid, and honoring them will help you to move forward

Yes, even the positive changes are a cause for grief. And that is perfectly okay.

However, if you haven't ever taken the time to grieve the past versions of yourself and now it is years later, and, like me, you are experiencing things like anxiety, it may be hard to work through the Kubler-Ross model because you aren't in the heart of the incident that is causing the grief.

You can still take the time to honor the person (or people) you used to be.

Embrace your grief

A good place to start is by forgiving yourself. Often we hold ourselves brutally accountable for pain that we have caused ourselves. But nothing good comes from continuing to harbor grudges towards our past.

Take time every day to look yourself in the eyes-- in the mirror, of course, and forgive yourself for something.

Literally say, "I forgive you for [blank]" to the mirror

In this way your past selves can start to come forward and be heard.

Then, just simply recall those people you used to be and thank them, Journal to them or just imagine yourself as you were then and talk to you in your mind. Allow yourself to feel the things that aren't always the most comfortable. Because you deserve to be able to truly move forward into the positive future.

My grieving gave me clarity

Once I started getting comfortable with my own grief so many blocks that I didn't even know I had began to clear. I stopped having so much anxiety because I stopped being so absorbed in the guilt I felt I owed myself. I was able to think more clearly and feel in a way that was authentically me.

I stopped focusing on how I should feel and felt comfortable with actual feelings

Remember: grieving is not a bad thing-- and neither are sadness, or anger, or any of the denser emotions. In fact, allowing yourself to feel those emotions in a healthy way is the best way to come home to yourself. Now you're ready be all that you are and become all that you will be.

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