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On Finding the Essence of Self-Reflection: How I Stopped Being Mean to My Inner Child
On my birthday, I came across a letter I wrote to my younger self and was shocked by how harsh I was, solely focused on pleasing society and my family. Now I'm learning to be kinder to myself, and do what makes me happy
BY LYNDA NDUBUAKU

"Women like me spend the earliest part of their lives saying yes to their family's standards, or the goals parents have set for them since birth."

Sumaiya Ahmed - Author - The Spill - Onl
BY LYNDA NDUBUAKU
22 July 2022

It’s so easy to live for other people that we sometimes forget to live for ourselves. This was me until a few months ago, living according to the goals and standards set by my family and society at large.

I kicked off my birthday month productively, with a list of things I wanted to review, learn and unlearn. Naturally, the first place I looked into was my blog, since this is where I openly journal. As I read through it, I came across an old, cringe-worthy entry — not because of the grammatical errors, but because of how mean I was to myself. The post, titled “An open letter to my younger self”, read like a severe warning to forget who I was, to live according to society’s rules and beliefs, and to simply be whoever my family wanted me to be. Younger me only wanted to please others and made a conscious decision to stop paying attention to herself.

Anyone who can relate to this will realise that at that point, life becomes an endless cycle of seeking external approval and validation. The chase never ends. There is never a pause or a time to self-reflect, accommodate, or to make space for growth and change.

Growing up, I hoped to be a pageant queen, because everyone mistook my eating disorder for the right start into modelling. Society told me that if I was skinny, then I was fit to strut the runway, or win a pageant crown. I strived to become skinnier until I became unhealthy and was hospitalised. Over time, I fixed my eating pattern, and coupled with my genes, put on a lot of weight. That extra weight shattered my dreams of being a model, so, in the letter, a line read: “kill all your hopes of ever being a pageant queen because you weigh a ridiculous amount and have no future as a model”. I would have held a lifelong grudge if someone other than myself had said those words to me.

Fast forward to today and I am embarrassed that I let that letter sit on the blog for four years. I was promoting society's unattainable beauty standards and enabling its toxic culture — flawless skin, long legs, tiny waist, defined jawline and an hourglass shape. Thinking of the teenage girls who have come across that post fills me with dread.

So here is an open apology to my younger self, and by extension, to the young souls who may have read those words. Seeing how mean I was to you then has made me realise that I didn’t give myself the grace to grow in some areas of life. I am only now learning that a beautiful body is a healthy one. I might never have flawless skin because, as a grown woman, my hormones will always be irregular. Among other things, self-reflection is teaching me how to regulate the balance between what others want and what I want for myself; and what I want for you.

My promise to you is this one: I will always prioritise my emotional and mental health. Since writing these words, and reading them back, I have been able to reflect and am now learning that being realistic and putting my happiness first is the only way to be kinder to myself.

Women like me spend the earliest part of their lives saying yes to their family's standards, or the goals parents have set for them since birth. The list of do’s and don’ts is endless. In the letter, I wrote about studying a different course than the one my parents wanted for me, and how I was bound to fail as a result. What I know now is that self-reflection means looking at yourself inwardly and honestly. It is standing in front of the mirror to have a genuine conversation, and figuring out how you behave, and why. It is about looking at your flaws, strengths and what needs to change for your own personal development. It’s standing up for myself and saying: “I might not be studying what my family considers a professional course, but I’m doing great at what I love, and I am happy”.

Through self-reflection, I now know I can excel in my chosen career path, even though my family disagrees. I enjoy writing and creating content, which gets most of my bills paid. I get to decide whether it is ‘professional enough’.

Real unlearning starts when you yearn for internal validation more than the approval of others. With every new day, I ask myself more questions, shifting my focus from what people want for me to what I want for myself. I may not have all the answers, but I am more open-minded, ensuring my life is not an endless cycle of seeking an external validation that may never come — or be enough. As much as I desire the love and acceptance of my family, and as much as I wish to ‘fit’ society, putting myself first is also the only way to forgive my younger self for her past mistakes. I am responsible for my human journey, and these mistakes are a part of it.

It’s not too late to choose kindness. It’s certainly never too late to take a step back and evaluate the past, to break an endless toxic cycle for a happier future. It’s a process, so I’m letting go of the mental pressure from these standards, because now, I know I have time.