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June 29, 2024

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Grow down: a remedy for adult life

There’s nothing mean you can say to me that I haven’t said to myself. Lazy, yes. Incompetent, probably. Ugly, sure. Recently I’ve had such distain for myself that I’ve wanted to strip the skin from my bones. I’m hoping my 40s are better because while my 30s have brought me gifts, like being your columnist, it’s also been my toughest decade.

You’d think anyone who puts her thoughts and face in the paper every week would be full of herself. You’d be wrong. I write because it’s what I love, and connecting with you is the privilege of my life. More than that, it keeps me alive and brings me purpose. But, and perhaps like you, I’m riddled with self-doubt and the harsh complications of life.

We all want love and to feel safe to express who we are. But over time we embody traumas, expectations and the judgment of our parents or peers. Then we find mechanisms for the pains we’ve endured and cope beneath behaviors rooted in fear, shame and mistrust.

So how do we live wholeheartedly when we don’t like the wholeness of who we are?

There’s plenty of advice about talking to ourselves like a friend or practicing self-compassion. That’s not my style. Recently I reconnected with someone who I hope will help me be kinder to myself ... Me. Not me now. Me, then. As a child. And remembering that I am her and she is me is helpful. Because no matter how I feel today, how could I ever hate her?

Connecting with your inner child has lots of benefits. I don’t mean building sandcastles or climbing trees; I mean remembering that you were once an innocent. A smaller version of yourself that (hopefully) knew nothing of betrayal, fear, heartbreak, hurt or hate.

Then you grew up.

This article is a love letter to life. Because we only get one, and we are lucky to live it. I’m also a realist. Everything between birth and death teaches us something. And there’s nothing easy about any of it. Loving ourselves like a child can be a way to navigate the ups and downs that come with living.

I’ve used a photo of myself as my new iPhone wallpaper. I’m a mermaid in the bath in our council estate house in Glossop, England. Like all mermaids, I have a shower cap, and my goggles are on upside down. But it doesn’t matter. In that moment, I am happy; I am whole; I am free.

In a second picture, I, around 5 years old, am in a restaurant in Spain. A waiter plonked a hat on my head, and I was snapped by a photographer. I have no recollection of the photo being taken, but my mom loves it. So do I.

When do we sponge up inhibitions? Is there a specific action, date or time? Or is it a slow ritual done to us? And if so, by whom?

I’m figuring this out as I write. What I know is that by embracing the child I once was, I can begin to love the adult I now am. I could never hurt her. She doesn’t deserve any of the pain I’ve endured. Nor should she be subjected to the mental load, guilt and shame I throw at myself.

Still, you can’t emotionally neglect someone for 30-something years and expect to pick up where you left off. So, me and her are taking baby steps. Reacquainting ourselves one day at a time.

I imagine hanging out, running my hands through her curls and reflecting on her day. I know she’s under the misguided belief she knows more than she does. She’s curious, she’s opinionated, but she’s also kind, vulnerable and giving. She might be my favorite person. Which is why it’s crucial to keep her alive. And whoever you were then, do the same. You’ll get on better with you than you ever thought possible.

We are every age we’ve ever been. And with every age comes new wounds, cock-ups and lessons. Embracing our inner child allows us to forgive ourselves for supposed wrongs while making space for self-acceptance and personal growth.

When you lose touch with younger you, dig deep. You’re never not there needing you more than you’ve ever needed anyone. And while parents, partners and friends play a part, it’s you that you need to be loved by. It’s not easy, but isn’t every child worth fighting for?


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