Being in my fourth year, I’ve been constantly thinking about the future, adulthood, and proving to myself and others that I’m ready to be taken seriously– that I’m a fully qualified “adult”. Yet I’m exhausted by this fixation on the future, and find myself harboring a sense of guilt for living in a way that’s always forward-focussed, never present, and never really true to what I want. Coming home for winter break to see childhood friends and to stay in my childhood bedroom placed me in an uncomfortable duality. While fighting against the assumption that I had not changed, I mourned the old version of myself.
I chose to ignore these uncomfortable feelings for quite some time. I dismissed them as fear of change, or growing pains, or just chose to avoid the discomfort. But as we all know, sometimes your TikTok algorithm knows you better than you know yourself. Videos about healing and happiness and nurturing your inner child became more frequent on my timeline. I told myself I had no interest in, or at least didn’t buy the whole ‘inner child’ thing. The skeptic in me dismissed this as some buzzword self-help trend, or at the very least, something that didn’t apply to me. I think we know where I’m going with this one.
I think a lot of us share in a similar experience where we had to grow up very quickly. That one point in our childhoods or young adulthood, when our childlike traits needed to – for whatever reason — be suppressed. That experience leaves a mark we sometimes need to move towards accepting or working through. Most of us don’t know where to start, and inner-child healing presents us with a familiar, comforting kind of path for that work. The work that I want to focus on in this article isn’t so much a tool to combat the effects of certain parenting styles or traumatic childhood events, rather the re-embracing of yourself in a way that grants you understanding, patience, and allows for you to feel joy and comfort in your everyday life.
Something I started to do when doubting myself was to think about how my 8-year old self would look at me, or even my 15-year old self. I’d like to think they would give me some credit for making it to where I am — especially my 15 year old self who cared so much about how we looked and what other people thought of us, I’m sure it would make them proud to know there is life outside of others’ opinions. Or on some days when I’m not feeling my best, and I’m picking up old self-destructive habits, I think about what my younger self would think about that… In all these extra years of life, we never learned to love ourselves more? To treat ourselves better? Is this all acceptable? Is this the standard we should work towards? To me, nurturing my inner-child is taking them along with me, and being mindful of that. This encourages me to give myself and my inner child the care and patience we deserve.
I’ve also learned so much from reflecting on my younger selves– the way they find joy in the everyday, stay optimistic, and remain confident in their capabilities. I try to incorporate things that I know have brought me joy and excitement in the past. If those things aren’t available or don’t do the trick anymore, I try my hardest to chase the kinds of things that remind me of those pure, positive emotions. I’ll dance around by myself, with my friends, my partner. I’ll listen to my old favourite albums, finding things you like without any concern for who else likes it. I’ll try making art for no audience but myself, and trying out new mediums. I’ll cast away my self-consciousness and do things I used to be too embarrassed to try. I played the drums for the first time at 21, recovering my 10-year-old self’s Avril-Lavigne-punk-princess-dream. I’ll go jump in the ocean when it’s 5 degrees out because damn it, we love to swim and ?!? I drive a car now ?!
In 2019, I decided to make a mantra for myself. As annoyingly inspirational-influencer-y as that sounds, it paid off when I chose the right one: “take yourself less seriously”. I’d like to think that was a nod to younger me– where we could laugh at ourselves and shake things off and get out there. Being “out there” was something I loved to do as a child. Of course, it was in the iCarly era where ‘randomness’ was a personality trait to strive for… I could write a novel about how much that makes me cringe now, but I learned so much about the world and myself and the things I liked when I acted that way. So I challenged myself to put myself out there more. One of the first and most accessible steps I took was to be braver with my style: incorporating striking colours and fabrics, dyeing and cutting my hair (yes, it grows back, no it’s not the end of the world to change), actually buying the coat that made me happy just to look at even if I thought it would be ‘too much’ (looking at you, yellow leather jacket).
Though I’m still working on it, I continue to try to treat myself the way I hope an adult would have treated me as a child. That means accepting the feelings I have– even if I think they’re irrational, unreasonable, inappropriate. They’re all valid, and aid in becoming healthier emotionally. Once you pay attention to your own inner child, you can start to see the child in other people too and become more empathetic. Understanding your tendencies and shortcomings and how they’re related to your adult-child dichotomy can help you accept the tendencies and shortcomings of others.
You have the power to make yourself your own safe space. You have the right– if not the responsibility– to explore yourself and your desires with childlike wonder. If you keep working at it, you can foster your own shareable joy and peace.