Q I had quite a good childhood – I was an only child who had plenty of stuff, nice holidays, pretty dresses and toys – but yet I still feel so sad inside.
I’ve been self-harming since my teens, have an eating disorder and I’ve even tried to kill myself in the past. My dad was a busy business man and we travelled around a lot and I went to several schools. My parents divorced and I lived with my mum from the age of 12. She was depressed and a heavy drinker.
I’m trying hard to make a go of my life, but I’m still single at 35. It’s becoming late for me to be a mother and I fear this will never happen now, but more than that I fear that I’d pass my own sadness and problems on to my child too. I hate my own company, and yet when I do get a man I change into this suspicious, scared and clingy little kid and I despise myself for being like that. It causes arguments and split-ups. I push people away because they can’t cope with me. I’m so sad underneath my smiley face. How can I find a happy relationship and have a baby with him?
A You’ve raise several points here – and my written response can’t cover them all fully – but I’ll share my main thoughts with you, and perhaps you can then decide if you’d like to get additional professional help to fill in the gaps.
The most important relationship you will ever have is the one you have with yourself.
The fact that you wear a smiley mask, and then harm and punish yourself, and avoid spending time alone suggests that this area needs some care and attention first of all.
It sounds like your parents gave you the illusion of a good childhood but clearly something very important was missing. I’d guess that was time, attention and interest in you as an individual. They were both distracted and may have neglected your emotional needs, perhaps without even realising it.
Relocating to new homes and schools would also have created an insecurity inside you and difficulties with fitting in and forming new relationships – which you didn’t expect to last for long anyway.
Your self-harming behaviours and child-like regression in your relationships are both a symptom of your earlier pain and emotional wounds. We repeat the trauma, but we take on both roles ourself – the giver and receiver of pain.
Your neediness in relationships overwhelms people and pushes them away. They know that they can’t meet your needs. They are not your parent. This heightens your pain even more as history keeps repeating itself.
You are probably attracting men who have their own drama to re-enact and play out – and which ends in familiar ways for you both.
You are trying to soothe your emotional pain – or get other people to do that for you – but the problem is that you don’t seem to like (let alone love) the little child inside you. That vulnerable and sad part of you that most needs your care and attention. That child who needs you to care for her before you can then care properly for your own baby.
It’s time for you to become your own loving parent. Your Inner Child is crying out for your help – and only you can soothe her and give her a happier life.
Re-parenting your Inner Child will gradually allow you to feel more worthy of love, care and attention from someone else – and then to have enough ‘topped up’ to be able to share this with your own baby later on.
Talk kindly to your wounded Inner Child. Don’t repeat any words of rejection or of not feeling worthy of time and attention.
I don’t know what you saw of adult relationships as a child but perhaps you need to get clear about what makes a good, healthy, mutually respectful adult relationship now.
You can’t create, or pass on, what you don’t know. There are some great articles available on the internet about what makes for healthy relationships.
I know this may sound weird (and counter-intuitive) but give it a go anyway. Ask yourself ‘Why do I have such a good/great relationships?’
The answers will show you what you need to have in place.
When you can begin to re-parent yourself with care, empathy and compassion; you will become more emotionally robust and resilient; you will be better able to moderate and regulate your emotions and clean up your thought process – and avoid that old re-cycled negative stuff that belongs in the rubbish bin.
You can regain that innocence and perfection you had as a baby before your absorbed negative impressions about yourself from the people who should have known better.
If you catch yourself saying nasty things to yourself, then ask yourself – would I talk to my own child like this? Would I force feed or starve them? Would I cut, bruise or scar them? Would I avoid being alone with them?
As for finding a relationship and perhaps becoming a mum. That can then follow. There’s no rush… the end result will be worth the time. Better make a start right now with repairing the relationship you have with yourself.
You have to make yourself feel good all by yourself first – then no-one can take that lovely feeling away from you if they leave you.
You are the only person who will never leave your inner child – so promise her a better life, give her your time and attention, bring her laughter and love.
Then you will radiate a different energy and attract people into your life who are on that same wavelength frequency. You may also attract some who aren’t, but just see them as a test of your determination to only have people in your life who respect you and your time, and can return your love in a safe and considerate way.
Mature love is about wanting to keep repeating the good feelings you have when you’re with your lover. It’s about needing someone around because you want them in your life… not wanting them because you need them to be there to make you feel better.
No-one, whether adult or child, can ever do that for you. It starts with you and your courage and determination to change your pain into self-compassion and love.
Maxine Harley (MSc Psychotherapy)