Often, my patients who are involved in processing painful wounds from childhood have trouble forgiving themselves. They feel they should have known better or handled things differently. It’s common, in the consultation room as well as out on the street, for people to blame themselves that in their early years they were not as smart, educated, assertive, or as neurologically mature as they are today.
When I looked into this, I went back in time and there I was, myself only smaller. In my childhood memories, I am as I am today only my body is tiny. It doesn’t make any sense, of course, but everyone I’ve talked to remembers a smaller version of how they are today, rather than remembering the emotional experience of the time.
But that’s not how it was. Back then, like all children, each of us was innocent, completely lacking in worldly wisdom or the street smarts that come from the school of hard knocks. We were utterly dependent on the adults in our environment for everything: food, shelter, for life itself. Our emotions were not mature, and our nervous systems had not yet developed. We weren’t able to make adult decisions, reason things out, or protect ourselves from harm. Emily didn’t stop the abuse because she hadn’t yet matured into the perceptive person she is today who would handle things differently.
Years ago in my own therapy, I was clearing some trauma that had happened when I was eleven years old. I was baffled as to why the incident had hurt me so much. Pondering this, I walked over to a playground and looked at an actual eleven-year-old girl. She looked so innocent and fragile that I began to cry. I saw that she needed protection and was obviously too little to have understood what was happening to her. It changed forever how I thought about my own experience, and the traumatic experiences of others.
I often encourage patients to go look at some kids if they don’t have any of their own. It helps tremendously. I’m not trying to create a new breed of voyeurs or playground stalkers – you can also visit children of friends or relatives if you have them. It really helps to see their innocence, and to recall your own vulnerability, trust, and sweetness. You were smaller, yes, but not just a smaller version of yourself today.
© 2014 Catherine Auman This article is an excerpt from Catherine’s book Shortcuts to Mindfulness: 100 Ways to Personal and Spiritual Growth