How Connecting With Your Inner Child can Bring Healing and Joy
Remember what it was like being a kid? The excitement of birthdays and Christmas, the attention of parents and adults, carefree time. I remember being the center of attention as the baby in my family, playing with toys, being a star athlete and always having enough to eat. Food showed up on the table at the appropriate time, I was driven to and from my events, and my biggest worry was whether or not I could get my homework done at school to maximize tv and relaxation time once I arrived home.
For all the positives, there were negatives. My parent’s desire for me to do my best and be successful in life sometimes manifested itself in blunt feedback and harsh critiques that led me to develop perfectionist tendencies and was the impetus of my anxiety. I know this was something that was born out of my parent’s desire for me to have a better life than they had, which I want for my own children. My exploration of these facts in therapy and prayer are often confused and muddied by both my lack of understanding as a child and how they negatively impacted me despite my parent’s good intentions.
Our relationship with our parents is the most impactful of our lives. It is our parents that first show us who we are in their ability to engage and respond to our needs. We learn we have value and are loved and worthy of love because when we cry we get fed, changed, burped, laid down for a nap or swaddled and rocked. But the best parents, myself included, miss things. This is always a hard point to communicate in therapy when looking at the past. I do not ask clients to condemn their parents, but to realize how they were impacted by missed opportunities and natural disappointments. The good news is that studies show that in order to be a good parent and positively impact the development of your child, you only need to be attuned to your children 30% of the time.
As I said earlier, I had plenty of toys growing up. I have many memories playing with my toys and making elaborate military scenes or playing with my train, but I don’t remember playing with anyone. I think that is what attracted me to play therapy initially. I found healing in my work letting my solitary, lonely inner child play with my clients. In a lot of my work with adult clients there is a need to reconnect with their inner child. They begin to believe the world that tells them to grow up, make money, and embrace lives of drudgery which in turn leads them to ignore and set aside their inner childhood. In doing so they also set aside the confidence, imagination, dreams, joy and carefree trust that defines children. These are gifts that we do not value into adulthood, but we should as they can transform the way we view our day-to-day lives.
There needs to be a distinction between setting aside childish things as St. Paul writes about and embracing the childlike nature that Jesus implores us to renew. I encourage you to reflect on your inner child. We can even imagine our inner child dwelling in a certain part of our body, and watch them play, engage in dialogue with them, and ask them questions. They are usually amazed at what you have become. If that doesn’t feel comfortable for you, then ponder what made you come alive when you were 7, 10, 12? What did you believe about the world that was true, good and beautiful? What areas of your life is your inner child impatiently waiting to jump into and make more joyful? We age and tend to set aside our inner child, but they never leave us. Your inner child can either be a source of life or one of the main reasons you live a life of “quiet desperation.” Which do you choose?