For most of us, growing up means leaving behind our “childish” and child-like feelings and behaviors. Early on in life, we learn how we need to act, and who we need to be, in order to fit into the world around us. Through this process, we distance ourselves from our childlike nature, but underneath the rational adult we’ve created our Inner Child remains. Part of living an authentic life is reclaiming some of these long forgotten aspects of ourselves.
It’s hard-coded into us, as humans, to learn to fit in. We need to, in order to bond, make money, and be successful. Once we’ve accomplished those things many of us still feel a sense of lack. One of the best ways to get back in touch with our true selves, is to retrace our steps and explore those parts of ourselves that we left behind.
The term Inner Child was coined by, Eric Berne, a Canadian psychologist. It expresses the idea that within each of us remain aspects of the young person that we used to be; with the same desires, fears, wounds, hopes, and dreams. Through getting back in touch with these abandoned parts of ourselves, we can reintegrate, heal, and grow into our fullest, most authentic selves.
If the idea of getting in touch with the young version of you, and the term “Inner Child” feel embarassing and uncomfortable, then we have something in common. When I first heard people talking about getting in touch with their Inner Child, or worse, suggesting that I get in touch with my Inner Child, it made me way to run for the hills. Luckily, I didn’t, and it’s been an incredibly helpful tool for me.
Our Inner Child holds the key to understanding and befriending our truest selves. It’s especially helpful for people who have a hard time knowing where to begin. For many of us we might feel like something is “off” and we aren’t living authentically, but we don’t know what we want instead. We just know that we don’t like it here.
Feeling this sort of lack of purpose, is ripe material for a mid-life, quarter-life, or any-period-of-your-life crisis. When faced with such an uncomfortable reality, we may be tempted to upend everything in our life (hello, quitting your job to tour the world), buy something expensive to prove our worth (nothing a fancy convertible can’t fix, amiright?), or numb ourselves from it (overindulging in drugs/alcohol).
While these are the most popular ways to deal with such a crisis, there are better approaches). Rather than doing something rash, or putting pressure on ourselves to build something new and grand, we can instead revisit what lit us up at an earlier age.
Note: Please do yourself a favor and don’t wait until you are in crisis mode to begin this process. The following is a great maintenance activity for anyone wanting to live a more authentic life.
A great way to do this is by allowing yourself to do something that you used to love as a child. Maybe you loved to color, lay on the grass and look at the clouds, play in the dirt, or make a blanket fort. Even if it feels silly at first, this practice can spark something within even the most grown up of adults.
This small action can require a large leap of faith. Our rational mind might question: “I’m going to figure out what I want to do with my life by coloring?” “How ridiculous would I look sitting under the kitchen table in a blanket fort – I don’t have time for that!”. This critical voice within you is your ego. Before we criticize it (how meta!), it’s important to recognize what an important part your ego has played in helping shape you into the sane and functional adult you are today.
Its rational and protective nature will try and resist when you want to set aside time to play in the grass or make a date to go roller skating by yourself. Just like it rears up and tries to block you when you have even the slightest inkling of an idea that would change the current trajectory of your life.
When you embrace the silliness of reliving childhood favorites, you are practicing putting aside your ego, even if just for an hour. To tend to that hopeful and creative version of you. This will make it possible for your true desires and creative ideas (as silly as they might seem to the rational you!) to come forth more in day to day life.
As you practice this, allow for flexibility. You may struggle to commit to an Inner Child activity but once in, there is no real destination. You can’t do it “wrong”. The point is just to explore this part of you, with curiosity and compassion.
Notice how quickly your Inner Child disappears when the Critic comes out. There’s a good chance that this part of you has experienced this sort of criticism before; whether from you, or from others. If you can manage to relate to this part of yourself without your ego dampening the feelings and desires that are there, you will begin to bridge the gap and build a sense of self-trust with this part of yourself.
Your Inner Child is still very much a part of you, no matter how deeply buried. When we get in touch with it, we can begin to unlock parts of ourselves that are key to our authenticity.