by Dina Strada
There’s a simple mathematical formula for happiness. You ready for it? Grab a pen and write this down.
Be a good person + get married + have kids = lifelong security and happiness. That’s what I was taught growing up anyway.
And I wanted to fit in and be like everyone else. So I did everything I was told to do. I followed the rules. Got good grades. Went to a good college. Got married and had kids. But it didn’t bring the security and happiness I thought was an automatic guarantee.
A close friend and I recently dissected that formula and realized that this particular one, like so many others, was one of the lies we bought into growing up. And because we believed it to be true, we had spent the past several years believing that because we got divorced, we were somehow failures – broken and destined for a life of solitude, insecurity and loneliness.
Of course, none of this is true. We all come into this world with beliefs we had as a child. Whether intentional or not, our parents instilled in us stories that shaped who we became and how we learned to navigate life. In order to be loved as children, we often learn to adapt to what our parents want us to be. We don’t fully express ourselves in order to fit in and don’t even know it’s OK to behave or believe in something different than what we’re being taught because doing that might bring about disapproval or a withholding of love.
So we continue these patterns into adulthood. We conform in an effort to be loved and accepted by others. Our ego (the inner child) seeks to be seen, loved and understood. We may find ourselves competing for love and attention, becoming co-dependent to win that love from another person, or living our lives in a way not in alignment with our authentic selves out of fear that our real selves will make people turn away.
So how can we heal and nurture that inner child in all of us? There’s the obvious things like self-love and self-care. And there are also 5 things you need to start saying to yourself to heal those childhood wounds:
- “I love you.” As a kid we might have believed that we needed to do something special or accomplish something to be loved. Maybe we had parents who never told us they loved us because they didn’t know how. But we are lovable, no matter what we have or haven’t done, take time at least once a day to give this love to yourself.
- “I see you and hear you.” Oftentimes when we feel hurt or sad, we push down our feelings and don’t express them. For a lot of us, this stems from our childhood, when we might have been told to “Stop crying” or “Be strong and get over it.” And when we don’t express ourselves, all those feelings we had back then can affect us in adulthood.
My mother felt abandoned by her own mother as a child but never said anything because she was taught to be sweet and compliant. It wasn’t until her mother died that she was able to acknowledge those feelings and how her mother leaving her with family members and strangers while she was working or away for long periods of time scared her. Instead of suppressing the voice of your inner child, say, “I hear you. I see you and it’s safe to say how you feel.”
- “You didn’t deserve it”. Some of us have gone through horrible things as a child from verbal and physical abuse, to molestation and abandonment. If we didn’t seek therapy or ever confide in anyone about what happened, we can grow up thinking that we somehow deserved to be abused, shamed, or abandoned.
Children are never at fault for the things adults have done to them. They can carry the belief that if they had done something different, it may not have happened to them. Or that the adults in their life didn’t love them but that’s rarely ever true. Hurt people hurt other people. It’s important to tell that inner child, “You didn’t deserve that,” and to seek counseling and support to help you reach a place where you understand that.
- “I forgive you.” Think about all the things we do throughout our life that we regret. Maybe we bullied someone in school. Maybe we were horrible to our sibling growing up. We all make choices we regret or carry shame over. But holding onto shame keeps us stuck in unhealthy patterns as adults.
All of us are doing the very best we can in the moment with what we know. When we know better, we do better. You’re human. Forgive yourself and move on.
- “You’re safe.” As children we don’t often feel safe. Whether that’s being ourselves, expressing our needs or feeling physically safe, we have to depend on other people to give us that feeling of security and safety.
Now as adults, the power is in our hands. We have the ability to give ourselves whatever we need to feel safe. Tell yourself, “I’m safe. I’ve got me.” Then surround yourself with people, things and the support you need to nurture that feeling of safety.
What does your own inner child need to hear today? And can you begin a practice of giving that child whatever he/she needs to make you feel safe, loved and seen?
Dina Strada is a freelance writer and Life Coach whose work has appeared in Huff Post, elephant journal, Medium, Thrive Global, Chopra, Mind Body Green and various other online publications. Read more of her work at www.dinastrada.com.