Welcome to !Hola Papi!, the advice column where John Paul Brammer helps people work through their anxieties, fears, and life's queerest questions. If you need advice, send him a question at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the past two years, I've really worked on making myself a better person. I have been going to therapy. I actively communicate with the people in my life to see what I can improve on about myself and our relationship.
That's all fine and well... but what do I do about the people I hurt before I started working on myself? I was in three toxic relationships, in which I was untreated and unmedicated and did some messed up stuff. All three of those people don't speak to me anymore, and have expressed to friends of friends that they hate me. I've reached out to my exes to apologize, as well as to see if there was anything I could do to repair the damage I've done. Those three people didn't respond to me, which they have every right to do, but it bums me out. How do I handle people hating the person I used to be, when I'm such a different person now? What do I do with the guilt I feel over having been a bad person?
The Bad Guy
Hey there, BG!
First of all, I'm so glad you're getting help and working on yourself. That's a massive step, and it's difficult to take. It sounds like you've got a healthier, happier future ahead of you. Hold on to that, because it's time for some bitter medicine.
I don't know what your relationships were like, nor do I know what specifically happened. I feel for you about being unmedicated and untreated back then. I've had turbulent periods of my life like that, too. But ultimately, people are entitled to their feelings about you.
That's not to say those feelings are always fair, that they're accurate portrayals of who we are, or that they have to define us. But you have no control over those feelings, and by your own admission you did some things to make them think of you this way.
If you've truly taken responsibility for your actions and done everything you can to make it right, then you've done your part. The rest is out of your hands. I would advise staying away from the people you mentioned and giving them the space they need. It sucks that they're telling friends of friends that they hate you, but those friends of friends will ultimately make up their own minds. I think what you need right now has nothing to do with what other people think of you and everything to do with forgiving yourself.
Look, BG, I understand. I really, really hate the feeling of being disliked. It makes me sick to my stomach to think that someone out there hates me, to know that someone holds a version of me in their mind wherein I'm a bad person, a selfish person, a person I want nothing to do with. It scares me: What if they're right? What if I am a bad person?
But the reality is, everyone we interact with ends up with a personal construct of who we are, even if it isn't a positive one. It's impossible to know all the contours of another person's true self. We don't even know ourselves that well. The best we can muster are projections, and those are fraught with biases, half-truths, and assumptions. Defining yourself that way is a dangerous game.
So I'm not asking anyone to excuse whatever you might have done in the past. Nor am I asking you to excuse yourself. But I would ask you to stop torturing yourself over it. It's not helping you or anyone else. People in this world are going to dislike you. It's an inevitable fact of existing. But that doesn't mean you have to dislike yourself.
And anyway, BG, we shouldn't try to be better people just so we can be better liked. Hopefully, we try to be better people so we can make the world better, so we can treat people better, so we can bring good things into life. That's a project that begins with self-improvement, and it sounds like you're doing that. Keep doing that. Keep your eyes on the road. Keep moving forward.
I'm rooting for you, BG! I think we've all messed up before and hurt people we wish we hadn't. All we can really do is hold ourselves accountable, make amends where we need to, and not do it again. Ease up on yourself a bit. It sounds like you're doing your best.