“Do you hate yourself?”
I was slightly taken aback by the question. I was talking through a mental block with a friend a while ago. While I don’t remember the exact details of the block, I do recall being particularly brutal on myself. While it cut to the heart of the matter, it certainly made sense to ask.
What shocked me was the response that automatically came out of my mouth: “At my core, no, I don’t. But I learned that I had to hate myself to stay safe.”
This blew me away. I had assumed throughout my life that I simply struggled with self-worth like many, but I never realized that this was a protective cloak. It never crossed my mind. Where did that answer come from? After hours of sitting with this, it became crystal clear.
I visualized a small child hiding between the stacks in his mother’s old bookstore, sitting quietly so that no one would know he was there, consuming all of the books he could. In all these stories, there was one constant: he was safe and free to explore all of these worlds these old, dusty books had to offer. Nobody could hurt him, so he stayed. He never uttered a word, not even to me.
Not until that response, anyway.
Despite all the years of therapy, coaching, and assorted deep dives, this was the first time I started to hear my inner child speak. He explained why he felt he needed to block my creativity, my ambition, and my clarity through the years. It was time to give him the floor.
“I felt so unwanted and unloved. The shame, the pain, the dread from what was going to happen to me next was so intense—I couldn’t bear it anymore. I couldn’t be the boy I wanted to. I gave up my play. I gave up my dreams. I gave up my imagination. Nobody wanted any of those—nobody wanted me. I had to become what they wanted me to be in order to survive, to have a chance to fit in. The only time I could be me was when I hid in the book stacks, but I had to be sure that nobody could ever see me.”
He elaborated on how to be safe. He had to take those pieces of himself and of me—that were his most beloved—and bury them in my core, never to be connected to again. He had to build a fortress around them so that they couldn’t possibly sneak out and be seen. He believed that this was the only way he could possibly be enough for the others. It hurt him so badly to have to do that, but it hurt him, even more, to feel discarded like a misfit toy.
He still feels like he needs to keep up the fortress every time I get near the places that feel like they may be vulnerable. He gets scared that we’ll be ridiculed or abandoned again. All he knows is to keep it all locked down, even if it sabotages my personal and professional dreams in the process.
He may feel the safest hiding among the books, but he so desires to be seen and to matter. He needs to know that he is enough. He has the same visions and the same big, bold dreams that I do, but as much as he wants them to come true, he is terrified of what might happen instead.
I was so glad to hear him finally speak up for himself, even as I was surprised by the manner in which he did. I want him to continue to feel safe connecting with me and to know that it’s okay to let my life and career blossom without worrying about what might happen to him.
With that in mind, this is what I shared with my inner child:
Little one, I want to tell you that there is absolutely nothing wrong with you. Nothing at all. You are a great kid; you are caring, fun, smart, and creative.
I know it feels like you’re broken and that nobody cares about what you want or need. I feel how much it hurts you when you are left behind, when you aren’t invited, and when you’re blamed for someone else’s hurt. I understand how horrible it is when they don’t care about what you put your heart into and when they don’t have patience for you trying to learn. It feels really bad when they don’t want you.
Let’s talk a little about those who can’t see you. It hurts that they are the people you want to see you the most. Oh, I feel that pain too. I want to tell you that, more than anything, there is nothing wrong with you. There never was. You are beautiful and perfectly created as you were. You are a gift to this world. Sometimes the world just doesn’t comprehend what gifts it has.
People are often unable to see through their own pain enough to grasp the beauty around them. It’s not their fault that they are hurting, but how they act from that pain is theirs to carry. It is not yours to fix or solve. No matter how much they blame you for their pain, it simply is not true. It never was.
You don’t have to dim who you are just because other people can’t handle your beautiful light. You may not see it right now, but you have magic in you, and there are people out there who will see you, love you, and really want what you bring to the table. You don’t have to become anyone else, so please don’t keep breaking yourself trying.
Don’t hate who you were brought here to be. You were never a mistake. The universe does not make mistakes, even if we can’t understand why we’re here or why we have to experience certain things.
You already are worthy; you always were because that is how you came into this world. All the way down into your soul, really deep down under all of the ick that got thrown on you, you can see that too. You have to listen past the loud voices that are trying to tell you differently. It’s okay if they yell—let them; don’t fight with them and don’t listen to them.
Take a deep breath with me, keep going past all the noise, and realize there is another voice. It’s telling you that you are enough. It’s telling you that what you genuinely love matters. What makes you want to sing matters. If you want to sing, or dance, or shout, it’s all okay. You get to feel anything you need to and say anything that you want to and know you are safe. Say it to me right now; and if you’re not ready to tell the rest of the world, I will for you.
They can’t hurt you anymore. You are safe, protected, and loved. Also, know how much you are needed. It’s okay if you aren’t so sure about that right now. It’s okay if you are scared. I promise. But I also promise you that I am right here next to you. I am going to be here to hold your hand, to remind you what a wonderful blessing you are, and to give you the biggest hugs anytime you need them. I give you my word on this: I will not leave you behind.
I will take you everywhere with me. You get to say anything you need to say, feel any way your heart feels. I want you to share that with me always. We’ll walk through everything together, even if I’m scared too, because sometimes I am. Sometimes I feel sad, and sometimes I feel angry or frustrated.
My feelings matter too, just like yours. If I am not okay, will you come with me then too? I know you love to comfort others who are hurting and want to help, and I would love to let you help me just like I want to help you. Is that okay, little one?
We can be a team together. We will get through this world and go where we are called. We will say and do what we need to, even when people don’t like us or push us away. When we fail, we’ll find the next step. When we succeed, we will celebrate. All of it, we’ll take on together.
I promise you this as long we’re here: I love you, little one, and you are so much more than enough.