“The cry we hear from deep in our hearts comes from the wounded child within. Healing this inner child’s pain is the key to transforming anger, sadness, and fear.” ~ Thich Nhat Hanh
One of my newly acquired COVID hobbies is to sort through boxes of old photos … slowly. COVID has brought the luxury of doing all the sorting in a more deliberate and mindful manner. I stare at the faces staring back at me … some of them are gazing at me from the early 1900s. I wonder what their world was like? What stories of fear, joy, anxiety, and courage informed their existence? Eventually, I come to photos of myself. I look at the little eight-year-old girl in school uniform, about to walk into a classroom where she did not understand a single word (we had just migrated from Germany to South Africa), a culture that was foreign to her, a worldview that she had great difficulty interpreting … what a brave little soul she was. I don’t think I have ever stopped to tell her.
The words of Christ come crashing into my musings. When challenged by the religious elite about what the most important ‘law’ was, Jesus responded with ‘love’. Love God, love your neighbour … as yourself. A thousand sermons have waxed lyrical on that quote … and yet … I stare at the little girl looking back at me and I realise what a difficult ask it is to love ourselves completely – especially the child we left behind …
For many of us, it is fairly easy to find love and compassion for children. To me, they are walking, talking metaphors of hope and a better tomorrow. Recently, the playgrounds opened again after COVID lockdown restrictions here in Melbourne. On my walk that day, I heard the squeals of delight and laughter as children rediscovered the joy of swings and monkey bars. My whole day improved instantly. Children are the undiluted goodness of the human species. Most parents and adults would take extreme measures to protect and nurture children – except when we start talking about ourselves as little ones …
Disdain attempts to visit those who are survivors of trauma. It tells stories of a child that was ‘weak’ or ‘helpless’ in times of crisis. Disdain holds a victim-blaming narrative and when it dominates our life stories we begin to distance ourselves from that ‘weak’ and ‘helpless’ child. In a sense, we abandon ourselves in our past. When Disdain has managed to bury our childhood identity with indifference and loathing, it leaves …
Maybe it’s time to stand up to Disdain?
I wonder what would change in our sense of self if we begin to love and nurture the child we left in our forgotten stories?
The child who remains stranded in a context that it could not understand?
What injustices need to be acknowledged?
What would it look like for our adult self to stand next to our younger version and stare down Disdain and the false stories it has created?
What would it feel like to stop excusing the words and actions of others that brought with them pain and grief?
Maybe it’s time to say, “Actually, that was not ok. That was wrong, evil, unjust, etc …”
Over the last several months, I have been walking with people who are taking another look at their childhood (for many reasons). They are finding photos and gazing back at the little humans staring at them from the glossy pages of their albums. For some, they are ’seeing’ themselves for the first time – and new stories are forming. Stories that are standing up to Disdain and challenging its claims and dominance.
Stories of strength, resilience, laughter, adventures, humour, mischief … stories that had been forgotten. There are moments of recognition, acknowledgment, forgiveness, commitments … the lost are being found …
If this is something that resonates with you, dig up a couple of photos from your childhood. If you don’t have any, you may want to draw a picture of yourself as a child.
Place that picture somewhere you will look at it every day and when you do …
* Acknowledge the child you see and with it the history and context that shaped who that child would become.
* With that acknowledgment maybe you would like to deconstruct some of the harmful ideas of that culture/context that brought harm to that little one. Was it a culture of misogyny? Abuse? Silencing? Shame?
* Thank that little person for doing their best to get through the tough times.
* Tell that little one the ’strong’ stories – they will make it, they have skills, they have some super-powers that resisted trauma.
* Tell that little human looking at you that they are loved and that they are safe now.
* Celebrate your whole life.
“Love your neighbour as yourself.” Maybe we find it so hard to love our neighbour and recognise universal human connection because there are parts of us that we find so hard to love and nurture? So we throw Disdain’s arrows at another? You may want to put the arrows aside and write a letter to that child like this one written by Matt Kahn:
Dearest Inner Child:
If you have ever felt that I have lived in a way, that has excluded you from my experience.
I am so sorry.
Please forgive me.
Let this moment be a restart where we make peace. Allowing the mind and heart to come together.
So that the war within myself can end.
I love you.
I am sorry.
Please forgive me.
I did not know how deeply you hurt. And, I vow from this moment forward, That I will love and adore you,
As only I can love and adore you.
And so it is.
Maybe for you, the most sacred act you can do right now is to learn to love all of you?
“Everything seemed possible,
when I looked through the eyes of a child.
And every once in a while, I remember,
I still have the chance to be that wild.”