Updated: Aug 20, 2020
It's time to think about the wounds of our childhood.
We underestimate the power of our child-like minds. The memories we make in
childhood, specifically the ways that we remember our most painful moments, stay in our minds as we navigate the world as adults.
The Childhood Wound, or the moment(s) in our early childhood years that teach us that the world is not always a happy place, that every person is not a safe person and that "life ain't fair," teaches how to suit up to face the world--and the armor is our personality.
Our child-like selves are innocent, pure, and immature. The ways that we saw things and the lens through we watched life was limited. If we don't take the time to pause and examine these memories with our present eyes, we miss a valuable opportunity to deconstruct a worldview that a child created.
We have a gift through the function of memory. Using memories, we can savor the good that has happened, learn lessons from the right we have seen and avoid repeated pain and danger. Our recollections of the past inform us, teach us and warn us, equipping us to make better choices that ensure our survival. Memories can serve as purposeful guides. We remember tripping over untied shoelaces, so the double-knot becomes automatic. We remember the smells and tastes of holidays and look forward to the season every year. We saw our grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles get up and go to work every day and have a concept of how adults manage their lives.
We often hear the messages of our childhood memories on repeat as we make present decisions. It is possible that as we grow and learn more about who we are as people, the messages of those memories conflict with who we authentically are. It is imperative that we return to those memories, their meanings and shift any beliefs that are incorrect.
Benjamin Zander, composer and co-author of The Art of Possibility, writes: “How often do we stand convinced of the truth of our early memories, forgetting that they are but assessments made by a child? We can replace the narratives that hold us back by inventing wiser stories, free from childish fears, and in doing so, disperse long-held psychological stumbling blocks.”
We have an opportunity to change the meaning of our memories. While the events that occurred cannot be changed or erased, we can return to them and understand what was happening differently. We can bring the present wisdom, insight and compassion of our maturity to the mindset of the wounded child who experienced the pain. With a new understanding comes different learnings and different messages about ourselves.
Use the model below to revisit a memory from your childhood story with your present wisdom and understanding. Remember, doing so does not shift the truth of the events, those things did happen. What we are doing is changing how those events inform us about ourselves.
Ask yourself the following questions:
1. Memory | Giving yourself compassion, think back to your most vivid childhood memory. What memory would you share that best demonstrates your earliest lesson about the world not being a safe or predictable place?
2. Current Meaning | What meaning do you currently attach to that memory? Use the table below to guide your own understanding. When ___________ happens, it means _________ for me.
3. Present Insight | Now, revisit that memory from a 30,000-foot aerial view, with your present wisdom. Hovering above your current vantage point, taking into account all your life experiences, what new insight do you have? What were the other participants in your memory going through at the time? What was happening in history? What was true about the environment?
4. New Meaning | Looking at this situation from above, with your present maturity and understanding. What new meaning can you pull from it? Remember, we are not changing what happened--we are using our present insight and wisdom to decide what it means to us.
Does this practice reveal any new insight as you recall the specific memories of your childhood story? Pick another one, and try this practice as many times as you need to in order to change your relationship to your past. Some of our most painful memories, while it is completely unfair that we had to endure them, are also the birthplaces of our unique resilience, our creativity and the origin story of our superpowers.
What new meaning will you live into today?
Danielle Fanfair is a teacher, writer and speaker who helps high-impact professionals go from Confusion to Clarity about who they truly are, with a passion for well-being, diversity & inclusion, self-understanding and skills-building. Work with Danielle by clicking here.