Should you put your inner child to bed? Life Hacks by Charles Assisi
Unresolved issues can prompt impulsive and destructive behaviours. It takes effort to let go of the fear that the world will not provide what we need.
Every once a while, my elder daughter puts on a mortified look and says: “When will you grow up, dada?” The younger one appears to concur. Just as I’m preparing to respond, the wife often jumps in to add that the girls have a point; that I must grow up.
My girls are still in school. What paradox is at play here?
It would appear, from the consensus at home, that my rage over petty peeves and my propensity to sulk are part of what I must “grow up” from.
This got me thinking about the ways in which we view adulthood vs childhood. Don’t lose touch with the inner child, we’re told. This flows from the idea that children are naturally curious, innocent and know how to live in the moment and enjoy their freedom.
Adults who lose touch with that inner child, per this narrative, risk becoming miserable, and blind to all the good that is around them.
Jenny Brown, a social scientist, researcher and author of the deeply researched book, Growing Yourself Up (2012), offers much to think about in this regard. The problem with the popular inner-child narrative, she says, is that children, while joyous, curious and innocent, are driven by impulse. “The child’s world revolves around finding the fastest route to getting comfortable, to being nurtured and gratified by others.”
Simply put, much of the average child’s behaviour is intended to attract attention and appeasement. When thought about from an evolutionary perspective, this makes perfect sense. A child is physically and emotionally vulnerable and needs all the “taking care of” they can secure for themselves. Grown-ups don’t. They ought to have figured out their own way.
So what does it mean to “hold on to the inner child” and when does one “need to grow up”? When reflected on from this perspective, I suspect there is merit to the kids’ comments around my behaviour in certain circumstances. I do lose my temper on the road and hurl expletives at motorists who can neither hear me nor care. I do refuse to communicate with those around me when I feel slighted.
How does an adult such as I grow up? Brown has some interesting tips. Every adult has within them elements of the child they were, she says. These elements will influence the behaviours of the adult. Most people don’t take the time to resolve the issues of their inner child (and we all have some), because it is hard work. And so it is that we don’t grow into full adulthood.
As we allow the child in us to dictate our deeds, we end up acting out of impulse or petulance, seeking attention in an effort to reduce discomfort. There are deeper elements to an unsoothed inner child. Impulsiveness, co-dependency and an extreme urge to fit in can all manifest in adulthood.
The roots of it all lie in the child’s evolutionary and ingrained drive to survive. Therefore growing up necessarily involves letting go, primarily of the fear that the world will not provide what we need.
Once one has taken this step, we may find the strength to respond to adversity with calm, to problems with solutions rather than complaints alone, to mistakes with accountability rather than a need to assign blame. We can define ourselves by what we believe, rather than trying to mould our behaviour to fit the groups around us.
We can grow into well-adjusted adults who aren’t unmoored by the behaviour of those around them, and who know that the world has a cadence of its own.
I’ll be an adult and acknowledge the daughters are right.
(Charles Assisi is co-founder at Founding Fuel & co-author of The Aadhaar Effect)