Q. I felt unloved as a child and have struggled all my life to accept myself. My husband says he loves me but I have trouble believing this. I’m standoffish with others because I fear rejection. Why is it so hard for me to overcome my childhood hurts and believe I’m OK now? What can I do to overcome this problem?
Understanding Childhood Hurts
Many of us carry in our hearts some childhood hurts. As children we find ways to protect ourselves from hurt that is overwhelming. We learn to hide our hurt; we pretend that we feel happy or confident or brave when we really feel crushed or inadequate or fearful. Some of us even learn to detach from our feelings so we feel nothing.
Our heart is the hiding place for childhood hurts. By the time we reach adulthood many of us have hearts full of pain, but our hearts are hardened. Hurts that are buried from childhood and adolescence are very difficult and painful to face. We must make the decision to face our secret pain and share it. Doing this feels unsettling, risky and even painful. Yet it is the only way to free our heart of its pain so there is room for love.
Faith in God will help you open you heart. He knows you and loves you. Focus on His promises in Scripture. Journaling about your inner pain is also helpful. Write about all your inner fears, thoughts and worries. A Christian counselor or pastor can help you with this also.
If your childhood was traumatic you may experience painful emotions resurfacing during counseling. Re-experiencing some of these emotions will enable you to open your heart to love. Picture a protective shell around your heart. This shell protects you from pain but it also prevents love from reaching you. Often the shell is a defensive layer of false pride. For example we may act as though we know all the answers when we actually feel very unsure of ourselves.
There are four ways in which this shell of pride blocks us from receiving and giving love.
1. Judging. We judge others thinking about them critically. When we do this we are, on some level, feeling superior to them. We may think when someone is different they are “wrong.” We bolster our own self-esteem by thinking less of someone else.
2. Fear. We fear rejection so we don’t reach out to others. We fear criticism so we don’t let others know us. Fear prevents us from taking the risks that are a part of loving relationships.
3. Selfishness. Most of us must fight our own self-centeredness. We are tuned into what we want, what we feel, what we need and we have little regard for the needs, feelings and wants of others. Loving and being loved requires effort on our part. We must let love in and receive it and we must respond with love to complete the connection.
4. Viewing ourselves as unlovable. If we can’t love ourselves it is difficult to let the love offered to us into our hearts and it is difficult to respond and love others. We must learn to love the child we were and the person we are becoming. We must learn to be humble and open like a child – letting go of pride.
“Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” Luke 18:16 NLT
This article originally appeared on my Faith Notes blog