Nothing throws our lives into disarray quite like a fractured relationship with ourselves. It can leave us with tenuous relationships with others, doubting our own worth and value, or feeling untrusting of our intuition and instincts.
But there are ways to restore the relationship you have with yourself. Ways to show up and be the very person you might have needed as a child. To heal the moments of shame you experienced in the past that continue to influence who you are today.
There have been times in childhood when all of us felt small, inadequate, overwhelmed, or out of our depth. Moments when, regardless of whether we had secure, open relationships with both parents or more difficult home environments, we didn’t want to share things that were going on because they felt awkward, difficult, or embarrassing.
And this tendency to close ourselves off is mirrored in later life, as well. When we’re feeling vulnerable, opening up doesn’t come naturally. Staying closed off as a form of protection is a learned behavior, no matter our age.
Moments of shame
Perhaps you went to school and a way of doing something in your own family, something you considered completely normal, was different from how your friends’ families did things. And they laughed at you and teased you for it, making you feel like the outcast in your group. So you didn’t want to do it that way anymore.
An example from my own life is that when my son was around 9 years old. He’d climb into bed with us on a Sunday morning to watch funny YouTube videos—it was our Sunday treat. As an only child, he didn’t have siblings to play with, so he came to us. He mentioned it casually at school one day, only for his friends to make fun of him and tell him he was weird for doing it. And so he stopped doing it. To them, it was strange. Maybe they had older siblings who reached the age where it was “uncool” to do that. Or perhaps they were all running around their houses, as gangs of siblings often do, like an army of elephants with clogs on, and their parents probably couldn’t have imagined anything worse than inviting the stampede into their bedroom on a peaceful Sunday.
They had their normal, and we had ours. But their reaction influenced my son’s normal. It became a moment of shame or embarrassment for him. It didn’t matter that they were comparing incomparable family dynamics. It only mattered that he didn’t want to stand out.
It’s similar when children reach the age where they become obsessed with maintaining privacy for themselves. When they begin feeling self-conscious of their bodies or preoccupied with locking the bathroom door. When there’s potential for shame or judgment, our learned habit is to close off and keep things to ourselves instead.
Revisiting our shame
But when we arrive into adulthood, as we graduate through the different stages of life, we can begin to revisit these shameful moments or difficult experiences.
We can look at them through the more mature, developed perspective we now have. By looking at them in a healthier, more well-rounded way like this, we can recognize it was just some silly joke at school. Or it was just someone else’s idea of “normal.”
We all go through the process of wanting to streamline and fit in when we’re younger—it’s how society and culture are created. But, as we get older, we learn to fit out more and embrace our individuality. The idiosyncrasies of our families or childhood stop being such a bad thing. They’re just our differences.
Becoming who we once needed
If you can look at the past from a calmer perspective, you can become the adult you needed as a child in those situations. Perhaps the adult you needed but didn’t have—or didn’t feel comfortable asking your parents to be. You become the person you needed to talk matters through with. Someone to seek comfort, understanding, and compassion from.
There’s something superbly reassuring about this moment. You can be that person for yourself. You are that person. It completely rejuvenates your relationship with YOU.
For me, the restoration of the relationship I have with myself has completely shifted my previous tendency for negative self-talk. And this is something we’re all guilty of to varying degrees. Since becoming the adult I needed as a child, I no longer collapse who I was as a young human into the value of me now. I had value back then, I just didn’t know it. But I know I have value now. We all do, we just struggle to see it, especially when we are always trying to fit in. And in being like others, we often forget to be like ourselves.
While you might not be the best thing since sliced bread—no one else is either—all of us are just humans trying to cope with everything that gets thrown our way. But when we can take steps to restore our relationship with ourselves, we can become the best thing since sliced bread for ourselves. We become exactly who we needed when we were younger and move past all the experiences that once brought fear or shame into our younger lives.