In My Own Write: In from the cold
Within each of us dwells a child whom we ignore at our peril.
Mother holding baby Photo: REUTERS/Erik de Castro
I pulled up beside my friend’s house, switched off the engine, opened the door,
got out of the car – and there it was, lying in the road next to my foot,
looking up at me with shiny black button eyes: a tiny stuffed kangaroo, ears
comically set at different angles, and a resigned smile that said: “Look at me,
down and out – helpless – isn’t that so like life?” Now I have written before
about my love of miniatures, and the little roo, stumpy arms extended in
supplication, charmed me. But was it mine to keep since it had clearly fallen –
or been thrown – from a passing infant’s stroller? I considered leaving the
little creature perched on my car, but hesitated, reluctant to abandon it to
further vicissitudes of fate. In any case, it was unlikely to be reunited with
its former owner, and I surmised that some other child would most probably make
off with it.
That decided me. “I’ll take it,” I told myself, “for the
child in me.”
Little Roo now occupies a shelf in our living room, and my
inner child derives joy from the sight of him sitting there, smiling his
quizzical smile, thinking his kangaroo thoughts.
NOW THE adult me is well
aware that what I am talking about is just a few scraps of brown and white felt
sewn together and filled with kapok; that the expressive black eyes are glass,
and the touching smile a few stitches made by sewing machine. Yet the adult me
is happy to give the child in me free rein of imagination, allowing myself
thereby to believe that stuffed toys have thoughts and feelings, even while I
know it isn’t so.
Life becomes more colorful, more spontaneous, more
joyful and more creative when I let my inner child’s imagination lead me in
transcending – temporarily – the boundaries of the physical world.
EXACTLY is this inner child? Psychologists explain that it is the child we once
were, who still dwells within us in a very real way, with all of a child’s
capacity for wonder, playfulness and joy; but also with a child’s sensitivity,
vulnerability, neediness and dread of abandonment.
This inner child, who
lives largely in our subconscious, carries into our adult years his or her
emotional baggage of accumulated childhood hurts, traumas, fears and angers. And
it turns out that our relationship – or lack of one – with this inner child can
make us or break us.
Shut out or ignored, psychologists say, the inner
child can wreak emotional havoc. It follows that if we are to go out into the
world as confident and mature beings, we need to recognize and reconnect with
Society at large isn’t much help here, telling us to “grow
up” and “stop being childish,” when it ought instead to be admitting that the
“childish” part of us won’t just go away.
The term “grown-up” has become
synonymous with “adult,” but while people – if they’re lucky – become
“chronological adults,” it seems that many of us don’t become psychological
ones. We become older, but not much wiser, in the way we conduct our emotional
WE ALL know individuals who engage in self-defeating patterns of
behavior, operating counter to their own best interests – for example, the man
(or woman) who complains of loneliness and insists he would like nothing better
than to get married – but then sabotages every relationship that comes
Who is doing the sabotaging? It’s the inner child, ignored but
very much present inside that adult’s psyche, “a five-year- old,” as US
psychotherapist Stephen A. Diamond puts it, “running around in a 40-year-old
frame. It is a hurt, angry, fearful little boy or girl calling the shots, making
adult decisions. A boy or girl sent out into the world to do a man’s or woman’s
job; a five- or 10-year-old (or two of them!) trying to engage in grown-up
This describes all of us, to some degree.
though we know that a child cannot have a mature relationship or lead an
independent life, “we wonder why our relationships fall apart. Why we feel so
anxious. Afraid. Insecure. Inferior. Small. Lost. Lonely. But how else would any
child feel having to fend for himself in an apparently adult world, without
proper parental supervision, protection, structure or support?” It emerges that,
somehow, our adult self needs to learn to be a parent to that inner child, so
afraid and insecure in a grown-up world.
A QUESTION: How does the inner
child gain such immense power, power he or she isn’t emotionally equipped to
handle, power which drives the train of mature behavior off its tracks, setting
a person on a collision course with what is healthy and desirable? Experts hold
it happens when the inner child is split off, disconnected, banished to the
cold, lonely cellar of our psyches. This fissure drives the neglected
child-in-us, in its anger and frustration, to take over the whole personality –
with the resulting havoc and misery. Picture an actual child kicking out from
anger and fear, and you get an idea.
What we must do, the experts say, is
bring that neglected child in out of the cold. We need to become conscious of
its existence and of its need for love, understanding, support and
The experts stress that whichever of those qualities we
didn’t sufficiently receive from our parents or other caregivers is a lack that
will not, cannot be filled by those we encounter in our adult lives, however
much we try to make that happen. Painfully, we need to confront the past and its
unmet needs. But we can then assume responsibility for our inner child’s need
for love, understanding, support and protection, supplying them
Responsibility is a heavy-sounding word. We often try to avoid
it. And when the topic is our own emotional needs, the prospect of taking
responsibility for them – as opposed to “farming them out” – can be
And yet, the experts say, this is precisely what the doctor
has ordered: for each of us to become the listening, caring parent to our own
inner child, to relate to him or her, as Diamond puts it, “exactly as a good
parent relates to a flesh-and- blood child, providing discipline, limits,
boundaries and structure,” along with support, nurturing and
The idea is to establish an ongoing dialogue between the
inner child and the more mature, adult self so that the needs of each one –
sometimes conflicting – can be met in a creative way.
‘EASIER SAID than
done,” commented a friend who admits to periodically being “swept away by a tide
of crippling emotion triggered by some mistake I have made, or by circumstances
beyond my control.” He describes himself as “overwhelmed and trapped, unable to
“So,” he asked, skeptically, “how do I get this
parent-child ‘dialogue’ going?” “OK,” I said. “I’m just an armchair therapist,
but it seems clear that your inner child, who lives, vividly, only in the
present and doesn’t see the ‘big picture,’ is terrified by what has happened and
feels utterly powerless in the face of this threat. The result, understandably,
is total panic throughout your whole being.
“Over time, your adult self
can learn to talk kindly and reassuringly to that terrified child, telling it,
for example: ‘When you were little, your lack of control over what happened to
you was really scary, petrifying, even. But today I can help you see that things
often do happen that are out of our control, but they usually don’t kill us. I
can also help you see that there are other ways of responding to this situation,
making it less threatening. Together, we can use my adult experience of the
world to survive.’”
IT’S FASCINATING, this concept of our inner child needing to
be taken in hand by our adult self. And it isn’t easy to fully grasp, let alone
act upon. We are too used to packing aspects of ourselves away, like seldom-worn
clothing. But it’s a learning process.
We have all at times been aware,
if dimly, of a struggle going on between our grown-up selves and a childish
drive to behave in counterproductive ways.
Instead of giving in to that
drive, we might do better to open the door in our psyche, invite our troublesome
child in, and tell it to make itself at home. It could be the start of a