“The most sophisticated people I know — inside they are all children.” ~Jim Henson
On my desk at home, I keep a photo of myself at approximately two years old.
Aside from being adorable, this photo reminds me that I haven’t always been the full grown, slightly neurotic, culturally conditioned, emotional baggage-toting, self-armoring, surprisingly skeptical version of myself I am today.
There was a me who once existed who hadn’t yet been shaped by life and circumstances and the inescapable heartache of being human. There was a me who couldn’t yet take care of herself — physically or emotionally.
A me whose frontal lobe wasn’t developed to the point of making conscious decisions regarding her overall well-being and was, therefore, reliant upon her tiny, toddler instincts to execute all acts of self-preservation to the best of their abilities.
And while my instincts didn’t always steer me in the most healthy of directions, they did allow me to survive my childhood relatively intact.
So, yeah. Nice work, two year-old Cayly. High fives all around.
Part of why I keep this photo on my desk is to remind me to be nicer to myself. Especially on days when I feel like maybe I’m not being the most enlightened version of me possible.
Because if I can picture the one or two or five year-old version of me who put some of these deeply-ingrained patterns into place as a means of self-protection and preservation, it gets a little easier to show myself some much-needed compassion.
We all have tiny, toddler versions of ourselves hiding underneath the surface of these fully-formed, adult-ish, consciously-cultivated personas we walk around inhabiting during the majority of our days. And in those moments when we feel uncomfortable or overwhelmed or challenged by our circumstances, we can sometimes fall back into old habits or behaviors those inner toddlers so cleverly designed as a means of staying safe all those years ago.
When this happens, instead of berating yourself for not being more perfectly put together, what if you pictured yourself as this much younger incarnation of you, who just wanted to be loved and seen and cared for? And protected from harm.
What if you gave your present self the love and kindness and understanding your past self was truly craving?
I’m not suggesting we permissive-parent ourselves into never needing to grow. Absolutely not. But I am suggesting we maybe encourage our own evolution with a little more compassion for the reasons we have become the people we are today. And the reasons we have made it this far in life at all.
Because I don’t know about you, but this much younger version of me waded through some deep and murky and confusing emotional waters, but still managed to help me develop into a decent thirty-something woman.
Which is why I’m grateful to her. And I will give her all the compassion and acceptance and hugs she never got. And I will be nice to myself as I continue to work on becoming a more evolved me. I owe this much to the tiny, toddler self who helped make thirty-five year-old me a reality.
Wherever you are today, whatever you find yourself facing, there was a younger version of you who made this moment possible. Maybe she or he is two years old. Maybe five years old. Maybe eight. It doesn’t really matter.
The point is: You got here because you figured out how to survive.
And being mean to yourself because you feel like the methods your younger self devised were less-than-ideal in their design is not helpful for your future growth.
So next time you want to be a jerk to yourself, imagine yourself at two or five or eight years old. And then ask that version of you what she or he needs.
Maybe sometimes the answer will be SpaghettiO’s with bite-sized hot dogs mixed in. (Just me?) In which case, you can gently decline the request.
Probably, however, tiny you is going to ask for acknowledgement, understanding, permission to feel his or her feelings. And these things, folks, make a pretty good starting point for healing and growing and becoming the you you’d like to be.