Nurtured babies learn they are worthy of love when mom and dad hold, nourish, and come running at each cry. Neglected or abused babies do not learn this. Instead they learn to feel insecure and to stop asking for help.
Nurtured toddlers learn they can make mistakes when exploring the world and that mom and dad will help pick them up each time they fall. They learn that new experiences may come with bumps and bruises, but that does not hold them back. They gain confidence in their own abilities and trust in their own self as well as others. Neglected or abused toddlers learn not to explore and learn that pain and terror are around every corner. No one picks them up or kisses the bumps and bruises, or worse, they are scolded for their attempts and made to feel stupid and wrong and ashamed.
Nurtured children learn to think and reason and dream big. They always have big plans and hopes. They have real adventures and family experiences. Neglected or abused children learn hopelessness and have nightmares instead of dreams. They have imagined adventures and dysfunctional experiences.
Nurtured tweens learn to push limits safely, knowing mom and dad will reign them in if they stray too far. Neglected or abused tweens know the penalty of pushing limits is too high to take any risks. Or they act up and get punished for misbehavior to take control of the situation, may as well do something wrong if the punishment comes regardless.
Nurtured adolescents learn who they are and what they want and form plans for the future. They begin making big decisions with confidence, with mom and dad more in the background at times, knowing that if they choose wrong, mom and dad are still there for them. Neglected or abused teens only know how to go to extremes – either becoming invisible or striving to be superstars. They learn not to make plans and feel the future is a mythical concept not meant for them, but for those who deserve it. They don’t believe they belong in this world. With no guidance, they may make life altering mistakes and are left to suffer the consequences alone.
Nurtured young adults are prepared for a life on their own, have a strong support network, but a strong need to make a life of their own, a home of their own. Neglected or abused young adults have an overwhelming desire to escape and no skills or support to handle what the world may throw their way. They may be getting tired of fighting and hurting and getting no where. They don’t believe life can ever be different – this is all they ever knew. Getting away from home does not stop the pain, as they continue to abuse themselves with self-hate. This is devastating. Suicide attempts are seen as the only way out of this darkness.
Nurtured adults settle into a routine and find satisfaction raising their own family, following family traditions and reliving fond memories. Neglected or abused adults feel overwhelmed by the chaos of daily life, have no traditions to repeat, must carve their own way all brand new, and are often reminded of painful memories, not sweet ones. Thoughts of escape are common, but a sense of obligation and flickers of occasional love keep them going.
This is where my story catches up with me and takes a totally different path. This neglected and abused little girl has learned to nurture herself. She is gaining confidence and self worth. She is learning to explore and has found that not all roads end in pain. She has learned to trust herself more and those around her too. She is amazed at what she can do. She is curious and bright eyed. She feels hope and has big dreams. She still has painful memories, but the power of building new sweet memories is growing stronger as the painful ones grow dim. Chaos grows into some routine, and the routine adds to her sense of security. She sees how far she has come and although still grieves for the hurt little girl inside that had to learn all these lessons so late in life, all on her own, she now holds her head up high and faces the pain head on. The hole will always be there, but she accepts this now and has no need to fill it or hide it. Instead she makes safe boundaries to prevent falling into that hole. She no longer wants to disappear.
Soon there will be a nurtured middle-aged adult standing here confidently, knowing her worth in this world, knowing she is loved, nurturing her family and allowing herself to be nurtured, dreaming big, and making steady progress towards those dreams.
You can’t unlearn a lesson. I have learned how to love myself, and accept that I am loved – once and for all, unconditionally. I have learned to cross bridges alone into the unknown. Sometimes I even take flying leaps with no bridge in sight. You can do this when you believe in your ability to handle what is ahead, and realize that even if you handle it poorly, you still handled it. You are free from the paralyzing past of using perfection as the only route. Perfect is not a goal. Taking one more step is. Even if its the wrong direction. Wrong is not a dirty word. Being wrong is not shameful – it is human. The more you are wrong, the more you will learn.
Jason Mraz is right about so many things, including “The remedy is the experience”