- Dora Nudelman
We Are All Just Children Inside
Most adults don’t think of themselves as children, especially as they are tasked with all sorts of responsibilities, obligations, and grown up problems. But what many of us forget is that while we are indeed grown up in many ways, we are still only children on the inside.
Children have an inherent sense of wonder, an uninhibited nature, and a totally trusting disposition. But children also have a deep need for validation, approval, and love. As we age, however, we often tend to lose our sense of wonderment in favor of a more practical perspective, yet we maintain the same needs that we had early on in life. We still need to feel validated, loved, heard, and accepted; we just mask them as something else.
Just look to social media and you will see how much we justify our actions without realizing the needs we are so desperately trying to fulfill as a result. “Love me, like me, want me, adore me, admire me, validate me.” These are all things we say without actually saying it. And this moves beyond social media too as it affects the types of relationships we allow into our lives and the choices we make at any given moment. So just like when we were kids, we still look to the outside world in order to feel valued, loved, and appreciated. We still look for the approval of others. And we still seek permission to live our lives as we please.
However, when we acknowledge that we are still children on the inside, we can then at least be honest about what we are actually seeking. You see, when we deny what we truly want we never really get it, not in the bigger picture anyway, and that’s when disappointment ensues. So, the question then becomes, how do we give ourselves the validation we seek so that we are no longer at the mercy of everyone else’s opinions?
When we are kids, everything is a learning opportunity and we are eager to soak up as much as we can. We push the boundaries to see how far we can get but, ultimately, we succumb to external authority figures who tell us what we are allowed to do, what we are supposed to believe, and how we must conduct ourselves.
As such, we do not learn to follow our own inner voice because we are simply too young or too inexperienced to trust it. Granted, many of these rules and standards that were enforced were done so with good intentions, but many times they were also imposed on us based on someone else’s fears and beliefs. As we grow up, however, we still tend to question our inner voice and we still tend to follow the rules others have laid out for us. And so, unless we make the conscious effort to change that, we will continue living in an endless cycle of self-doubt and insecurity. If we do not make the effort to trust ourselves, many of us will still keep looking to the outside world to ultimately tell us what we are worth.
So, what do we do now? Well, the first thing we can do is to simply acknowledge and admit to ourselves that we do still crave validation. Rather than denying it or pretending like we are above it all, we can choose to be honest with ourselves. Yes, we do want that pat on the back and, yes, we do want people to tell us that we are good enough. Hence, accepting ourselves and owning up to our needs is the only way we will truly be able to fulfill what we really want.
Next, instead of waiting to receive that approval from others, we need to start giving it to ourselves. We need to start asking ourselves what we believe makes us worthy. And then we need to give ourselves exactly what we seek from everyone else. Maybe we need to make lists of all of our positive qualities. Maybe we need to affirm our personal value. And maybe we need to dig a little deeper to understand why we actually feel the way we do about ourselves in the first place. It might take some work but it will be well worth the effort if in the end we are no longer dependent upon others for our self-esteem.
What would you say now to your younger self? What validation, acceptance, love, or approval can you give your inner child now that you didn’t receive or longed for when you were a kid? And even if you did get all that from your caregivers, ask yourself where you felt inadequate anyway, and why? Perhaps you felt pressure to perform or to meet certain expectations. Maybe you felt like you didn't fit in and longed to be accepted by your peers. Maybe you felt helpless in a certain situation that was not of your making, causing you to feel insecure, fearful, and lacking in trust. Whatever it was, figure out where you didn't get what you needed so that you can figure out what to do about it now.
The thing is, the longer we brush our needs under the rug, the more addicted we will become to external validation. But that is a slippery slope because the more we need that validation, the more we need that validation. As such, we will create unhealthy coping mechanisms that might help us feel better in the short term, but will ultimately become detrimental to our true self-worth and identity.
For instance, some of us shy away from taking responsibility for our actions for fear of being “bad.” Some of us get defensive at the slightest sign of criticism or feedback, likely caused by a fear of not being good enough. And both of these things could have stemmed from a perception likely created when we were criticized as a child. Or perhaps we chase after relationships that are dysfunctional because we were not given the love and attention we desired in our younger years. Or maybe we become workaholics who try to prove our worth because we were not encouraged enough when we were younger, or perhaps because expectations and standards were placed so exceptionally high. Perhaps we just want to prove to ourselves that we are superhuman in order to mask our true feelings of inadequacy and inferiority. And we might even be extra competitive with other people because we were taught a misguided definition of perfection or we were fed a faulty belief about lack.
There are so many ways our unresolved needs from childhood can manifest into our adult lives. But the only way we can truly get over these issues is if we recognize those needs and provide what we need for ourselves. That way we will no longer be dependent upon external validation, whether we get it or not. And that way we will feel free to be ourselves regardless of what anyone else says, thinks, or does. Maybe then we will recapture that sense of wonderment we had (or wanted) as children so that we can live our lives in balance, feeling completely confident, safe, uninhibited, fearless, and fulfilled.