“Pay attention to your inner child,” my therapist advised me when I first got sick.
It seems that fear causes emotional regression and any needs suppressed over the years come barreling forward in irrational outbursts. Hard to deny that one from where I’m sitting.
I’ve been dreaming about children lately – children in my care – and I am constantly losing sight of one or another. Is my inner child trying to tell me something, I wonder. Then it hits me:
My inner child is twins! No wonder I’m having such a hard time.
One twin is forever taking risks, while the other hovers near, afraid of her own shadow. The first climbs to impossible heights, jumps without ensuring there is support to catch her, and is constantly on the move. Child two is content with floor play, entertains herself nicely, but has trouble with social interactions and new experiences.
So, which one do I tend to? Do I chase after over-confidence and try to instil a little fear into her, or do I hover over the sensitive one trying to convince her to be more like her sister?
I’m reminded of being a parent with two young toddlers, who interestingly enough, fit these two personality types. It was hard to be fair, and ensure equal attention for both when their needs were so diverse. I was exhausted then; no wonder I still am.
“Ask your inner child what she needs,” my therapist had suggested, so I try to imagine it.
I picture sitting each of the girls down on my lap and asking them directly.
“I like to have fun and adventure,” I see twin number one saying, “but I need you to tell me when I’m going too far, because I can’t set limits for myself. I may get mad, but I’ll know you’re doing it out of love.”
I check this request with my own childhood and it fits. I never had any restrictions on my behaviour. In fact, from the age of five onward, I was often locked out of my house and left to my own devices, and one of my favourite things to do was climb trees, as high as I could get. Other kids’ moms would tell them to come down before they hurt themselves, but no one ever told me. This lack of healthy guidelines followed me into adolescence where I seldom had curfews. I never felt free, though, just uncared for.
“I will do my best to ensure you are safe,” I tell her,” because I do care. I love you very much.”
I let her sister take her place, and ask the same question: “What do you need from me?”
She looks at me with big doe eyes and for the first time I realize she is much younger than her sister, so not a twin. She does not have the words to tell me what she wants, but I sense that just being held brings her comfort.
“Do you like cuddles?” I ask her.
She leans in.
“You’re a very good girl,” I tell her caressing her long curls. I hug her to me and try to visualize things from her side.
Life was very confusing in our household when I was her age. My oldest sister – a half-sister, although I didn’t know it – was dying. My parents, overwhelmed by medical costs, juggled working with visits to the hospital. I was tossed to whoever could care for me. This inner child is manifesting the insecurity and uncertainty that must have permeated the atmosphere back then. Despite her young years, she tries very hard to be ‘good’ but is afraid at the same time.
“I love you, and I will take good care of you,” I tell her. “You are safe now.”
I know this child, also. She is the part of me that craves physical attention, that wants to be held when I’m scared. She is the one that shies away from new situations and needs extra reassurance. These are not weaknesses, they are part of my reality.
I think I finally understand what my therapist means. We need to take care of our inner little ones if we are to be well.