On a recent episode of our podcast, Joe and I talked about inner-child work and the benefits we’ve felt from practicing these exercises especially from the standpoint of growing up in an evangelical home.
Regardless of the kind of home you grew up in, this kind of work can be super healing! So I want to share a little more about my experiences from it.
Inner-child work has to do with reconnecting with your childlike self or essence in an attempt to heal or nurture her now as your current, adult self. The first time I heard about this, it sounded super trippy and weird. What?! I have an inner child self who needs to be comforted and has unresolved wounds?!
Once I got over my initial reaction to the concept, I saw the truth to it. If you stop and think for a second, you can easily recall times recently where you behaved like a child. We all have times when our inner child controls how we view things and how we react to things.
Understanding the value of this work comes with trying it out. So let’s begin.
Find a quiet room, play some calming music, and get into a comfortable position. Make your dog lay down and stop staring at you in that creepy way and close your eyes. Imagine yourself outside in nature and visualize your current self walking up to your child self playing. You can choose any age. Choose the age that you immediately see. Sit down and talk to that child. Listen to her, play with her, hold her in your lap. What would you tell her? What would you say to her? What does she say to you?
This exercise can be very powerful. The first time I did this, I started crying merely at the sight of little me playing under a tree. I took this to mean, my child self needed some love and attention from my adult self.
Another thing that I took away was how weird this was. The first time I experienced this, I was half in and half out. It was cool, but it was strange to imagine talking to my younger self as if I were a crazy person. “I can never tell anyone how transcendental I’m getting…” (oops)
Because of this, it was a little while before I tried it again. About a couple months later, after a particularly relaxing evening where I was laying on the floor listening to spa music, I felt the desire to talk to my inner child again. I was feeling great and indifferent to how strange such a conversation would seem to anyone else because after all, it was silently occurring in my own head.
I thought, “what if I revisited some uncomfortable memories of myself when I felt shy or unworthy?”
Instantly a memory popped into my head. I was 11 or 12, and I was at a small-town hair salon shadowing a hairstylist for Shadow Day. Did you have that at your school? You were supposed to think of a career you might enjoy, reach out to someone who already had that career, and see what it was like. It’s actually a really cool concept. I was into fashion, makeup, and hair at the time, and the career I came up with was a hairstylist. Here is my memory of it:
(Welcome to the deepest, most insecure corners of my brain)
I got to the salon early in the morning before everyone’s shift had started. I don’t remember the name of the woman I shadowed, but let’s call her Diane. One of the stylists was drinking a can of Pepsi and said, “I need to get this taste of toothpaste out of my mouth” which even as a 12 year old, I thought was a dumb thing to say. “You want to replace the fresh taste of clean teeth with the taste of chemical syrup?!” I remember feeling super shy, awkward, and in the way the whole day. I didn’t know what I was supposed to do there. I was so worried about being quiet, shy, and not having any questions to ask that I was quiet, shy, and didn’t have any questions to ask. Soon into the day I realized I didn’t want to do this job. I have to be honest here, even as an insecure child, I had a lot of judgements of people. I could sense that the people working at this salon were small-minded and ambition-less so became uninterested in it as a career. I didn’t want to grow up and be them. I still had to be there through the whole day, and I hated it. In the afternoon, a girl who was a little older than me came in to get her hair done. She was cool. In my memory she was popular and everyone thought she was so pretty. She was wearing a denim jacket and had beautiful long, thick brown hair. As the stylist cut her hair, I remember her looking at her phone (did cell phones exist then?) and looking effortlessly calm and chic. At the end, her hair was even cooler (can you believe it?!) with layers and volume. I remember her looking at herself in the mirror completely satisfied with the way she looked as everyone around her cooed and complimented her. And I stood behind feeling like a loser with stringy hair, round Harry Potter glasses, crooked teeth, and yesterday’s style.
“There she is!” I thought in real time. There is that little, insecure girl. And that’s how I still view myself, even though I know it’s not true, even though I have changed so much. There was still a part of me that uses that to define myself today!
In my mind, I entered this memory again. I stood by my child self and talked to her all day as if I were her older sister.
“Okay, don’t worry about a thing. I’m here with you now. You can talk to me. You’re not alone.”
“Yes, you don’t realize it yet, but you live in a small town. You probably don’t want to work in a place like this, but that’s okay that these people do.”
“It sucks that you had to feel so small and awkward; nobody wants to feel like that, but I’m sure everyone experiences it at some point. You don’t have to feel like this your whole life, though; there are ways to learn how to be comfortable in your own skin.”
“That girl is really pretty, but that doesn’t mean she’s better than you. She has confidence and you can learn to have that, too.”
“Come with me! We’re going to go get some fun things. I’ll help you with your style.”
And then I visualized my adult self taking my younger self shopping, styling her, painting her nails, talking to her about confidence and being there for her.
Self care on a deeper level…
It sounds so simple, but in the moment, picturing my older self talking to my younger self was profound because my younger self felt such a deep connection and felt fully understood (because it’s me, duh!) and therefore, felt way more cared for than if it was anyone else comforting me. I needed attention from myself!
I entered another memory. This one wasn’t as significant, and I’m not really sure what brought it to my mind. It was the day after I had picked out my first pair of glasses in fourth grade. My mom had helped me pick them out. I tried on a metal-rimmed, round pair that my mom thought was cute. I remember not being sure about them, but my mom kept saying, “You look so cute! You look so cute!” I didn’t want to look cute, but was too easily influenced to choose this pair. The next day at school, I remember walking down the hall, around the corner to my locker, setting my books on the floor, and a friend excitedly asking me to show her my glasses: “Let’s see!”
I took them out of the case quietly and showed her. I don’t remember the reaction, but I remember I felt so self conscious.
This time, with adult me by my side, I told my child self that I’m allowed to choose what I want. I let myself pick out the pair of glasses I thought I looked best in. I helped myself not pick one that was too cutsie because I knew that was the opposite of what I wanted. Once we picked the best pair, I styled my younger self again. I gave her a really good pep talk, treated her like a best friend—an adult and not a child—and walked her down the hall. I told her how proud of her I was and sent her off to class with a wink.
I’m not sure what made me think of these two memories, but they popped into my head at the time, and I lightly followed them along replacing the bad bits of memory with encouragement from myself. I may not have remembered these past events accurately at all (in fact, there is a good chance I didn’t), but they were still being used to inform my current self and life for better or worse.
I forgot about this exercise and a couple days passed. To my surprise, when I thought back on the memories, they no longer existed in the same way. I didn’t have the same feelings attached to them; I didn’t feel a pang in my stomach thinking back on how insecure of a child I was. I remember my adult self with me the whole time. WHICH IS CRAZY! I didn’t intend to produce this effect, but it makes sense to me. What is a memory? It isn’t concrete; it can be altered apparently. And altering it can affect your future. My memory was telling me a story about myself. But if I go back and reframe past memories, I can change the way I remember them, and alter my current story.