I have a question for you this Sunday: what does the term ‘Inner Child’ mean to you? For me it conjures the idea that inside of me is a living breathing child. Young Meg, around 5 years old and fairly ubiquitous. According to the Cambridge Dictionary, “Your inner child is the part of your personality that still reacts and feels like a child.” (source)
I sometimes notice, when I am afraid, I regress to an almost-childlike state. When I was younger – until the age of around 12 I never sat on the sofa. I always sat on the floor crossed legged in front of the TV. Christmas day 2020, without any real thought behind it, I sat on the floor; cross legged and in front of the TV, like I did as a child. However, this time I sat and sobbed; sobbed for everything that I had lost. Mum. Nan. My childhood; the peace, wonder, and innocence I once had.
After I stopped crying I remained sat on the floor. Right where I sat as a child. I could pretend my parents were sat behind me on the sofa, and just for that moment, I was a kid again. I could be that kid again. Where Christmas was the best day of the whole year. Where my family put everything aside and it was just love. Where a split family and death were far-off events for any of us. Where games, presents, food, a pause for my hard-working Dad, was all we needed and wanted.
My inner child becomes active to protect me. Particularly when I feel unsafe; when I long to go back to the time of innocence. A time when I didn’t feel insecure about my looks, my words, my actions.
I still sleep with the childhood bear I was given at birth. I’m impossibly attached to this bear. It goes beyond what-would-you-save-in-a-fire, and is more I-would-burn-all-my-possessions-rather-than-lose-this-bear. He’s called Nonose – namely because I chewed his nose off as a child.
Other than missing the facial appendage he’s in fantastic condition. I can’t remember when, or why, I decided to opt for an at-home rhinoplasty but he seems fairly unperturbed by it. I can’t sleep without him. I took him travelling. I’ve brought him to my support bubble house. If I go away anywhere – even for a night – I take him with me. I also ensure he’s in my hand luggage on a plane in case the checked bag should go missing.
Once upon a time I was embarrassed I still slept with my bear. I was made to feel shame for it. Well, fuck that, dear reader. I sleep with a bear and I couldn’t give a damn what anyone thinks.
“To become adults, we’ve been taught that our inner child–representing our child-like capacity for innocence, wonder, awe, joy, sensitivity and playfulness–must be stifled, quarantined or even killed. The inner child comprises and potentiates these positive qualities. But it also holds our accumulated childhood hurts, traumas, fears and angers. “Grown-ups” are convinced they have successfully outgrown, jettisoned, and left this child–and its emotional baggage–long behind. But this is far from the truth.” (source)
Do you feel this? Do you notice this in others? I felt very quickly as a child I was expected to engage in adult behaviour. I was applauded when I stifled childlike reactions. My mother would always say ‘girls mature quicker than boys’ – on reflection I was just held accountable for certain behaviour at a younger age. My brother was allowed to ‘rough-house’ in play much longer than I could. I was given dolls and a fake post office for play. This play was learning about adult responsibilities from a young age.
Men’s inner child are stifled in a different manner. They are told to ‘man-up’ and ‘boys don’t cry.’ The child in them who wants to sob and hug their mum is seen as a weakness to be stamped out. Children’s emotions, of any gender, should be nurtured, the emotions should be communicated and permitted to run their course. This continues with our inner child. They know how they feel and they are expressing it with the tool kit they have available. If the tool kit is insufficient at childhood, then the inner child is ill-equipped as an adult.
“We were all once children, and still have that child dwelling within us. But most adults are quite unaware of this. And this lack of conscious relatedness to our own inner child is precisely where so many behavioural, emotional and relationship difficulties stem from.” (source)
I am aware of my inner child, but it does not mean I have mastered it. I indulge in childlike practices as a protective response, it does not mean I have a ‘healthy’ inner child. My last two years have been very traumatic. Two close deaths in the family, major upheaval, a pandemic – to name but a few. I am working through this trauma with my therapist. As a child I was expected to suppress my emotions, and this is what I am doing in my adult life. I am understanding it is now my responsibility to parent this inner child. My parents did the best with what they had at their disposal. Themselves also dealing with their own inner child. Trauma was passed down, and so it’s now time for me to take the reins and heal.
In parenting my child, I need to do what is expected of a parent. My inner child needs to feel safe; she needs to be able to express herself, learn from her mistakes, and engage in play to soothe curiosity, learn and grow. This is so easy to say, but it starts with kindness. Kindness to myself. The pressure I felt put upon me as a child is not something to continue. That cycle needs to be broken. I’m doing the best I can, and I must continue in doing so.
Take this Sunday to reflect. Think about when your inner child is trying to be heard, and approach it with care – as you would any other child. What are they trying to say? None of us know what we’re doing. I don’t feel any ‘adultier’ just because I’m lucky enough to be growing older.
Does anyone really?
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