When I was growing up I did not have much modeling for how to take care of myself. I was very outward focused, as you see in this picture of me at age three. My concern for others was reinforced with accolades from my mother and father, as being “such a comfort,” but there were drawbacks too. I paid so much attention to the emotions of others and whether they were happy or unhappy with me that I lost the ability to look inward and decide if I was happy with me. As a result, I spent inordinate amounts of time worrying about whether others liked me, and whether I was good enough.
Sound familiar? Read on…
Most of my life I have worried about whether people feel positively or negatively towards me. There are two things wrong with this.
First, I have come to learn (somewhat sheepishly!) that, most of the time, other people are not even thinking about me, but are instead thinking about something going on inside of them! (Ah! The ego is so self-important!) If you know the Myers-Briggs Personality Types, I’m an ENFJ. This means I’m naturally inclined towards taking other people’s comments personally, and I’m highly sensitive. Knowing this, I work extra hard to look inside first. If you don’t know what your type is, I encourage you to look up Myers-Briggs and take the test online. It will help you understand yourself, and how you interact with others.
Second, being a naturally feeling person, I care about others and how they feel, but sometimes to the detriment of my own well-being. I hope I always care about others, but I am learning that I need to care about myself first.
A few weeks ago, in anticipation of seeing many members of my family of origin over vacation, I became very anxious. A friend asked me, “What does your little girl need right now?” The question was familiar to me, but I was unable to answer it. I was stumped. I couldn’t even figure out how old she was, never mind what she looked like, which room of my childhood she was standing in, or what she needed. My friend knew just what to do. She tucked me into bed, even though it was 2PM, and with a very loving tone of voice, told me she would come back in an hour to check on me. She bent over and gave me a kiss on the cheek.
I felt like a five-year-old. I wiped my eyes and settled into the comfortable feeling of being cared for. Could I ever do this for myself? I asked. A clue appeared right then. Hadn’t I just said I felt like a five-year-old? Maybe I could find that little girl.
A few days later, after driving over to our house in Maine, I found her. During a meditation with my husband, the little girl came to me and asked if I would make a ceremonial altar for her. I stood up to gather various treasures to put on a low table: a felt bird sitting in a nest of moss; two very large clam shells, one with a candle on top of a heart-shaped rock, the other with a wishbone in it; a large beeswax candle shaped like a pine cone; a Mexican pottery lion with sage in it; and a kachina doll my dad had given to me when I was eight. Presto! My little girl came alive! She was thrilled at the love I was showing her.
A while later, when I went back to meditating, a strange thing happened. I was sitting with my five-year-old “on my lap, stroking her hair.” All of a sudden, I felt my heart open. It opened so wide I felt air whoosh through it from every direction. I had a sense of black, the color that absorbs all other colors. And then I realized what it was. I had found universal love.
The way in to my little girl was the way out to universal, or eternal love. For sixty-one years I’ve been looking to the outside. Now I’ve turned myself inside out, and I know in the expanse of my heart, I will never again be without love.
Here’s an exercise for you the next time you feel empty or sad:
- Get comfortable, on a pillow on the floor, on a chair, or on your bed.
- Make sure you are warm enough.
- Close your eyes and go inside. After you have found a place of relative stillness, look for your little girl or boy.
- Ask what age is s/he? What is s/he wearing? Where is s/he?
- Then ask him (or her) what is wanted from you.
- If you have trouble getting in touch with your inner child, imagine you are talking to a little boy or girl you know and love outside yourself.
- Find some things that might represent the little one in you, as a way of honoring her/him, and create your own ceremonial alter.
- Do this as often as you need to. And if you hear that screamy voice calling from the background, making you grumpy or sad, just ask it what it needs from you. If you can give it some of your love, you will be a long way to feeling universal love. It is always there.
Thank you Eileen,
How did you know this was just what I needed to be reminded of as I tromp around trying to deal with everything while the hurt, unidentified feelings are underneath the surface? Staying grounded and in a quiet place long enough to let the truth of what I feel takes time, The little girl needs to feel comfortable enough to come out from hiding. I find it also helps simply to give myself time to be, walk, play, be alone and get comfortable with myself again, be loving to myself again; then she comes slowly out from behind the curtain, the one I saw from across the room all along, seeing her form behind the material emerge within me.
Isn’t it amazing how with just a little attention, our little one blossoms? When we’re in the doldrums we can imagine it might take days — or years. But in reality, it might be something as a cup of tea with our feet up for 15 minutes, or a chat with a friend on the phone. It is much simpler and easier than we think, if we just take the time to notice the deficit. Brava to you for looking inside and acting on behalf of your precious little girl.
“First, I have come to learn (somewhat sheepishly!) that, most of the time, other people are not even thinking about me, but are instead thinking about something going on inside of them!”
I have this exact same problem; now when I overthink to the point of anxiety I try and step back and repeat this over and over to get out of the habit.
I’m an INFJ and I seem to exhaust myself in similar (albeit in more introverted) ways, so I shall be keeping your tips in mind.
Dear Alice, how true it is what you say, that most of the time people are thinking about something going on inside of them. ENFJ’s and INFJ’s share the challenge of caring too much how others feel about them. I hope that some of my tips above will be helpful to you in caring for yourself. Then the opinions of others will matter less.
A friend introduced you to me. After reading a bit of your blog and seeing your picture I thought you must be, as Elaine Aaron has written and which is the title of her first book a “Highly Sensitive Person” Three cheers! I join you in that characteristic as well as the NFJ typing, though I am an “I”. (Though I think life as an ENFJ would be easier!? I have read your blog about the stuffed heart that is used to resolve conflict and the two wolves. Such wisdom and your words touch my heart. It is good to find a kindred spirit!
Best wishes as you share the good words.
Thanks so much for writing. It’s nice to know that some people read back weeks of blog posts! And I feel in good company with other “Highly Sensitive Persons!” My husband and I are just about ready to launch a very small business selling the stuffed red hearts as talking tools with children, between couples, or in work settings etc. More in 2014! Meanwhile, I hope you’ll enjoy more posts. They come out every Tuesday.
With tender care,