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Childhood of Dreams. If You Build It…


You grew up with the happiest childhood imaginable. You did! You really did! Or at least you might have. And you know the bumper sticker that says, “It’s never too late to have a happy childhood”? I’ve learned it speaks the truth, though not in the way I always thought.

A few months ago I devised for myself a new and helpful meditation. It probably isn’t my creation, but if I heard of it before I’m not sure where. Meditation may be too strong a word; visualization or fantasy might fit better. The basic technique involves imagining a better childhood and family life than I actually experienced.

19 Comments to
Childhood of Dreams. If You Build It…

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  1. Hi, Will,

    Good post. Here is another exercise that I practice. I did have a good child hood, although, being the only girl with 4 brothers and being very sensitive I did not always feel the love from my mother that should have come my way. I always heard, everyone did, that my mother raised 5 boys. She basically denied that she had a daughter, only sons. So, anyway – to help me find the love that I did not feel as a child I visualize the house where I grew up. I picture myself driving into the driveway in the present and finding myself as a 5 year old swinging on the swing under the apple tree. My little self comes running up to me – she was always smiling – and I give her a hug and tell her how much I love her and what a loveable little girls she is. Then, an older 17 year old version of me comes out of the house and I hug her and tell her how beautiful she is and how smart and wonderful she is. I do the same for the 22 year old me as well. It is pretty emotional exercise but it works very well at healing that little person. I repeat it on occassion when I am in a good meditation zone.

  2. Sheila–

    That’s a lovely exercise. You sound like a more creative version of myself in the way you think up practices that will help you heal.

    Best Wishes.

    –Will

  3. This practice began with a loving kindness meditation which I expanded on and practice from time to time when I have the need. I am a very visual person, so it is not a difficult practice for me. This practice, initially, is very emotional and for many, may not be easy to do, but we are all worthy of feeling love for ourselves.

  4. Wow. What a great idea. I’m going to start rewriting my own story now. Who’s to say we can’t create our own reality? Just look at my hero, Harold and the Purple Crayon! :>)

    • Tamara–
      Isn’t it a relief to realize we can escape the constraints of our past? We are no longer prisoners of the ailing people who raised us, but free to write our own stories. Have fun!
      –Will

  5. I had two childhoods. A happy one with animals and picnics and another, completely different childhood.

    Depending on my mood depends on how I see my childhood.

    • Sonia–
      The point you make, that mood affects how we see the past, is vital. Even in my own case, for all the awful stuff that happened, there were many happy memories. They happened with other relatives besides my immediate family, or on Boy Scout camping trips, or at summer camp, or even at school. In fact, much of the time I was away from the family home I was having fun. In my better moods those recollections come to me; in my dark states, they don’t. So another, more realistic, approach would be to concentrate on the true uplifting memories. That is actually something I do at times, and probably more often than I enter the practice listed here. (My format on this site, as I’m currently seeing it, predicates one pragmatic suggestion per post. So I don’t elaborate on all the variations and alternatives.) The advantage of inventing a completely new upbringing is mainly that I get to have a little longer time with my mother. But that feels really good, so I do the exercise. –Will

  6. I’m way behind on blog reading, so I just read this. It would violate one of my primary precepts for myself, which is honesty. My mother has always denied the truth of events, so for me being honest is critical. When part of the abuse occurs when someone denies reality, it doesn’t help to invent a new reality.

    • Jude-

      I completely respect this point of view. I am certainly opposed to pretending abuse did not occur, and I specifically mentioned that it is important to not get lost in denial when using this technique. For some, this practice may be upsetting if it seems similar to experiences of childhood, where all-too-often adults deny the reality of abuse. I don’t think it would have been right for me in earlier years, when I still felt very angry and wanted the world to know what happened. But for some people, in the right stage of development, this can be a useful practice. Once the reality of the abuse has been internalized and processed, and the pain of the abused child honored, it does not hurt to give the heart a little nourishment of this sort.

      –Will

  7. Interesting article! It remind me my own exercise practiced years ago. I came from a very abusive (physical & emotional)family. I ran away at age 16 while living with a relative since age 13. At times, as adult, I felt too vulnerable, emotional, insecure, distrusful and kind of “abandoned child” feeling. I used to practice for a while an exercise where I used my own adulthood state to rescue, protect and nurture the “crying and abandoned girl”. It worked. I gradually started feeling confident, focus oriented, better grounded. Of course, it was a process where I also refocused attention to myself, meditating, caring and I truly wanted to improve and overcome who I was. Again, it wasn’t magic, it was a painful process.

    • Edith–

      Thank you for sharing your story and your healing. I understand when you say it wasn’t magic and that it was painful. But we get there with time and effort, don’t we?

      Blessings,

      –Will

  8. Interesting posting, since I am currently being treated for ‘re-acting’ @50, to abuses from childhood memories.

    The visualisation idea seems good and I can do that. But my problem is not feeling or remembering good or bad elements, but reacting to similar modern day circumstances as I would have felt when young.

    In this concept, I am referring to wife beating by my step-father when I was young. For a lifetime, I always react to what I see as bullying in the same way.

    • Jon–

      Recovery from childhood adversity requires work on many levels. The visualization was one practice I explored for a time. There’ve been many others. Recently I started a new blog on PsychCentral: Peace, Love & Childhood Adversity. It has a few pieces of relevance. Of course, there are many other resources out there. With time and effort, one can outgrow much of the conditioning of childhood. One can become less reactive and more tender. Certain vulnerabilities may persist, but they can be viewed with greater acceptance and compassion. This, at least, has been my experience.

      Best Wishes,

      –Will

  9. Hi,

    This is really informative. I’ve never tried this approach. Instead, my painful memories live active lives inside my head, and this really does impact my day to day experience of life and my ability to pursue my most important goals.

    • Thanks, Karen. I’ve found it to be a useful tool. It’s also helpful for me to remember actual positive memories, and savor them. Though my childhood was often painful, there were some pleasant times. So keeping that in mind prevents me from painting the past with a single brush.

      The relationship between memory and imagination is closer than people used to think.

      Best Wishes,

      Will

  10. Hi Will Thanks for a thought-provoking post.

    I am also in the situation where it would breach a lifelong principle to construct an alternative, false, reality. In addition, I have dealt with the past by cherry-picking the good and tossing the bad. Decades ago I examined in the greatest detail I could, the child I had been, and then said goodbye. A vital part of me died when I was young. I mourned for that little boy but I let him go and I laid him to rest. I found my peace in being a father to my 2 children. I provide them with everything that little boy yearned for and shield them from t and by rut

  11. (I inadvertently posted too soon. Apologies). ….”I provide them with everything that that little boy yearned for and shield them from all that harmed him. I love and protect them fiercely. Is my world perfect? No. Is it viable? Most definitely. I am happily married, successful, my children are happy and grounded achievers and my wife is content. Life is very good.

    I believe that we need to live proudly and honestly and accept and embrace all that has happened to us in our journey. I know I am damaged (I am bi-polar, suffer from PTSD as I served in the military and suffer from social disorders) but I manage with therapy, medication, exercise and, most importantly, by being in a constant and heightened state of awareness of self, behaviour and actions. In addition, I am hyper–vigilant and continuously scan myself for signs of aberrant behaviour. I know that my life depends on 100% concentration on knowledge and management of self. I do not use alcohol or narcotics as they tend to derail me and almost destroyed me many years ago.

    Rereading the above makes my life seem drear and constrained but it is not. It is a highly-disciplined and Spartan life but that is not how I present to my children. I am a good father and husband and filled with love, joy compassion, duty, responsibility and benevolence.

    I know that one size does definitely not fit all and that we all construct realities to suit. This is mine – deliberately ‘sacrificing’ some freedom, or part, of self or submitting to rigorous self-discipline in order to live a life of service to my family. Perhaps my life will change or gain greater depth as I age and my children leave their orbits around me. For now it is enough.

    Excuse the ‘stream of consciousness’ nature of the post but I came across your article – I was actually researching Dialectic Behaviour Therapy for my special needs son – and felt compelled to comment and immediately so.

    Anyhow, I hope this post has some value to you even if it is only to let you know that your article reached another reader and caused them to question and examine their life choice.

    Thanks for listening.

    • Hi Charl

      Thanks for your comments.

      I believe raising one’s own children with the love, encouragement, and safety one did not receive in childhood is likely the best remedy for the pain of early hardship.

      The strategy of building out warm pictures of a past that never was worked for me at the time. I never mistook my manufactured memories for real ones, however. And I never forgot the difficulties of my upbringing. The idea was merely to help me feel something other than grief and anger when looking back. In fact, there were actual happy times in my early life that I could not access. More recently, I’ve worked on remembering pleasant times that truly *did* happen, and allowing myself to savor them. My habit had become one of focusing only on the negative, and now that’s changed.

      More importantly, I focus on the love and support that’s in my life right now. From my wife, my friends, my students, the natural world, my own body, and so on.

      The essay you’ve commented on is an old one. These days I’m exploring the ways we can find connection and support within our own bodies. See my site MindfulBiology if you’re interested.

      I am very glad to hear from you, and it is heartwarming to hear how you have overcome so much.

      Best Wishes,

      Will

      • Thank you for the time taken in replying, Will. I will definitely peruse your site. Regards Charl

 

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