For some reason, I’ve always felt an instinctive dislike towards my childhood self. I generally like kids, but if somebody had magically produced a copy of the person that I was at 5 or 10 and asked me to look after that kid for a while, my automatic reaction would have been “no, I don’t like that kid”.
I’ve also had somewhat of a bad self-esteem for a long, long time. For my tenth birthday, I decided that I didn’t want to get any presents, because I felt like I had done nothing to deserve them. And I didn’t want to get any presents on future birthdays, or on any Christmas, either. (This caused what’s probably one of the oddest child-parent fights that I know of, with my dad being angry about wanting to give me presents and me steadfastly refusing them.)
These two things seemed obviously related.
So today I started exploring that feeling of dislike. Where was it coming from? Why did I have such an aversion regarding my younger self?
Now here’s the thing. I was an only child who frequently spent more time by himself or around adults than he did around other kids. Like all kids, I had a fair share of fights with my parents about stuff like bedtimes and such.
But I never realized that other kids had those same kinds of fights and tantrums too.
I remember having been distinctly shocked when a teacher we had when I was 13-15 made an off-handed comment about this happening with younger kids.
I hadn’t known that this was a Kid Thing: I had thought it was a Kaj Thing.
And as a result, I’d felt guilty and bad over each time that I’d been self-centered and emotional in the way kids are. By the time I heard my teacher make that comment, it started to dawn on me on an intellectual level that this was nothing special: but on an emotional level I had already internalized a belief that I was exceptionally ungrateful and undeserving for everything my parents did for me.
Today I went back to those experiences. A few memories in particular stuck out: one of the countless bedtime struggles, as well as an occasion when I’d told my dad over the phone that I didn’t like him. And now, instead of just recalling my behavior in those memories – like on every previous occasion when I had recalled them – I tried to remember my emotional state, and to sympathize with it, and to recall other kids that I’ve seen acting up and who I’ve felt sympathetic towards.
And then there was a shift, and those memories started feeling like instances of a Kid Thing, rather than a uniquely Kaj Thing.
And now if you’d bring me a copy of me as I was at 5 or 10, I’d just like to hug that poor kid and tell him that it’s okay.