One of the most overlooked means for healing in our world is reflection.
We move fast. We accomplish. We keep running. And never stop.
But in our bodies, we store up all the good and the bad, the highs and the lows, and everything in between.
This New Year’s Eve, I encourage you to take a little time to reflect on your childhood. I know that even this suggestion might sound scary, or maybe just a little strange. And that’s why I’m suggesting it.
There’s a reason so many of us have such a hard time going there. After all, it’s there that you meet the familiar sorrows of your life.
But it’s also there that you can find yourself in a new way and heal.
So, I invite you to take a simple step to reflect. The child in you has something important to share.
You, Minus All the Noise
One of the most helpful things I have gained from therapy this past year is a simple idea: that I don’t have to find me, so much as simply be me.
Most of us don’t actually struggle with knowing who we are; we struggle with being who we are.
Now, being a human can be confusing; it’s true. But we often add to our anxiety by trying to define ourselves by singularities, when, in fact, we will always be multifaceted, complexly woven human beings. We will always say: I’m this, and I’m also that. I feel this way, and I also feel that way. I want to do this, but I also want to do that.
That is what it means to be human; it is not bad or wrong to have many self-states, many different emotions, and many different desires.
Still, what doesn’t help is all the extra noise. And there’s a whole lot of that. Other people’s voices about who we should be, how we’re supposed to be. An endless stream of comparisons everywhere we turn. This person’s perspective on success and that person’s advice for happiness.
We can’t get away from all the noise, and bits of it might even be helpful for who we actually are, but we also need to take time, now and again, to clear the extra noise out through reflection—looking at who we were as a child.
In doing so, we can “find” ourselves again so that we can again experience what it feels like to simply be ourselves.
Over the past year, I’ve taken quite a bit of time to reflect in this way. As I have, some interesting memories have come to mind.
For example, one of the earliest memories I have is of creating a business in my back yard with a mattress. I remember inviting kids in the neighborhood to the “wrestling matches.” Little did they know that they were not only the spectators, but also the participants. And they had to pay a quarter to get in (to the back yard).
In my memory, this was a total success. Whether or not it actually was, the memory remains. And it tells me something important of who I am to this day—a creative strategist. Perhaps it’s why I relate so much with movies like The Greatest Showman. Speaking of shows, I loved organizing “shows” for my parents or any relatives willing to watch.
I remember generally always moving my feet in interesting ways—tapping or dancing about. There was always a rhythm in me—some form of music (which I now generally know as creativity)—waiting to come out. The music is still there. Even in times when I don’t hear it as clearly, it’s still there.
I also remember my love for insects and animals. I went through a worm phase, a caterpillar/butterfly phase, a lizard phase (including chameleons in Uganda), and a tadpole and tiny toad phase. And I always wanted more cats and dogs than we had—even when we had about 7 cats in and out of our compound in Uganda, several of which I found as kittens and brought home to nurse to health.
These phases were about more than collecting. I wanted to hold, to observe, to connect in whatever way I could with these amazing creatures. To this day, I prefer to learn (and create) in phases. I’ll go into one phase and then into another. And to this day, I learn best through hands-on, experiential methods. I need to feel something, not just think something, for it to really stick with me.
Along with my fascination with what I could hold, I also remember being amazed by the animals that felt more out of reach—especially birds, big cats, and whales.
When I was about 7, I was all about whales. I wanted to learn everything I could about them. Then, over the years, I kind of forgot about them—until I was reminded about my love for them this year for Christmas.
My wife helped me remember with an awesome illustrated book and a couple other perfect tiny gifts. As I read this book, I was reminded of my love of mystery—of things that are endlessly explorable—things I could never fully know.
I encourage you to take a moment to reflect. What happy memories come to mind? When did you feel most alive as a child? What would that child say to you, all these years later? What would their desire for you be?
Let your mind wander. Let your heart speak. Here, you will find important treasures. Here, you will be called again to simply be who you are.
The Deep & Difficult Emotions Stored Away
In reflecting on our childhoods, we’ll also feel some deep and difficult emotions too.
It wasn’t until I went to grad school for Counseling Psychology that I processed, at least in a meaningful way, some of the traumatic things I’ve experienced. I learned so much in this program, but what was especially transformational for me was the acknowledgement of realities related to my body and emotions.
My wife recently shared these posts on Facebook, and I thought they reflected well what I learned and acknowledged to be true in this program. They are important messages not only for the holiday season, but for life.
As I reflected on early traumas (that I could remember), I encountered a host of emotions I didn’t know what to do with. What could I do with a memory of friends being beaten and screaming behind closed doors in Uganda? What could I do with the helplessness I felt connected to an illness in the family? Wasn’t the answer just to move on and try to forget as much as possible?
For many years, that was the answer. This kind of acknowledgement of pain, and being together through it, was new to me. In one way or another growing up, I was told (or interpreted) that:
- The body is bad.
- Our emotions are always to be questioned.
- It’s typically best to fight (not acknowledge and feel) the “wrong” emotions.
The wrong ones included grief and anger. Those emotions were, for the most part—except for certain people in certain situations—off limits.
What I realized in this program was that these critical emotions are off limits for a lot of people growing up. What’s interesting is that they’re often replaced with a lot of other emotions. The replacement emotions distract from processing what needs to be processed and resolving what needs to be resolved, and ultimately we’re left with a lot of cultures defined by high drama and a lot of underlying tension and unresolved pain. I’ve seen this progression in individual’s lives (including myself) and within families, churches, and organizations.
Even as we get older, many of us don’t know what to do with the critical emotions, especially in the presence of others, and so we find it difficult to admit they are still in us. But they are.
As I would sit in practicum and process through these deep emotions with others—especially those of grief and anger—I found it impossible to ignore my body. My body was saying, “I need to process this. Will you let me process this?”
The truth is that I often didn’t want to let it. It felt wrong to go there. It felt wrong to be that vulnerable, that exposed before others. It felt wrong to be that connected in such deep emotions. Again, I would think, Isn’t this off limits? Aren’t we supposed to ignore these? Aren’t these going to hurt us?
But the truth was that if I tried to press them down, the more anxious I felt. If I was honest, feeling whatever I needed to feel was exactly what I needed.
As we were guided through learning to attune to our bodies, to our emotions, and to others, I began to experience an interesting shift in my mindset as well. I started to ask new questions.
Why would this emotional processing, especially with others, be wrong? Why wouldn’t the body naturally need to process through and out the trauma stored in it, just as it needs to process all other forms of matter? What more could I not see in me, since I had grown so accustomed to ignoring what was actually there for years and years? What if I started to be honest, even if that honesty led me to some scary places—to feelings I didn’t know what to do with, to questions I didn’t know how to answer? And what if I didn’t need to have all the answers?
You might feel this whole “processing deep childhood wounds” stuff all sounds a bit ludicrous. And that’s okay. You can start there. I had questions too. In some ways, I still do. I think too much reflecting can go overboard. I don’t think it’s a place to stay forever and always.
The problem is that most people never go there at all. And so, we store in our bodies a host of heartaches that multiply on themselves. And lead us to places we don’t want to go. So, in some ways it’s a choice of now or later.
It’s certainly not easy to do this part of reflection. But I can say, with full confidence, that if you take this step—in safe places, with the right guides, and ultimately learning to process some on your own—you will experience freedom and healing.
It’s not easy, no. But if we’re talking about something that’s “worth” doing this coming year, this is it.
This latter part of reflecting on your childhood can’t happen in a day. But I would encourage you to take just a moment to feel whatever it is you’re feeling right now.
Likely, something came to mind as I shared some of my own experience. Rather than push that down or feel you have to process through it completely, simply take a moment to acknowledge its presence. Let yourself feel, for a moment, the real hurt and pain you experienced in that time, as a child.
Speak a word of acknowledgement to the child in you: It wasn’t your fault. You didn’t know what to do. You felt alone. You were scared. Finally, whisper the simple words you needed then: I see you. I see you.
I encourage you to take what you’ve experienced in just a few moments and commit to your own internal healing this year. Seeing you is the first step. The next step is to be vulnerable enough to let another person see you—because we need each other to heal from the deepest wounds.
Important note: if you have not ever taken a step toward deep internal healing, please start with someone who is well-equipped for this work.
I say this for many reasons, but here are a few:
- People are trained to guide you through trauma and deep emotional pain just as doctors are trained to heal the body in other ways; don’t belittle therapeutic forms of healing. At some point, your internal healing (or lack of healing) will make itself visible, but don’t let it only be important then.
- It’s great to be open and talk through hurts and real things with family, but they should not be your go-to guide for initially processing through your deepest wounds. They have likely been affected by these deep wounds, and it is not fair to ask them to go through this pain with you until you have committed to your own processing and healing.
- The mind-body connection is complex. Yes, you will benefit, and even heal, in many ways by being vulnerable with a close friend or spiritual mentor. However, these individuals are not necessarily equipped to understand the depth of what is happening in you both emotionally and physically.
Hopefully, I’m making it clear enough that this is not a call to isolate yourself. Not at all. We all need each other for processing and healing. What I’m talking about specifically is processing through (especially initially) those deep childhood wounds, if you’ve never done that before, or haven’t done it in a way that was truly transformational.
And a final note: Too often, people think of therapy in only one way. There are, in fact, many therapies, some of which can be helpful even for those will serious mental illnesses. This is not to minimize mental illnesses; they are very real and need to be addressed in multiple ways. That said, various therapies (especially those that focus on the mind-body connection) can go a long way, and I’m hopeful about the future of research and discovery in this area.
Connecting the Highs and Lows with Your Creativity
To end on a bit of a lighter note, I want to encourage you to take all of this reflection and consider how you can listen and respond to the child in you through your creativity this year.
Interestingly enough, one of the key conclusions I came to in my study of Counseling Psychology was that our creativity is one of the greatest resources we have to connect to ourselves and others. Through our creativity, we can also express what we need to express and work out what we need to work out.
All of us are filled with creativity, but it’s easy to lose our connection to it over the years. This year, it’s time to reconnect with the childlike creativity in you.
As you do, you will be more free to be you and to heal.
Here’s to a year of listening and responding creatively to the child in you! 🎉