As we get older and our preferences change, we move through hobbies in phases, all on the journey to find what it is we truly love and want to dedicate our time to. Some people find that rather early on, even in childhood, but what happens when those childhood discoveries of love and joy are taken from you? What are you left with, what do you do?
The answer involves some deep internal work and a return to our kid-self's mindset, but it will open the door to so much more happiness once you're on the other side.
Things We Loved In Childhood
If you reflect on your childhood, you'll likely remember some passions you once held that are a far cry from what you enjoy today. As a kid, I adored human biology and learning how different parts of the body worked, but I never ended up pursuing the sciences. I also drew a lot, but haven't drawn a single thing in years now.
When you remember those joys, do you also remember why you left them? What was it that made you drop these things you once loved?
Sure, some of them you likely just grew out of, but it's also possible they were bullied out of you. My love of biology was something that evolved over time and wound up growing smaller compared to other areas of interest, but my love of drawing was snuffed out by a disparaging comment made by a teacher when I was still young.
Criticism from your peers or your superiors can really, really hurt a child's self-esteem. Small words can still make big feelings in the mind and heart of a kid, especially those that are already shy, anxious, or have faced previous traumas.
Stolen From You
Returning to those passions that were once shunned out of you can be scary as an adult, as that fear and shame still lives in a corner of your heart. However, sitting before our inner child and participating in the things that brought us happiness then might be the key to unlocking more happiness now.
Motivational speaker and lifestyle coach Scott Simon called this process the reclaiming of "stolen joys," and in his own story, he describes how just a few minutes of engaging in the activity that once made him feel so, so shameful now fills him with delight.
He wrote the three steps that can help you reclaim your own stolen joys.
1. Reflect And Identify
The reflection stage isn't just about remembering which joys of yours were stolen and how to bring them back. You need a deep understanding of what feelings these activities were once tied to versus the feelings you have about them now.
It's also important to return to the moment, if you remember it, that this joy was taken from you. Whether it was one very vivid conversation or a slow shunning over time, return to those scenes and honor the way they made you feel. Comfort the child version of yourself that was so pained by others' words.
Sort Out Your Thoughts
After staying in that moment, explore how that evolved as years passed. Did you think about returning to that joy before only to talk yourself out of it? Have you turned down opportunities and experiences because they were too similar to or reminded you of that joy? Do you still have doubts about yourself today related to the smothering of that joy?
Once you have your emotions sorted and are able to articulate not only how you felt then, but how you feel now, you can then start to push back against those negative thoughts.
2. Challenge The Limiting Belief
Now that you know for sure who or what had a part in your joy being stolen, you have to acknowledge what exactly they did to you and the types of thoughts patterns it left you with. For example, if an adult told you you're not very good at whatever your joy was and thus it's a waste of time, do you still often doubt your skills, be it related to that joy or not?
Or, if your friends frequently informed you how uncool your joy was until you dropped it, do you still feel afraid to let others know your true self lest they find it embarrassing?
Slow But Steady
It hurts to think through these scenarios, but it's a necessary step in healing. By learning exactly how the shame they made you feel still affects you today, even in situations separated from the joy you lost, you can better understand how to navigate these feelings and fight your way through them.
You have to take down these walls you've built brick by brick, which is a slower, but much more comfortable process as it doesn't rush you into anything. Give yourself ample understanding during this time to help ease you into the final step.
3. Take Purposeful Action
Now's the time where you actually get to face this fear you have. What this looks like is going to vary wildly depending on what joy was stolen from you, how it affects you, and what your comfort level is for approaching it. Though, this exercise is, by nature, one that's designed to push your boundaries a little. When considering your comfort level, try to push it as far as it'll go. You won't make any progress here without a little fear.
The first thought would be to engage in whatever joy was stolen from you on your own. In my case, that would be picking up a pencil and sketchbook again and just start drawing. There might be a way to amplify this though, and make your return to this passion of yours all the more powerful.
Jumping Head First
And that's to engage with it around others.
Again, in my case, this might look like taking an art class or attending a figure drawing session. The accountability of either paying for a lesson, planning to go with friends, or enrolling in a limited spot means you're less likely to be spooked out of it. It's scary, it will always be scary, but once you push past that fear, you'll discover a brilliant rush of exhilaration and elation.
That First Step Forward
It's worth noting that this might not always lead to anything. If you used to love writing stories, had that joy stolen, then try to return to it in adulthood, maybe you'll find that it just doesn't click for you the same way it used to, and that's okay! This whole concept is less about finding a new hobby and more about healing your inner child.
By indulging in the things they loved, even once, you'll feel a weight lift from your shoulders. No longer are you carrying the burden of childhood shame. This is an exercise about freeing yourself and getting in touch with old harms. Now you can use this experience to help overcome other struggles you've held onto for years and reclaim every joy that was stolen from you.