I want to increase quality of life; this is something I want for myself and something I want to work with others to do for themselves. But it is hard sometimes. It’s often difficult because we have patterns of existing in the world that sometimes keep us from what we truly want and need. Some of those patterns are deeply ingrained and connected to how we grew up. For a long time, I did not want to accept that I could be affected by how I grew up or what experiences I had as a child. I refused to acknowledge that perhaps some of how I engaged myself and the world around me was tied to my past. For me, the past was the past… until I noticed it was showing up in the present. Then I found that I had a choice: I could choose to try to ignore it and stick to the patterns that were no longer serving me well in the present or I could notice, listen, care for myself, and listen some more. I have chosen the latter. Self-care with our inner child can create healing.
Our childhood shapes us
First, I found that in order to change what wasn’t working I had to be able to notice what the patterns were that I was prone to jump into. Much to my chagrin, I had to come to terms with the fact that our childhood shapes us. We may have wounds and we may have joys connected to our childhoods. Looking back, we may realize the outside world didn’t always match up with what we needed at the time. As children, we often adapted to our experiences and built habits and ways of living in the world that stuck with us. Discovering what some of these patterns are that we have built leads to awareness. The more we notice, the more our awareness grows.
We can better come to know how to support ourselves as we explore the stories that are stored within our patterns. We may have had experiences that continually led to cultivating certain ways of being in order to try to meet our primal wants and needs. Or we may have developed habits that were meant to keep us from harm or loss. Choosing to look beyond the surface of what we do–and to listen for what needs or wants are beneath our actions–can lead us to some vulnerable spaces. It is in these spaces that we often have the opportunity to get to know younger parts of ourselves that built those habits in the first place. It is here that requires extensive listening; listening to the parts of ourselves that we may feel far disconnected from or that we may even feel negatively towards. What do the younger parts of ourselves have to say? What is it they may have wanted or needed once upon a time that they didn’t get?
To listen with care is powerful. It is often what many of us didn’t receive that led to our childhood selves creating the patterns of existing in the world that we find ourselves with today. To lean in and listen without judgment, criticism, or a need to use or fix ourselves is important. If the desire to criticize, silence, or diminish our younger selves with their wants and needs, wounds and joys, and all the feelings in between is ever present, remind yourself that you did the best you could with what you had. Try to replace dismissiveness with understanding and empathy; impatience with curiosity; demand with nurture. Learning to be tender to our more vulnerable parts of ourselves can be a journey. Learning to hear the stories underneath what we do and caring for ourselves in those stories allows us to open up to new ways of being. Cultivating a presence of self-care creates the atmosphere for change and growth.
As we seek change, may we be open to encounters: encounters with our inner child, our wants and needs, our fears and pain, and all that’s in between. And before jumping to change ourselves may we lean in, listen, respond with care, and listen some more. Perhaps we will see that engaging the various parts of ourselves–and our past stories–leads to goodness and change in the present.
About the author – Intern therapists at Pacific Mental Health contribute their expertise to help people through writing regular blog posts about various mental health articles. You can read more from our team here.