It was a simple, logical question, but one I at first didn’t understand. So I just sat there, not sure how to reply to my well-meaning friend’s very open and honest query as to why I seemed to consistently sabotage my opportunities for joy and fulfillment. And then suddenly, one memory from a childhood I barely recall came to the surface. I saw myself as a small child of perhaps five years, so proud of my stuffed teddy bear and wanting to show it off on a home movie. But instead, I was relegated to the background so my family could instead video my vibrantly flamboyant and outgoing three-year-old sister dancing while I was laughed at and minimized for not being comfortable trying to dance myself. I adored my sister then, as I do now and always will, but as a small child I couldn’t understand why not being like her seemed to mean I wasn’t as good?
This brief and painful memory was soon followed by more.
Being ridiculed publicly when I was unable to “hold it” longer than I was capable of while out shopping and had an accident, again as a small child, and my shame of having the attention of strangers brought to me for losing bladder control. Especially since I had been asking to go to the restroom for hours previously, but kept being told “after we look at one more rack of clothes”.
Being the only kid at school who made the Honor Society who had not one single family member show up to the induction ceremony. The parents of one of the other kids were kind enough to invite me to join them when they saw me sitting all alone, but I still vividly recall the feelings of being embarrassed, emotionally naked and abandoned.
Having my family and their friends mimic me when I mispronounced their friend’s nickname. They may have thought they were laughing “with” me, but as a young child, it most definitely left me feeling that I was being laughed “at” and held up for ridicule – I never recalled hearing the word “cute” associated with the laughter.
And the uncomfortable, twisting in my chair, memories continued on briefly until thankfully they began to subside and I was able to give a little more thought to my friend’s original question. I realize now as a middle aged woman that my family surely loved me and never intended to make me feel insignificant or not good enough. And I would venture that the embarrassing, belittling experiences I had as a child were merely extensions of what those adult family members themselves had been subjected to during their childhood, a sort of perpetuation of a sad emotional downward spiral passed from generation to generation. So I don’t blame my family – I do, however, feel sympathy for them because I know how hurtful those experiences were for me when I was young and it had to be the same for them as well when they were children.
As painful as recalling those memories has been, though, I’m glad some of them resurfaced after all these years. Because now I’m beginning to understand a little bit more about myself. What I began to comprehend was that a childhood filled with feelings of being insignificant, minimized, inadequate and unable to compete apparently has transcended into my adult life and in some weird way has caused me to believe that I have to always feel that way and that success, achievement and accomplishment are not options available to me. I think by realizing that, I'm hopefully now going to be able to take the first steps toward resolution and understanding that what I perceived as a child is not necessarily the reality, and that those perceptions are not set in stone as to how they have to continue.
More importantly, recalling those memories is helping me learn to have more compassion toward myself. For the first time, I was actually able to see myself as a child – a small, helpless, bewildered, embarrassed child who felt minimized and insignificant. And I wanted to take my younger self into my arms and hold her and tell her everything was going to be okay. And that she is important, she does matter, and she is just right the way she is, precious imperfections and all.
I wanted to tell my younger self – and my current self too – to always remember the Buddha’s wise and beautiful words:
You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.