There is no growth without real feeling.
Children not loved for who they are
do not learn how to love themselves.
Their growth is an exercise in pleasing others,
not in expanding through experience.
As adults they must learn to nurture
their own lost child.
— Marion Woodman
When you were a child, if one or both of your parents didn’t love you for who you were, they were neglectful, self-absorbed, or both.
Their neglect doesn’t mean there was something wrong with you. And it doesn’t mean they were bad people. But it does mean that you were impacted.
The child you were became lost because they didn’t see you, nurture you, or affirm you.
And because children are resilient, resourceful, and create the best strategies they can to get their needs met, you probably made attempts — both subtle and blatant — to win their love and approval.
Imagine what this kind of “learning” does to a child. If this happened to you, imagine how it impacted you.
When a parent doesn’t convey to a child that she is loved for who she is, the parent’s legacy appears in the adult child’s life. She will:
- Seek a sense of worthiness in other people or relationships.
- Feel chronically defective or unworthy.
- Feel guilty when she takes care of herself or prioritizes herself.
- Become a perpetual people-pleaser.
Do you struggle with any of these?
One of the most painful — yet hidden — consequences of this kind of neglect is that the way you were parented becomes what love feels like to you.
When you encounter someone in your adult life whose attention and love has the same flavor of neglect or self-absorption, it will feel uncomfortable yet familiar to you.
When we learn to believe that being loved requires pleasing others, that is what will come naturally to us.
“Expanding through experience” means the growth that happens through discovering who we are as we respond to positive and negative experiences. On the other hand, if we weren’t seen and loved for who we are, pleasing others becomes the (painful) growth experience.
If you follow the “pleasing others” growth experience long enough, it will lead you back to yourself. You discover that pleasing others in exchange for love and approval isn’t pleasing at all. Instead, it’s exhausting and it doesn’t work.
As painful as this may be, the dead end of the people-pleasing growth path is an invitation to discover the lost child within you. The one who feels unseen, forgotten, and unworthy.
She needs your care, nurturing, and love.
Invitations for reflection, exploration, and action:
- Were you loved for who you were as a child?
- What are your authentic feelings about your answer to the first question?
- What does your parents’ inability to love you for who you were say about them, rather than being a reflection on you?
- What does the lost child in you need?
© Vicki Tidwell Palmer (2021)
Coming Home to Myself: Reflections for Nurturing a Woman’s Body and Soul (©1998)
By Marion Woodman and Jill Mellick
(Reprinted with permission)
*This post is from the Coming Home to You Series. Visit this page for the backstory of the CHTY Series.