In the past, I didn’t like that version of me.
She was too hard to look at.
But this time, I only felt compassion when I looked at the photo, looked at nine-year-old me.
Perhaps it’s a combination of both my own EMDR therapy and regular talk therapy deepening, maybe it’s because my mother bear instincts are growing with each year I mother my daughter…
Whatever the reason, I could look at that photo with neutrality, love and the same kind of fierce protection I feel daily for my daughter.
And so I quickly wrote a note on Instagram about what I’d go back in time and say to her.
Here’s what I said:
If I could go back in time, I’d try and hug her (but I’d ask for consent first so she could even begin to understand that that’s a thing and she deserves respect).
And then, regardless of whether she wanted a hug or not, I’d tell her that she is going to be okay. Really.
I wouldn’t lie.
I’d tell her that there are going to be many, many hard years but she’s got some good solid skills to cope with all the hard stuff.
I’d encourage her to keep plunging into academics — ultimately it will get her off the island, out of poverty, and into a life and experiences she thinks are only possible in movies.
I’d encourage her to keep disappearing into books and stories — it will help her dissociate from her reality, sure, but it will strengthen her imagination and her own writing skills (which she’ll use to build her career down the road).
I’d tell her what no one else had yet told her — that it is NOT normal and that she DOES have a right to be angry about it all.
I’d tell her that she’s NOT crazy.
She’s having appropriate responses to the situation she’s in.
And I’d give her hopeful previews.
Like someday, people will love her a lot.
Someday people won’t make fun of her clothes, her weight, who her parent is, or anything else anymore.
Bullying people won’t even be REMOTELY in her world anymore.
She’ll be in charge of who comes into her life and those who do come in will be extraordinary.
I’d tell her that someday she won’t be poor and scared anymore.
She’ll provide for herself by doing work that feels like a gift to her soul AND she’ll get to help other people who felt the way she did once upon a time.
I’d tell her that one day she’ll see the world. Places she used to collage onto her vision board she’ll get to cross off her list one by one.
I’d tell her to hang in there.
And again, I’d want her to know that she’s not crazy even though no one else is having her experience.
What would you tell your 9-year-old self if you could go back in time and talk to them?
That post and the responses I received from it (I got the loveliest DM’s!) made me want to turn that IG post and my experience with that photo into an exercise in my next blog post to you.
It’s an extension of an exercise I often invite my own therapy clients to do with me at appropriate times in their relational trauma recovery work: Find and choose photos from different ages growing up and then write them letters.
The goal here is to strengthen our connection to potentially rejected child parts of ourselves.
As we strengthen our connection with ourselves at all ages (even and especially the “hard to love” ages) we support our psychological integration and our relational trauma recovery work more.
So, despite the fact that I’m not with you in a therapy session together, I still wanted to give you the prompts I give my clients so that, if you’re inspired, you can do this as a supplement to your own therapy work or personal growth journey.
An exercise: Talking to your 9-year-old self.
First of all, open up your journal or a new Google doc.
And then, select a photo of you at a younger age.
Please note: it doesn’t have to be your nine-year-old self.
It could be your six-year-old self. Your twelve-year-old self. Your sixteen-year-old self.
Whatever age calls to you at this stage in the journey.
Then, looking at the photo, notice the somatic (meaning body-based) sensations that come up in you (they may be subtle or powerful as a dump truck).
Just notice and don’t judge them.
If you feel the impulse to look away from the eyes of the child in the photo, notice that and if the exercise doesn’t feel tolerable to do with that age, with that exact photo, perhaps try another less triggering age.
After you’ve found the photo you can access some compassion for (and note, compassion might still be mixed with some judgement, and that’s okay, this exercise is about amplifying the compassion to reduce the judgement), just look at the photo for a moment.
And then think about the following questions:
- Would this younger version of me have wanted a hug or some physical comfort of some kind?
- Was this younger version of me too scared of people by then to let that be okay?
- If that version of me can’t tolerate physical comfort (and/or I can’t tolerate giving it to them), what verbal comfort could I offer?
- When I look at this child, what is good and worthy of positive praise about them?
- When I look at this child, can I feel compassion and nurturing instincts?
- When I look at this child, what emotions might they be feeling?
- What do I as an adult feel about what I imagine that child’s feelings are?
- Given what I know about what was going on for that younger child at that time, what might they need to hear from me as an adult right now?
- What might this child need to hear about their physical safety?
- What might this child need to hear about their emotional safety?
- What might this child need to hear about their financial safety?
- What might this child need to hear about their relational safety?
- What might this child need to hear about the good things that are coming their way?
- What might this child need to hear about how she’s coping and dealing with her reality?
- What might this child need to hear about her experience? Is everyone around her gaslighting her for her experience? What could you say to her to validate her?
- What would you like this child to know about herself? About her future? About what she has and will live through?
- What would you say to this child if you deeply loved and cared for them?
Use these prompts to write as much or as little as you’d like.
And when you’re done writing, just sit with what you wrote and notice what’s coming up in you.
Sadness? Grief? Pride? A kind of fierce mothering energy?
What does it say to you that those emotions are coming up?
How can you take care of your adult feelings that are being stirred up by this exercise?
If your feelings feel big and hard, who can you turn to for support?
You made contact with a younger part of yourself and did a beautiful but emotionally evocative exercise.
Please try and take such good and gentle care of yourself now as an adult as you would have ideally liked that younger version of you to have been supported in doing.
And please also know that you can come back to this exercise again and again, doing it (or some version of it) with all the different child ages inside of you, but only when and as it feels good and right to do so.
And so now, if you feel so inclined, please feel free to leave me a message in the comments about what this exercise evoked for you:
What came up for you as you did this exercise? Did it feel healing on some level? Were you surprised about anything that came up? Is there any part of this exercise that you can carry forward into your adult life?
So if you feel inclined to share, please do. I’d love to hear from you and so would so others, I imagine.
We get about 25,000 website visitors a month on this little corner of the internet and you never know whose day you’re making better by sharing your experience in the comments.
So thank you in advance for sharing.
And until next time, please take such good care of yourself. You’re so worth it.