Ashley Peterson, LPC
Inner Child Work- Letter to my younger self
Hello All and Welcome Back!!
I keep saying I’m going to do better with this blog, but I find that I can only write when I’m motivated or moved. Or it could just be the oppositional defiant disorder that makes me want to do the opposite of what I keep setting as a goal 🤷🏽♀️, either way here we are! This month I have been doing a lot of work with my clients about speaking to the inner child and healing your inner child to help heal the present you. I’ve been assigning my clients homework to write a letter to their younger selves and say the things that they needed to hear. This exercise felt like a healthy purge, I felt lighter afterwards and clearer in my journey and where I’m headed next! I believe that hurt people hurt people and healing can help others heal. So, I hope this helps someone, somewhere. Vulnerability and openness has always been key in my growth, we are only as sick as our secrets :).
During your entire existence, words have mattered. The names that people have assigned to you, the characterization of those behaviors you displayed, and the descriptions of your appearance. have all mattered and they will always matter to you. What you don’t know yet, but will know and understand one day, is that not everyone's words and the words they assign to you will matter, nor should they.
Around 3rd grade you started having “behavioral issues”, conveniently enough, this is also when your parents divorced. You found yourself literally belted to a chair by your kindergarten teacher because you could not keep still (you would later be diagnosed with ADHD, #shocking). They would send you out of class to take naps with the kindergarten kids because... what can I say, the energy that lived inside of you was exhausting for everyone, you included. The teachers would always say “Ashley is so smart, BUT (the BUT is what you will hear and hold onto, don’t!) She is distracting the other students and is talking too much (this will never change :)). So, having the great mother you had, who is proactive and action oriented brought in a file folder of crossword puzzles and other assignments that you could do when you finished your work before the other students. (Spoiler alert; your Mom is and will always be your saving grace and guiding light).
In 5th grade we moved from PG County (a majority black county in Maryland) to Fairfax County (not a majority all black county) where you often found yourself in “trouble”.. Were you bad? No. Majority of the time you were trying to help in the ways that you thought you could. Standing up for people, inserting yourself in fights that weren’t yours in a search for fairness. This is when you were first introduced to Mental Health Counselors through the “guidance counselors office”. Specifically, in 5th grade you “cheated” on the SOLS. You were told that you were a cheater and you were paraded out of class, embarrassed and confused. The story that was told was that a teacher caught you switching your writing assignment with a classmate and that was cheating. Technically, yes, that is an accurate depiction of what that teacher saw. What actually happened was that a friend asked you to check their paper, (when the teacher left the room, which she shouldn’t have during a standardized test *eyeroll*) because you were a stronger writer (wow, what a compliment). You checked the paper, made corrections and then handed the paper back (welcome the ego). The issue you tended to have throughout school was confusion of exactly what your role was. You did not have a good grasp of what you thought was right and fair (the person I helped was in special education classes) and you did not follow a rule that had been put into place that everyone, including you, should have followed.
5th grade was also the first time you truly felt embarrassment. You were from a “broken home”, your Dad wasn’t in the military or working for the government like most of your peers. He also wasn’t around that often. I never thought prior to this that I would be embarrassed that my Dad lived outside our home or what he did for a living. Having a Dad that does construction wasn’t crazy or embarrassing when we lived in MD. Actually, it was a pretty cool job, at least you thought it was. He would wear his thick construction belt and he could lay pavement and build stuff.. It felt cool. For whatever reason, in my new school I knew this was no longer cool. This wasn’t a “desirable job”. Peers would ask about my Dad and why he didn’t live with me and you’d lie and say he was in the military (and what a bad lie given you had no further knowledge than “the military”.) In MD most of my friends had single parents and their Dads worked blue collar jobs, no big deal. But in VA, I felt the pressure, I instinctively felt that my Dads’ job wasn’t cool or impressive. In MD, I never felt the pressure to look or be anything other than myself. It was okay that we didn’t have $200 shoes, or whatever name brand nonsense. My Mom didn’t care about that stuff so consequently you didn’t care about that stuff. What a gem. At the time you couldn’t piece together that the contrast you were noticing between MD and VA was a feeling of safety, which would later lead you to attend HBCUs for education. Talking to this little girl now, I would tell her to be proud of where she comes from and comparing yourself or your family to other families doesn’t serve you. Where you come from helps mold you into who you are today, however, it won’t ever determine your trajectory. (Also, “broken home” is a trash term. Nothing about my home was broken, period!
In middle school you spent so much time in the counselor's office that it watered the seed that was planted in 5th grade. You stay in peoples’ business enough, maybe this could be a real job for you?! In middle school you met the people that you would carry with you for the rest of your life, specifically your best friend. Your best friend would be the anchoring tool you needed to feel safe and accepted. The embarrassment you once felt would be turned into validation that families could look different and it was actually normal. This helped restore your confidence and gave you a partner in crime for life. This is also how you learned the value of friendship, vulnerability and loyalty. Also, during this time you laid the foundation for your belief systems, work ethic, and theories (and your graduate thesis).
7th grade had to be the most turbulent grade for you. You had a slew of teachers who would often host round table talks about your behavior and what felt like different strategies to break your spirit. They would call in your closest friends and their parents under the guise of parent/teacher conferences and actually tell your closest friends and their parents that they shouldn’t be friends with you. You would be called out during class for talking too much, being a distraction and a bad influence. Mind you, you were never verbally or physically violent, never used bad language, you weren’t disrespectful to property..you were annoying, but what 13 year old isn’t? These women would actively work in unison to falsify or exaggerate your behavior to have you removed from the classroom. They would be ineffective in doing so. They would set what felt like monthly round table meetings with you, your mother, your instructors, the principal and the counselor to discuss your behavior. My mother would sit there, holding me accountable and calling me by my middle name, ensuring that I looked people in the eye when I responded, issue apologies where necessary and develop a plan for improvement. It didn’t always feel like she was protecting you, as you wanted her to call them all liars lol, but in her composure you learned what control looked like and how useful it was to have that as a tool. She would actively sit and listen without becoming emotional. She would listen and take notes, then offer valuable responses. It is rare that she spoke out of anger, frustration or led with defensiveness. This is a skill you will work to master. Your grades spoke for themselves, your friendships continued to flourish and their efforts were thwarted when your Mother introduced a 504 plan that then held everyone accountable for their behavior. The introduction of the 504 plan (a behavioral plan) taught you about advocacy. How you could advocate for yourself as well as how you could advocate for someone else in a legitimate way. This taught you that you could win without retaliation. You could win by accountability. You could win by following the rules and encouraging others to do the same, teachers included. Emotion was helpful but it couldn’t rule you. Educating yourself about your rights and responsibilities, the rights and responsibilities of others is how you learned to win (this skill will serve you in business and in life).
That first year of Secondary school being suspended, in -school suspension and in time out. You were told by instructors that you were bad, disrespectful and that you didn’t apply yourself. Not wanting to let anyone down, you played into the stereotype and lowkey played yourself. You allowed other people's judgements of you to become your belief system of sorts; Believing that was who you were and what you weren’t capable of. One day you came home and said “I hate school” and boom, enter Mom stage right, you are now officially in counseling which you will hate, but that experience with that trash therapist started to make you think of how you would help someone like you. You also developed a coping skill during this time, writing poetry. Your Mom would further encourage you by library trips to get Shel Silverstein and Chicken Soup for the Soul books and help you enter competitions that would land you your first publication in a book of poetry as well as an award and opportunity to read it in front of a room of grown ups and peers. If my memory serves me correctly, it was about your relationship with your Dad and you used poetry and writing to help you process these feelings. Becoming a Therapist wasn’t accidental, you’ve been doing the work your whole life. Trust this.
In high school you heard from multiple administrators (that you trusted) that you should focus on being pretty and going to college to marry rich. This is not only harmful, but who says this to a kid?! How invalidating and validating of all of the negative things you believed about yourself. You believed this and allowed it to limit how you would dream. One thing that you took away from highschool was your love of Psychology. It was the one class that would validate that you were smart, that you could excel when you were interested, and where you received consistent positive feedback. Go figure! You also met your future husband during this time. He will affirm to you that being pretty isn’t a personality trait and it is actually the least interesting part of you. He will challenge you to see and value what’s on the inside as well as assert yourself and affirm that your dreams are within reach if you want them.
Through all the drama, your mama will never leave you. She will punish you to teach you about expectations, (so don’t get too attached to the television or telephone), snatch birthday parties and have you call each attendee to cancel to teach you about responsibility and accountability (you will hate this and write unfavorable things about her in your diary :)) and she will constantly hold you accountable to be the person that she raised you to be. She will support every dream, defend you until her last breath and show up for you in ways that you can’t even imagine. She will make you feel like you are always enough, that what you wear and how much you have is very little in comparison to how you carry yourself in the world. She is why you know you can do anything. She is why you have no ceilings on where life can take you. She is why you believe in yourself so fiercely. She is the reason, thank her every chance you get.
If I could talk to younger versions of myself I would leave her with this one message that is always applicable, regardless of my age and circumstance. Your voice isn’t loud, it’s powerful. You aren’t nosey, you are inquisitive. You aren’t crazy, you are full of personality, thoughts and opinions! You aren’t stupid, you are truly brilliant. You aren’t bad, you’re bored (with a niche for disruption). It’s not that you couldn’t and didn’t apply yourself, you had a disorder that impeded your learning at times. You have always excelled in environments where you felt safe and protected. Your fear of being wrong never stopped you from finding out what was right. You are determined. You are valuable. You will get everything that you deserve and desire because you work hard. Make mistakes and move on, “your fears can’t go where you are headed” (and always Beyonce)!