Connecting with your inner child
This article is cross-posted from my weekly newsletter, The Sunday Soother, a newsletter about clarity, intention, and useful tips for creating more meaning in your life that goes out every Sunday morning. Subscribe here. I am also a coach who works with sensitive people so they can stop second-guessing, make decisions confidently and live the life they’ve always dreamed of. You can learn more about working with me here.
I tentatively wrote “LC” down in the margins of my journal the other morning.
The “LC” stood for Little Catherine, and I was trying, awkwardly, to get in touch with my inner child.
You see, I woke up sullen on a recent weekday.
Sitting down to my morning pages journaling, I felt… tight. As I’ve learned to reconnect to my body the past couple of years, I know that a tightening in my solar plexus, a band around the area between my sternum and ribcage, signifies that something is feeling fearful to me; that I’m dreading something; that there’s a sense of unease and disconnect that I can’t quite put my finger on, or that I haven’t yet admitted consciously to myself.
I’d recently come across an interview with Elizabeth Gilbert and Julia Cameron (author of The Artist’s Way) in which Cameron mentioned a tactic that immediately drew me in. (The whole interview is actually full of gems from both women, especially if you’re struggling with creativity and either doing or thinking about doing The Artist’s Way.)
Cameron talked about how in her morning journaling, sometimes she turns to her inner child to ask what’s going on when she’s feeling disconnected or stuck. She’ll write “LJ” in the margins, short for Little Julie, and enters into a dialogue with her.
I found this intriguing. I’ve been working with inner child healing some myself the past couple of years and have found it transformative, but had never entered a dialogue with my inner child while writing.
A pause to explain a bit of inner child work, and a preface: it is the kind of work that I would have found unbelievably cheesy and cringeworthy a few years ago, and it is also the personal growth work I’ve done that has made the most impact on returning to and connecting with myself. Essentially, your inner child is sort of a subordinate but independent part of your personality that is operating at all times, whether we’re aware of it or not, and often, in fact, in the driver’s seat. They’re the ones behind impulsive reactions or behaviors like lashing out, stewing, feeling lost, alone, isolated, and more.
Most of us aren’t aware that we have these inner children, many of whom have sustained and are nursing significant emotional wounds of some sort, and that they are begging for us to validate and create a relationship with them so they can feel seen and whole again. So the idea with inner child work or healing is that you acknowledge and create a relationship with this part of yourself, tend to it, nurture it, honor it, reparent them, and in the process, yourself.
Trust me: it is easier said than done.
But I’ve been working on it.
My inner child is about 5 or 6 years old, and as I sat down at my morning pages that sullen Tuesday, aware of something rumbling beneath the surface, I tried out Cameron’s trick of meeting her in the pages. I wrote “LC” in the margins and asked her to tell me what was going on.
The words came tumbling out. Little Catherine was tired, exhausted even, and scared of all the work that seemed to never slow down. She couldn’t see a break on the horizon. She yearned for a need to settle into trust, not frantic stress and scarcity, and she deeply wanted me to honor her need for play and rest.
Rereading her words, I felt like the emotionally-absent workaholic parent who suddenly wakes up to the fact that they’ve been significantly failing the heart-based needs of their child.
Sure, I’d been giving my inner child food, sleep, a good home, taking care of her body, flossing every night. But I never let her play and, more importantly, I never met her to play. My adult self, my current self, constantly ignored her calls by scheduling meetings, piling my calendar with obligations and fretting about money, always scanning the horizon for more opportunities for work and to prove myself. I only rewarded her, I only turned to her, when she worked hard, met metrics, achieved goals, gave me ideas that could be turned into revenue.
It’s kind of a lot to put on a 6-year-old.
I thought I’d been looking out for Little Catherine, protecting her, providing security and structure and material goods for her with my constant focus on working and productivity.
But I realized in a way in those morning pages that I hadn’t truly before that a significant part of me, this small, young part of me, didn’t trust the person in charge.
And she didn’t really have any reason to.
For years, I’ve been ignoring her calls to rest. To play. To go outside, to go offline, to take a break, to draw, to watch movies in the afternoon, her tugs on my shirt begging me not to schedule another call or take on another project. There were endless empty promises of rest, but only after… after hitting this goal, or after that much more work, or one more email, or after I cleaned the kitchen, or did that meditation to improve my focus.
I thought because she was little, she wasn’t wise. That her needs were that of a silly child, not of a mature adult. Six-year-old-Catherine, she couldn’t possibly know better than experienced, successful 41-year-old Catherine. She just needed to grow up, to give in, to quiet down, to stop being so needy.
But this week, it finally, irreparably hit me how backwards I’d gotten it.
That sullen morning, after writing in my journal, I really, for one of the first times ever, stopped and listened to her — to me — and asked, “What do I honestly want to do today?”
The answer came more quickly than I’d expected. Walk, explore, art, and… macaroni and cheese.
Huh, I thought. Okay. We can do this.
I didn’t have any calls til that afternoon, and I promised the whole morning stretched before us. I switched my grocery run to my local Target. We walked there, taking a new route, taking our time, no hurry to be found. While there, I picked up notebooks, markers, stickers that I was drawn to. Hot chocolate, Kraft mac ‘n cheese. Bubble bath.
While I was in the aisles of the store, a song by the New Pornographers, one of my favorite bands, came on. “When was the last time I listened to an entire album I loved instead of a podcast I was trying to learn information from?” I wondered. I couldn’t remember. So on the way home we turned up Electric Version and sang along as the sun bloomed on one of those February days that hint too soon of spring.
We got home, and I made the promise: “We have a few calls this afternoon, then this evening it’s mac n cheese and a movie, okay?”
I could feel the tightness in my solar plexus release, a sign now I know is her relaxing.
After my calls that afternoon, I glanced once more at my calendar and stiffened: I had a late evening call that I’d totally spaced on.
I know instinctively what the right call was: cancel the call.
I hesitated. Logic raced through my brain, all the reasons I needed to take the call, and all the reasons I needed to cancel the call.
I could feel Little Catherine waiting skeptically to the side, tapping her foot.
I wish I could say I canceled the call guilt-free, took Little Catherine by the hand, and we skipped happily ever after into the sunset stuffing our face with mac ‘n cheese and twirling fairy dust.
But I decided to keep the call.
I felt her shrink at that decision, dismayed, and I knew, even as I was making it, that it was the wrong one. And yet my adult, rational brain was able to convince myself that I still needed to do it.
Let me tell you, watching yourself choose to abandon yourself, abandon your inner child, in real-time, and watch that part of you deflate as you do it… I don’t recommend it.
And I know I’m still learning, so I’m attempting to give myself grace around it, too, and that I’ve done this so many times before, unaware; it was only this time I was truly awake to my choice and its consequences.
But still, I felt her move away from me in that moment, retreat again somewhere quiet, somewhere I can’t quite reach her. I’m so worried: is our relationship irreparable at this point? Should I attempt the process of rebuilding it? Or would I merely begin making outreaches to her only to throw her over in the moment once again?
I wrote last week about trust, and why it’s so hard to do it. I wonder, as I’m writing these words now, if it’s not that the world outside itself that makes it so hard to trust. I wonder if it’s that we’re encouraged to abandon ourselves over and over again, to learn that as an acceptable way of being “good” in the world, all the while our inner younger self retreats, our inner younger self watches us getting further away, our inner younger self learns that we’ll simply ignore their cries.
And that’s where the gap in our difficult relationship with trust actually comes from. At least for me. It’s not that I can’t trust the world. It’s that I don’t know how to trust myself. No, wait; not that I don’t know; that I have forgotten. I think I know somehow, somewhere, buried deep in a forgotten, dusty room.
Having come into awareness of this damaged relationship just this week, I’m not quite sure yet where I go, where Little Catherine, goes from here. But I know a reckoning is at hand (finally, the reversed Judgment Tarot card I pulled three days in a row last week makes sense!) and this time, it’s Adult Catherine who needs to step back.
How do you learn to let lead a six-year-old and all her inherent wisdom, her joy, her sadness, her intuition, her truths, her creativity, her deep empathy, her naivety, and, yes, the thing that we work to strip instead of nurture: her guileless ability to trust, to trust herself, AND the world around her? — how do you learn, or relearn, in your 40s, how to put her back in charge? To follow her intuitive wisdom, her desires, her curiosity, in a world — well, in a world like this?
I’ll echo what I wrote to you all, and to myself, last week:
I don’t know. But I have a willingness to try.
And it’s time to begin.