Last night before I went to sleep, I looked at a photo of myself from 2001.
I was 13 years old.
This photo has been sitting on my dresser, in the same place, for months.
Usually, I might passively glance at it, and then move on. But for some reason, last night I paused, and I looked at that photo for a little longer.
And I got tears in my eyes.
This morning, I felt a soft tenderness in my heart as I woke up, and as I drank my coffee, I looked at this photo again.
In the photo, I’m smiling and holding our black Labrador puppy. I looked so gentle and innocent. I looked so sweet and adorable and kind.
I can also remember how insecure I was. I was so unsure, so tentative, so shaky. I did well in school, but in my inner world, I felt so alone.
As I looked at the photo, I felt compassion for this girl—for how she felt, for how she grew up feeling, and for how I never gave her the love or support she desperately wanted and needed. I never told her the words she so longingly wanted to hear. I didn’t even know I was meant to.
When we look at photos of us as children, we can become filled with so much warmth, compassion, and tenderness. We can feel such overflowing love for these younger versions of ourselves.
Because they’re young and innocent and children.
This 13-year-old girl just wanted to be told she was okay and that she would always be okay.
She spent most of her life seeking this, seeking words of affirmation and attention from people outside of herself. There’s a deep part of my unconscious mind that has desperately been seeking this in people and things outside of me. It’s a pattern I’m still gingerly trying to untangle and unweave.
And it’s a yearning that has never truly been met, never truly been satisfied.
And the more adult, more aware version of me today understands why.
It’s because we aren’t meant to find these things in people or things outside of us.
It’s because we’re meant to give love, support, and understanding to ourselves. We’re meant to nurture ourselves.
We have to be warm and tender and loving with ourselves.
When I look at photos of myself, especially when I was younger, I feel so much love for myself. I can remember how I felt and what life was like. I can feel my inner feelings and I know some of the things that went through my mind. I can feel the insecurities and the fears and the inner judgments. I can also feel the lightness, the hopes, and the dreams.
If we want to connect to our hearts and bring compassion to ourselves, it helps to connect with these younger versions of us, because we so naturally feel tenderness toward them. There is an almost automatic feeling of warmth when we look at the innocence of a child.
We all have these sweet, tender children who live inside of us. These little versions of ourselves who only want love and affection. Who want, most of all, to feel loved by us.
The children inside of us who want to laugh and play and be free.
Who want tenderness and love and support.
These children have wants and needs and they want to be heard.
But most of all, they want to be heard by us.
They want to be loved by us.
Too many of us seek this outside of ourselves—through loved ones or the outward surface attention we receive from “doing well,” but it’s a hollow, superficial substitution that will never truly make us feel loved or free or whole.
No one will ever fill these places inside of us, because they’re not meant to.
We’re meant to do this for ourselves.
And we can.
We can all connect with these parts of ourselves.
We just have to put our hands on our hearts, breathe deeply, and listen.
And maybe look at a photo of us when we were children.
The photo of 13-year-old me: