Confession: my mind is a hectic place. Psychologists have found that the average person has over 6,000 thoughts each day. As someone whose mind feels like the Las Vegas strip on a long weekend, this statistic does not surprise me. Enter inner child work.
At the beginning of 2021, I started becoming aware that I am always ‘switched on’ — in other words, anxious. I am not keen on labels but they can be useful descriptors. How would I know if I was anxious anyway? I have only ever been in this one body, with my personality. To the outside world, I feel like I look dead calm. The problem is what is going on inside my mind and body.
Pessimism goes hand-in-hand with unease. I am a big fan of personal development and thanks to COVID-19, I’ve had a lot of time on weekends and after work to research a number of teachings that fascinate me. One psychotherapeutic concept that continually emerged the more I read was inner child work.
What is inner child work?
The definition of inner child work varies considerably depending on the source. I’ll be honest, when I first read about inner child work, my stream of thoughts looked something like this:
“What the heck?! I am a 34-year-old woman — do these people expect me to talk to four-year-old Sarah and have some kind of epiphany? This sounds like woo-woo.”
As I shared in my last post, I am a big fan of Dr Nicole LePera (also known as The Holistic Psychologist) and her book, How to do the Work. Dr LePera’s definition of the inner child, as per this Instagram post, looks like this:
“Each of us have an inner child. The inner child is the child within us that sees the world through a unique perspective. What we experience as children doesn’t just go away because we grow up. These experiences stay within us and create our behaviours, beliefs and patterns.”
With this in mind, I felt called to find a photo of young Sarah, and dared to cast my mind back.
Setting the scene
I would not consider myself a ‘photo person’ but when I was a kid, my parents certainly were photo people. While flicking through a number of photos and photo albums, I saw many images of myself smiling without a care in the world. That said, I always had an awkwardness about me that my brother never had. It didn’t take me long to locate the photo I was after — my Holy Communion. While I don’t identify as being religious as an adult, I did attend a Catholic primary and high school.
Inner child work is powerful… and a little confronting
In my photo of choice, I am standing to the left of a sign my dad organised at his work that reads, “Congratulations on your Holy Communion Sarah”. I’m standing right up against a brick wall and looking slightly to the right of the camera. I have a gold chain love-heart necklace and am wearing a traditional white dress with a floral pattern and a wreath. My thick dark brown hair sits nicely under the wreath. I was what people repeatedly called, ‘a solid girl.’
Another person may look at this photo of me and simply see a young girl in a white dress. For me, this photo instantly triggers an element of sorrow because I know that girl is so terribly insecure. I know what’s ahead of that child. I understand that she didn’t really want to wear that white dress but she thought it was better to just wear it so that she didn’t stand out. All of the other girls would be wearing a dress. My facial expression in the photo says it all. I see a look that communicates, I can’t wait until this is all over and I am allowed to go outside and kick the football.
Writing to my inner child to acknowledge my experiences
I poured every thought that came to mind on the page when looking at the photo. I never censor myself when journaling because to me, that feels like it defeats the purpose. My journal (or diary or piece of paper — whatever you want to call it) is the one area where I can be honest without any consequences.
Upon reflection, I came to understand how there is a little girl inside me who feels like her life could have been completely different if she was born in a different time. For context, I was labelled a ‘tomboy’ (I hate that word) as a child because instead of exhibiting an interest in nice clothes, make-up and playing with dolls, I was super sporty. I loved every sport but Australian Rules Football was my number one passion. I vividly remember telling my mum, “When I grow up, I’ll become the first female footballer.” Of course, back in the 1990s, there was no Australian Football League Women (AFLW) so I was well and truly ahead of my time.
The more I dug into the thoughts and feelings that I saw staring back at me in the photo, the more I realised that I have a lot of emotions that I have buried over the last 30+ years. The more I realised that I have much inner work and healing to do.
Dispelling a common myth about inner child work
For too long, I thought inner child work translated to blaming my parents for the things that have not gone to plan in my life. This is incorrect. Like most parents, my mum and dad did the best they could at the time and with the tools they had. Inner child work is about taking responsibility and developing a better understanding of myself. If I have learned one thing in my life, it’s that running away from your ‘stuff’ does not solve anything.
Interested in getting to know yourself on a deeper level? Take a look at my Writing for Self Discovery Program.