Healing from Childhood: 5 Exercises to Jumpstart Progress

Spring-cleaning tips for your psychological and spiritual health.

Posted Mar 02, 2021 | Reviewed by Abigail Fagan

Photograph by Elena Rabkina. Copyright free. Unsplash.
Source: Photograph by Elena Rabkina. Copyright free. Unsplash.

It’s been a long hard winter for everyone—nothing like a pandemic to keep you anxious and isolated—but we can begin to take advantage of the natural world’s emergence into spring.

As the days get longer and the world around us becomes greener, we can begin to reassess the road ahead and focus on what still needs to be done so that our best selves can begin to flourish. Self-awareness and knowledge are our best companions as we set off on the road ahead. A new season—especially one of rebirth—is a perfect time to focus on the self and possibility.

Here are five different strategies to get you going.

1.     Real-world declutter exercise

Taking a look at what’s undone—what you’ve let pile up or haven’t attended to—is part of getting yourself ready for spring. That could be the boots and shoes piled up by the door, the utility drawer that’s overflowing, or the clothes piled up on the chair in the bedroom. (The last one is mine.)

Studies show that physical clutter can actually slow us down, make us feel as though getting anything done is well-neigh impossible, and make our homes feel more like a prison than a retreat, especially with so many of us working there. Decluttering is one way of taking control of your life—both literally and symbolically—and making your space look pretty and inviting will definitely boost your spirits. And, by the way, decluttering your inbox will make you feel lighter too.

Make a list of the spaces you want to tackle and do them one at a time. Toss or donate what you no longer want or need. Celebrate progress with before-and-after photos!

2.     Inner garden clean-up

For a garden to flourish in the spring, plants need to be tended to, leaves need to raked, woody stems need pruning, and soil needs to be turned over and nourished; our inner gardens are no different. Make a promise to yourself to become an even better inner gardener and begin by answering the following questions in writing in a journal or on a computer. Hold the self-criticism, please, and remember to process.

  • What’s the single biggest obstacle to my healing from my childhood as of now?
  • What strategies will I adopt to move past this blockage?
  • What habit of mind do I need to work harder on? (This can be either a positive one like self-compassion or a negative one like rumination.)
  • What problems or confrontations have I been avoiding?
  • How will I move forward to deal with them?
  • Is there “dead wood” in my life that needs pruning? How will I work to change those areas of my life?

3.     Green growth project

I’ve written about this before and it’s been proven to be popular with readers. Even if you’re not a gardener—and many of you aren’t—or you live in an apartment without outdoor space, there’s something inspiring and transformative about seeing growth and change in action and making a metaphor real. Yes, I am talking plants here.

If you already garden indoors or out, you can probably just focus on the green denizens of your personal world but, if you don’t, this is a heads-up! The easiest thing to do is to buy a small plant that has some new growth on it; a pothos or philodendron is practically death-defying so if you’re a novice, start with one of them.

You can also DIY and grow a plant! The easiest is a sweet potato which ends up being really pretty. Use an organic sweet potato and place the pointed end in a container of water, and stick four toothpicks into the sides about one-third of the way down from the top so the top is exposed. Replace the water every two or three days and put it in a sunny window; in a few weeks, you’ll see a vine begin to spout! If the vine gets too leggy, just pinch it back to make the plant bushier. You can transplant your sweet potato vine into potting soil or give it to a friend with a garden; yes, the vine will produce edible sweet potatoes! 

4.     Do a green guided reflection

Over the course of the weeks, spend time looking at your plant in detail, noticing small changes—the emergence of a new shoot, the subtle curving of a leaf, the progress of a vine. You should do this even if you’re used to indoor gardening; the point of this exercise is to increase your focus and sensitivity to the smallest signs of progress and growth.

Once you’ve done that, please read and think about the following questions and then answer them from the heart in a journal or on your computer. You will want to refer back to them later in the year.

  • What small signs of change do I see in myself that others might not notice?
  • Which behaviors am I now ready to challenge and change?
  • On what area in my life do I want to focus my energy and growth?
  • What can I do in the way of self-care that will facilitate my growth?

5.     Raise your conscious awareness by looking and listening

Many unloved daughters need to become more aware of their thoughts and feelings because they learned to push off from them or deny them in childhood. One way of doing that is to become more present and attuned to your surroundings in the day-to-day. I discovered this in fullness during the pandemic in a city that has been pretty much shut down for a year by becoming a fledgling birder which made me alert to my environment in new ways. Looking for birds has me scanning the skies, paying close attention to the branches of trees, and much more.

Regardless of whether you live in a city, a town, or in the country, you can raise your consciousness by taking walks and paying attention to what you’re seeing, hearing, and even smelling. The natural world—even in a city filled with tall towers built surrounded by concrete—has much to teach us about being in the now. If you wish, take notes or photos and you’ll be surprised that if you walk precisely the same route just days or a week later, you’ll see things you missed the first time.

The energy we each bring to the journey of healing makes all the difference; think of these suggestions as workouts for the heart, the head, and the soul.

The ideas in this post are adapted from my books Daughter Detox: Recovering from an Unloving Mother and Reclaiming Your Life and The Daughter Detox Companion Workbook: A Year of Guided Journaling, Inspiration, and Tools to Heal.

Copyright © 2017, 2018, 2021 by Peg Streep