Giving too much of yourself and saying yes too often is something many people are accustomed to doing to avoid conflicts and feelings of guilt. A sincere desire to give is wonderful, however, there’s a distinction between giving of yourself and giving up yourself. Ignoring your own desires and views may not only deny “who you are” but, over time, may lead to resenting others, feeling fatigued or anxious, and experiencing stress induced physical symptoms.
The pattern of avoiding conflicts and pleasing others without considering your own needs is typical for someone who was not allowed to say no in his or her family – being criticized, yelled at, or abused in childhood. Bradshaw, an inner child specialist, adds that this pattern might also stem from not having been able to properly complete the toddler phase between 18 months to three years. While still feeling dependent, toddlers are trying to separate from their parents to explore their autonomy by opposing their parents. These interactions are often interpreted as power struggles by parents whose patience is pushed to the edge. If parents do not know how to model healthy ways to handle frustrations and set appropriate limits, children might not be able to test their power successfully. As a result they may end up having difficulty saying no to others or even asking for what they want without feeling great remorse or shame. As adults they might continue this particular pattern without knowing where their behavior originated.
One of the most helpful ways of gaining back a sense of “power of being you” is to spend time with your “inner child” that still needs to complete this toddler phase effectively. The best way to access your inner child is when you are still and quiet such as in a state of meditation or self-hypnosis. Before you start, set an intention of how you want to feel. Additionally, telling yourself that you are looking from the here and now is important so that you don’t regress during this exercise. Also remember that you are not in the same situation you were during childhood. If going back to childhood memories brings up traumatic experiences, I would advise you to have the support of a psychotherapist.
When you are in a relaxed position, ask your inner child to come forward – the child that that holds the original pain of what you are currently struggling with. For example, if you want to resolve your issue of needing to stand up for yourself, you need to connect to the child that is linked to the time you learned not to stand up for yourself. Our subconscious holds “inner children” that are of various ages and therefore a different child may come forward at different times. With a little practice, connecting with your inner child becomes easier and you might receive an image, a sensation, or recall a scenario from your past where you were hurt or needed attention.
Once your inner child appears, do not push or force your inner child to do anything – just observe her and let him or her guide you for a while. Stay with it and notice what is happening as you pay attention. Even though you would think the child knows you, it needs to learn to trust and to get to know you. Often people are not sure what to do or say. Test out what your inner child responds to and value the child’s accomplishments. Say something nurturing and comforting like “I am here for you;” or “It is Okay to say no, to be mad or sad, and to explore;” and “I will make sure you don’t get hurt.” Be patient as all new skills require time and practice.
To help this process, try to gather information about each of your developmental stages and find out as much as you can about your childhood. Additionally, I encourage you to debrief your experience with someone that you can trust and who will support you. Once you have completed the toddler stage successfully, you can reclaim the power of being you and saying “yes” to your own desires and opinions. As you respect your own desires and boundaries and stop repressing them, you might experience increased energy, less anxiety, and less stress on your body. Even more, others have a chance to see who you really are and get to know you on a deeper level.