Every now and then I receive a letter which highlights the tragedy of unresolved childhood pain. The following extract is from a friend I will call Penny.
My heart aches and I long to just hold someone. As I write these words, tears come easily to my eyes. And again I realize that I am touching the emptiness of my heart.
Actually, I am very tired. Tired of being the good person but not knowing how to be any different. Not that I want to be anything else, but who am I anyway?
Do you think I am an outgoing person? Do you think I am too silly? Too serious? I think I have a thousand questions to try to answer – who am I anyway?
You can be totally honest with me – please. I am reaching out to you because you know me – please tell me what’s wrong with me. I feel like this defective little toy that no one wants. And here I sit, just waiting for someone to pick me up, mend my broken heart and take me home.
Penny was born in the United States with a cleft lip. Her mother refused to hold her after she was born. “I couldn’t bear to look at you,” she told Penny later. As a child, Penny was left at home alone on Sundays while her parents went to church.
Today, Penny is a beautiful woman of 36.
Last year she won ‘Deputy Sheriff of the Year Award’ for her county in Florida. She bakes cookies at Christmas for the members of her shift, but spends Christmas alone. She lives in a townhouse with her dog, Daisy, plays the piano and vacuums the footprints out of the carpet every day.
Penny is always giving, striving to do good. The tragedy is that there are so many people just like Penny, yearning for the acceptance they didn’t receive as children. If this acceptance was not found in their mothers’ eyes – for it is here that a child first gains a sense of self – then the child will strive to give and do things for acceptance, or behave badly to get attention, or withdraw into a lonely world of their own making.
Words of praise for good deeds or high achievements cannot permanently fill emptiness that comes from a lack of unconditional love and acceptance. A child needs to see love in action, feel it through touch, and see it in parents’ eyes.
The frustration and emptiness of unmet needs remains inside us as adults. It stunts our emotional growth. Then, when eyes meet across a crowded room, we invariably ask, “Will this person love me?”
Inside the adult, the needy child is still searching to fill unmet needs. Then, our inner child gets angry each time someone fails to meet these needs. Once we move into adulthood, it is my belief that no one else can fill our emptiness. It is up to us to journey within and take our child by the hand, look into her eyes and say with genuine feeling, “I love and accept you just as you are,” then spend time each day with that child and show her love and caring. Allow her to tell you of the pain and anger she feels, then help her to let it go with forgiveness.
With our love, the child can grow up at last to reach a state of independence where giving is a sharing of the beauty found within, and where loving is unconditional, expecting nothing in return.
There is nothing “wrong” with Penny. She is a beautiful woman whom I admire. The trouble is that she cannot see this beauty within herself and has not yet learned to meet the needs of her inner child. When she can she will discover who she is, and will be able to fill her emptiness with self-love.
I see self-love as the plug in the bath: without it, the bath can never fill to overflowing.
First published in the Ballarat News, March 30, 1994