Most of us think we are adults because we have reach a certain chronological age, but psychologically , we are often pseudo adults. We are children in adult bodies, trying to do adult things. I think this may in part be where the term “adulting” comes from. We may be 35 physically, but deep inside of us is a five year old trying to navigate through adult life, attempting to maintain relationships and cope with adult stress. Every now and then the pressure becomes too much and our inner child is forced to make their needs and fears known.
What Is An Inner Child?
Inside of all of us there is a part that is frozen in time, stuck in the past. As therapists, especially those of us who deal with trauma, we call that part of us our inner child. Everyone has an inner child (at least one), but we experience our inner child in different ways.
Some of us have an inner child that is relatively well-behaved and quiet. He or she may be barely noticeable and only make their needs, concerns and fears known subtly and infrequently. It could be the anxiety we feel whenever we are talking to our boss, or the explainable way we suddenly feel small and unsure of ourselves when we have to give a presentation.
Others have an inner child that is more boisterous. He or she may make themselves known often and show up as a temper tantrum when we are frustrated with our partner (sometimes complete with yelling and throwing things), shutting down when we can’t find the words to express ourselves or a panic attack at the thought of being alone if our relationship fails.
Many of the destructive behaviors we have in our adult lives from infantile neediness, fear of abandonment and dependency to self-sabotaging behaviors, impulsivity and irresponsibility can be attributed to our inner child.
Why We Ignore Our Inner Child
Society tells us that when we become adults, we put away childish things. We are forced to ignore our inner child, the good and the bad. Our inner child not only holds our childhood hurts, traumas, fears and angers, but it also holds our innocence, awe, playfulness, sensitivity and wonder.
Remember the things you loved in childhood, the things that made you happy? When adults would ask you what you wanted to grow up to be maybe you said a pilot or an artist. As we grow up, most of us end up going into jobs and careers that have nothing to do with what made us happy or what we wanted to do as children, in large part because many of us were told that those dreams were childish and we needed realistic, more “adult” goals.
One way or another, we were taught to ignore our inner child almost completely which is why most adults are unaware of this unconscious part of them that sometimes throws their lives off balance seemingly out of the blue.
Because most adults are unaware of this inner child, they do not know how to meet his or her needs. This unawareness is what allows the inner child to take over and sometimes ruin relationships or cause us to act in ways that as adults, we know we shouldn’t.
In order to address our inner child and meet their needs appropriately, we have to first acknowledge and accept that he or she exist, and then take responsibility for parenting and loving our inner child.
When we are inattentive or neglectful to our inner child, we may find ourselves in situations where we are unconsciously looking to fill his or her needs through other people. We are basically asking someone else to parent our inner child and that can come in the form of dependency, toxic relationships and even substance abuse.
Our inner child most likely is looking for something he or she felt neglected of when we were children and as adults we can’t expect our parents or anyone else to go back and fix that. We have to do it. We have to attend to the needs of our inner child through love and support as well as set up boundaries and structure just like a parent would with a physical child.
Having a symbiotic relationship with our inner child will allow us to meet their needs in ways that are mutually beneficial to our adult side as well, instead of meeting their needs through ways that are inappropriate, impulsive and childish.
Explore your inner-child. Get to know them. Listen to them and find out what he or she needs.