It’s like a mother, when the baby is crying, she picks up the baby and she holds the baby tenderly in her arms. Your pain, your anxiety is your baby. You have to take care of it. You have to go back to yourself, to recognize the suffering in you, embrace the suffering, and you get a relief.
— Thich Nhat Hanh
Throughout my many years in the 12-step community I’ve met lots and lots of people who have experienced a difficult childhood. Usually from chaos caused by mental health and addiction issues in the home.
It is a tough road for a child, there is no doubt about it. Their young brains are developing and making connections about how the world works, their role in it, and how best to function.
If the parents/caretakers are overwhelmed and self-absorbed by their or their partner’s addiction, a child could interpret that they themselves are not important or valuable and don’t matter. The roots of these innocent interpretations run deep, and they become the lenses in which the child views the world.
I’ve tried to fill the hole from the belief in not mattering with love, admiration, money, possessions, etc, but it is a hungry ghost, the hole can’t be filled from anything outside of us. There is no dismissing there is pain and grief. We resist it by trying to rearrange our outside circumstances.
There was a time when it was suggested we go back to our caretakers and explain how their parenting affected us. I’ve come to see that this would be an effort to tell a different story that would go something like, “It was really tough and I was hurt, now I’ve explained and they understand (hopefully), and things will be different now.”
It might be a start for a deeper relationship with a caretaker, but unfortunately this story will not undo the “I don’t matter and I need to prove I matter” neuropathways that have grown very strong throughout the years.
In my own journey, what I have found to fill the I don’t matter hole are the below practices
Compassion and tenderness for my humanity.
Care and tenderness for the parts of me that gets caught up in old stories and assumptions. I may tell myself, “this isn’t that” when I feel an old fearful energy. The compassion calms the fear and brings me into the present moment.
Knowing and reminding myself that I am not my thoughts, I am the one who is aware of my thoughts. This includes the thoughts that have been with me since I was a child and decided that my difficulties meant something personal about me
Knowing I am safe to feel any emotion (energy in motion); all emotions move. I let myself feel what is here rather than building up more resistance to it.
As I get more and more familiar with awareness, I see that we are wise beings or spiritual beings having a human experience. That I have always had all of the love and connection within me that I longed for, I just couldn’t feel it because I was hypnotized by my habitual stories of lack. As I pull my attention away from the stories, I feel the spaciousness and love of spirit.
Compassion for all humanity. We are all humans that get caught up or lost in thoughts. The more I understand this, the less I take other’s actions personally. Nothing to defend.
Connection with fellow people that are looking inward.
Move my body: walks, yoga and dance
Be in nature. Identify with and immerse myself in nature.
Journaling, art, anything creative
Water, green veggies, whole foods...more nature!
What I love about all of these practices is I don’t need to do anything. I stay metaphorically “home”. There isn’t anything to prove or achieve.
I have no way of knowing if I would have come to these practices without the gnawing pain that was with me since childhood, but I do know that the deep hole I thought I was part of me, is being filled with something rich, deep, and comforting.
It’s not easy, but I don’t think it’s supposed to be. It is deeply rewarding and I’m seeing through my old stories about me. I feel freer than I’ve ever felt…freer than I ever knew was possible.
Do you see life through stories from childhood lenses?
Can you feel compassion for that part of yourself that believes the stories?
How does your wisdom advise you to care for your precious self?