I don't like my inner child. I don't like her because I was taught from a very young age that my needs—particularly hunger—were unnatural, bottomless, too gargantuan for this world. I came to see my needs as something that would ultimately destroy me if I didn't keep them under control.
I dislike my inner child so much, in fact, that I can't even deal with the words "inner child." Like the words "self-love" and "self-care," I feel that this is a wimpy thing to say. I'm embarrassed, even, to use these words here. My inner child is telling me that I will be harshly judged for using the words "inner child," likely in the comments section.
My inner child always anticipates the worst possible kind of judgment. She does this to protect me from being hurt. She does this so that she'll be able to say later, Well, we already knew that would happen.
The concept of an inner child is said to have originated with Jung's "child archetype" or "the archetype of the divine child."
"It is a striking paradox in all child myths that the 'child' is on the one hand delivered helpless into the power of terrible enemies and in continual danger of extinction, while on the other he possesses powers far exceeding those of ordinary humanity," said Jung.
While I don't like my inner child, or even the concept of an inner child, I find myself listening to mine all the fucking time...
Jung's version of the inner child was sort of badass, and didn't reek of cruising the self-help section at Barnes & Noble on Saturday night in a pair of hemp pants. It was only when pop psychologist John Bradshaw adopted the child archetype for his exploration of "healing your wounded child" via guided meditations, affirmations, and letter-writing to said child that shit got woo-woo.
While I don't like my inner child, or even the concept of an inner child, I find myself listening to mine all the fucking time: the panic she emits, the sense of urgency, the idea that I have to do everything on my own, because no one wants to help me .
It's gross to ask anything of another person , she says. You'll get rejected, and that will cause you pain. It's better not to have needs. Let's just shut up and panic quietly.
My inner child has been saying these things for so long, and with such authority, that it really feels like she is protecting me from imminent danger, even as she terrorizes me. While I would live a much more peaceful life if I could put her to the side, I'm scared that if I ignore her—the warnings, calls for self-sufficiency and cautionary tales about people who want too much—that there will be no one left in control. What will become of me then?
My inner child is persistent. She doesn't want to go hang out somewhere else while I take care of adult shit. She doesn't want me to attempt to "heal" her or connect with her in a therapeutic way, via roller coasters, ice cream cones, art therapy, positive "re-parenting" (I don't even like parents), aforementioned affirmations, or however the people she perceives as "losers" talk about connecting to their inner children. It's also possible that my inner child isn't necessarily opposed to these things, but she doesn't believe that she's allowed to do them. What if, like most children, her strongest desire is to let go, be playful? If that's the case, she would have to be taught that it's OK, and totally safe, to not be in control. But what will motivate me to try that when this way has always sort of worked?
Sometimes we only change when we are in enough pain: when we reach the end of a particular road or have nothing in which we can hide any longer. I feel that way with my inner child. In the past, I reached for things like drugs, sex, food, ambition, and attention to soothe both of us. The narcotic effects of these things were the only way that we could continue to coexist—the only way I could find relief from the sound of her voice without killing her (and really, myself) entirely. But over the years, each of these things eventually led to a dead end. Even positive things like my meditation practice, running, or therapy only last a little while, and then she roars back to take charge.
"The archetype does not proceed from physical fact, but describes how the psyche experiences physical fact," said Jung . "One of the essential features of the child motif is its futurity. The child is potential future... Life is a flux, a flowing into the future, and not a stoppage or a backwash. It is therefore not surprising that so many of the mythological saviors are child gods."
I'd like to think of self-help in this way—not as a ten-day program, a book to complete, a juice fast to endure, a conscious rebirthing, or any other means to some imaginary perfect end where I arrive whole on the other side. Jung's sentiment is simple: within the symbol of the child lives an inherent hope and possibility. These elements arrive from an unknown future, a journey, rather than some predictable, definitive end.
Yet my child, as she exists now, demands to foresee exact results: to say the future will be precisely a certain way, so as to provide the illusion of safety from a terrifying unknown. But her predictions, and attempts to control outcomes, do not mean that other terrifying unknowns won't happen. And what if the unknown isn't a bad thing, but a thing of positive possibility?
When I think of these ideas, my inner child seems totally surprised, as if the possibility of something other than a shitty future had never dawned on her. It feels unsafe, foolish even, to just chill: to have a day without worry, protection, alarm, preparation.
What are we really protecting ourselves from? I ask her.
From suffering, she says.
Maybe that's true. But aren't we suffering now?
If you are concerned about your mental health or that of someone you know, visit the Mental Health America website.