It took me a long time to recognize that one essential ingredient of self-love is acknowledging and caring for the child that still lives inside of me. It was especially critical for me to put this idea into practice since my own mother was emotionally unavailable in my youth. And because of this, I behaved like a typical child who had been emotionally neglected—afraid and needy—even as an adult.
I spent years in the wrong situations and relationships because I was in the wrong relationship with myself. I was dependent on others to guide me, support me, love me and validate me. And when they didn’t, I was furious and I often felt betrayed. It took me a while to become conscious of the connection between my own lack of mothering as a child and my constant striving for love and acceptance in my relationships—any relationship I could be involved in—no matter what it cost me emotionally.
I didn’t know how to protect and care for the little girl inside of me because I was too busy trying to please everyone else in the hopes of receiving their love and acceptance in return. I hadn’t yet learned the skills and tools of becoming a good parent to myself, but that all changed when I discovered a book titled The Artist’s Way.
Julia Cameron is the author of The Artist’s Way, and the book was a game changer for me because it stresses the importance of caring for oneself by creating a safe environment where creativity can flourish. I applied this concept to learning how to be a good mother to myself by creating a space where I felt emotionally safe. I began to acknowledge my true feelings and giving myself what I needed when I needed it. Also, I began to limit my criticism and judgment of my inner child’s desires and needs even if it seemed impractical to my adult self. I realized that my inner child is an eternal part of me and there will be times when she feels afraid, ignored and neglected, so it is my job as the adult to make her feel secure and safe.
Once I decided to start tending to my own needs first, the chains of dependency on others began to break. The desire to please others at my own expense began to wane and I became more comfortable creating boundaries in all of my relationships. It was easier for me to say no to another’s demands without a sense of guilt or a need to explain my position. Can you guess what happened? All the friendships and family relationships that had been formed and sustained based on me being a victim began to disappear. And as time went on, new relationships were formed based on interdependence, empowerment and possibility.
Fast forward a few years and I am now able to show up for others and genuinely give of myself because I have learned how to be a good parent to myself first. I no longer seek out relationships to fill an inner void; rather, I am seek out a true heartfelt connection with others based on sharing my whole self—a place of overflow—instead of coming from a place of lack, and the agenda being to get something from another that I think I don’t already have.
This journey back to self-love all started with me telling the truth to myself about what was missing and what I needed. And yes, there were many moments I felt sad and disappointed by the people who walked out of my life because they refused to accept the new and empowered me. On the plus side, I no longer allow myself to be held hostage by my past pain, anger, and sorrow about what I didn’t receive in my youth. I changed the story by showing up for myself day in and day out. This was not an easy task, but self–respect is worth its weight in gold. I still find myself relapsing at times and seeking approval from others, but I have enough awareness this time around to see myself doing that and I stop. That’s progress. That is the road to empowerment.