I remember it like it was yesterday…that shocking moment in the basement so long ago. I was probably about five or six and was with my mom looking for something when she made a casual comment that began with “when I was a little girl….” Now, I don’t remember her story but that line jumped out and has stayed with me until today.
The absurdity of it crashed into my little mind. Mom…a little girl? How could that be?! Was she pulling my leg? I was sure it couldn’t be true…she was never a little girl! But she would never lie to me so what could it mean? As I tried to make sense of it I began to wonder in my mind if all moments existed as one eternal now…that she still existed as a little girl on some parallel plan and at the same time existed now as my mom. I pondered the matter deeply for weeks (from which, I guess, we can only conclude that I was a rather weird kid!).
I’m sure she had used that preface many times before and many times afterwards but this one time is ever present in my mind. No, I had decided. She’s Mom, always was, and always will be. And I’m a little girl and always would be.
Now that I’ve grown into a woman, I’m inclined to think perhaps my mother wasn’t making it up and she was once a little girl (just maybe). I’ve seen babies grow into teenagers then young adults and have children of their own. It’s not unusual after all…we just have to live long enough and that reality will inexorably occur.
As a therapist though I’ve also come to realize that I was onto something way back then…that the child that I was continues to be, and that life does indeed exist on some parallel reality plane – the eternal “now” of God’s universe.
As I look at my clients as they present their pain and distress I often see the wounded child they once were still reaching out today for the love and comfort they did not receive as children. And I see those children who did receive the affirmation they needed, able to share that love with their own children and with others in distress.
The dire need to learn to give children true affirmation – that gift of themselves, of their own goodness, to make them firm in their identity as beloved children of God cannot be overstated. Its absence is the root of so many problems we encounter on our troubled planet. The hurts and pains of childhood neglect or abuse have wreaked heavy consequences on world history.
So since the child we once were continues to reside within, by addressing ourselves not to the wicked adults we see causing havoc, but to the wounded children within those adults we can mediate God’s love and healing in a more productive way towards establishing true peace. It’s a tall order…or so it seems. Most of us will not be negotiating peace deals with world leaders but we all play an important role and urgently need to begin in our own little corner of the world.
So how do we do this?
I think we need to start by picturing those children within the adults we encounter. Ebenezer Scrooge, when visited by the ghost of Christmas Past became a much more lovable figure when we saw and felt his pain and loss. Public speakers are often counseled to calm their anxiety by picturing their entire audience in their underwear. It makes it harder to be intimidated when the playing field is evened out by this equalizing technique. A similar principle applies here…it’s harder to hate a wounded child than it is an angry and demanding adult.
The reality is that many of the adults we see may not be real. They may be an illusion of their own creation…a foreboding and intimidating bully concealing a wounded inner child they’ve learned to hide, and protect – hopeless to ever be really loved or accepted. So, we need to put aside their wants and demands and try to meet the inner longing of their hearts.
How to address yourself to their needs:
- Be fully present to them. Half measures and distracted attention can be wounding to a child’s sense of self-worth…and to adults as well. Strive to be present to whomever you are with all of your being. Turn off the TV, the radio or iPod and ignore the cell phone. There’s a child still within them…a happy child, or a sad child longing to be seen and understood. Listen and observe them – not just what this adult is saying or doing, but what their inner child is experiencing and communicating as well.
- Allow your heart to engage. Allow yourself to be moved in your heart. Instead of thinking and only focusing on facts, focus in on your feelings. Is your heart moved with compassion, or admiration, or delight in who they are? Can you feel their goodness? Can you feel their pain, their frustration, their fears? Open your heart.
- Reflect back their goodness in a way that they can feel. Once you allow yourself to be moved by someone’s goodness, allow yourself to show it…with a smile, a tender touch, a hug, or perhaps even tears that share their pain. Being authentically present and letting them perceive how you feel is powerful. It’s not about clever words of praise or stickers for their accomplishments – those things have their place but they don’t really get to the heart. The goal is to enable them to feel what you feel – their own goodness and worthiness. That’s the essence of the term affirmation…a love that makes another firm in their own identity and goodness.
It’s only this kind of affirming love that effects true healing. It’s this way of applying love effectively that needs to be understood and implemented for a happier and more just world. It starts with you and me. We may not reach thousands of people, but you never know the impact one person can make when they feel truly loved.
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