How many times does a parent have to postpone a hungry child before eating or a child with a full bladder before using a restroom—before that child learns by experience that their needs don’t matter and are less important than others?
How many times does a child have to try and interrupt a parent’s conversation with a need and get shushed away before they learn they aren’t important enough to get attention?
I don’t know the answer to these questions, but it’s something that I’ve been deeply mulling over the last few days—because that child was me. Somewhere along my childhood, I learned the deep lie that my needs didn’t really matter and that they should come after everyone else’s got met (if they even got met at all).
And so I find myself now in the middle of an awakening, realizing how much my early childhood actually shaped my now adult belief system about my own needs. And I have become more and more aware of my ongoing struggle with being able to meet, voice, and even actually KNOW what my needs are.
I remember number-line assessment questions being used on me a lot when I was growing up. I think my parents meant to use them as a helpful assessment tool, like was I about to pee my pants right then or could I wait 5 minutes?—that sort of thing. But because I’d already disconnected from my body’s present experience in so many ways as a result of the earlier sexual abuse, I didn’t even know how to feel my body’s needs much less put a voice or number to them.
And so those abstract questions asking me to assign a number to my pain, my hunger, or any other body discomfort were extremely difficult for me. Those questions repeatedly spiraled me into a heightened state of panic as I was unable to connect with my body in virtually any capacity. Those questions also taught me that a need had to be really painful or intense before it was important enough to get met.
To this day, when someone asks me to rate something on a number-line scale, I want to punch them in the face and ask them how much that hurt on a scale of one to ten.
Needless to say, I don’t use those types of questions with my kids. If my kids are hungry, I go feed them. If they need to use the restroom, I find them one. I don’t want my kids to feel that they have to qualify their needs or their pain in order to get them met. Because I know what that feels like and what internal lies can be formed as a result.
I want my kids to have the childhood remembrance that when they needed something, their needs got met—unequivocally, no justification or number-line needed. You have a need—it gets met. Period. And I also know that the way I parent my kids will one day become the way that my kids parent my grandchildren. And I’m already planning ahead. I want my grandkids to receive a better spiritual heritage than what was passed onto me.
But I’m having to work reallllly hard now just to stay mindful and tune into my own physical or emotional needs and my present body experience. Decades of numbing out my own body reality didn’t do me any favors. It was a helpful coping mechanism when I was a child trapped in abuse; but once I became an adult, it became a completely counterproductive and obsolete tool.
So what does that numbed-out child look like once she grew into an adult?
She looks like someone who often forgets to eat meals, like someone who postpones urgent bathroom trips for hours, like someone who says yes to her kids’ requests even though her body is screaming, “noooooo, I need rest.”
She looks like someone who often escapes into her mind— ruminating, problem-solving, or planning whenever an overwhelming emotion pops up on her radar instead of just giving herself the space to actually feel it.
She looks like someone who doesn’t know when to stop working for the day and who has struggled with insomnia and adrenal exhaustion for most of her adult life.
And to this day, I still struggle with those things—especially staying in my mind, exhausting myself, unable to downshift and engage my parasympathetic nervous system in order to rest.
My current journey is a journey of reconnection to body. I’ve spent years working on my spirit and soul, and turning up the volume on my body connection is just the next piece of the healing puzzle.
Because that is where my current life imbalance lies.
And this journey of reconnection to body is a process; it’s not a light-switch fix. It will probably take me years of intentionality and patience to remedy. The only way I can heal this imbalance is to start paying attention, to STAY paying attention, to continually release myself from my perfectionistic tendencies, and to dump LOADS of compassion and kindness onto myself when I forget to pay attention—again.
And you know what?
God is so with me in this healing space.
And I’m not just getting reconnected to my own body experience as I heal the imbalance, I’m also growing deeper into my experience and union with Him.