Sometimes, we just feel silly. If you're reading this, chances are your a fully (or mostly) grown adult, but we often find ourselves giggling or feeling playful. We might crack up at some low-brow humor. And silliness can show up in other ways, too. We might try to figure out why we got so upset at something that is so seemingly insignificant. Why is whatever happened such a big deal to us? Whether we're getting irrationally upset or we just feel like dancing, it can feel like there's a younger part of us that temporarily takes over.
One of the things that I often say to my clients is that we can't control our emotions. We don't have the power to choose which feelings we experience at any given moment. It's simply not how we are wired. Our emotions emerge from a combination of experiences and norms and biological processes. It can be hard for us to recognize this and there is something about it that doesn't feel mature. Maybe we have a sense that we shouldn't be sad about something that has happened. It can be tempting to label that sadness as juvenile which can carry a negative sentiment. It's as if to be an adult means that we have to put away childish things – things like feeling sad or dancing or having hurt feelings. We seem to think that being an adult is somehow above being a child.
I don't believe that's true. I think that we all have inner children who can help us feel more fully whole if we truly allow them to find their voice. In an idyllic sense, we have a notion that to be a child is to be unencumbered by the pressures of the adult world. They aren't concerned about the judgments of other people. They express their inner feelings more directly without all of the extra layers of rationale and comportment and others' expectations to get hung up on.
Childhood is usually a time of freedom and seeing the world from a positive perspective. It's life at its most authentic. We live out what we feel inside. When we're excited and energized, we run. When we're upset, we cry. When we're overjoyed, our emotions spill out as laughter and dancing. What an incredible spirit! At some point, though, our spirit can become obstructed. This obstruction shows up as messages that our emotions are inappropriate or unwelcome. They aren't proper. We're told that there is a set of expectations that we should be trying to live up to. Mature people don't dance when they're happy, after all.
"You're having too much fun."
"Real men don't cry."
"Why are getting so angry?"
It's important to point out that others of us experience this obstruction in more drastic ways. We learn that our emotions are dangerous because they seem to evoke corrosive power in other people who have influence over us. These are wounds and they can be intense in their power. We learn that we need to suppress the things that we feel – to make sure that they don't spill out – as an act of self-protection.
In all of these cases, our inner child can get grounded – sent to their room indefinitely. Some of the most profound healing that I've had the opportunity to witness so far has been the result of people choosing to end the punishment. When we stop penalizing these parts of themselves and begin to see them and care for them as we would any child, amazing things can happen. We realize that joy or sadness or anger that we felt as children were OK; it wasn't something to be ashamed or embarrassed about. These inner children are actually cute and exuberant. They simply want to be free and live in the moment the only way they know how. They inject our lives with joy and a refreshing simplicity that we all too easily forget.
How unfortunate that we've been told these precious children – our younger selves – are liabilities instead of treasures! All these inner children need is someone to take care of them and to love them for who they are. They just need someone to reassure them that they are OK.
Maybe that someone is you.
I love helping people do the kind of work that connects them with these younger versions of themselves. I love when an individual is able to look back and see that inner child – that inner representation of themselves – as good and whole and important. When we hear the inner child and can respond to their unmet needs, we can unleash a joy and an excitement that can powerfully impact our lives and our relationships. When we are curious about them, we get the privilege of seeing our world in ways that we had otherwise forgotten.
Our inner children are not liabilities. They are not inconveniences. Perhaps, we need to replace the idea of being juvenile with being free, or more child-like, or being unconcerned with how others see us. To be free is to be unaware of the short-comings that people place on us. Maybe there is value in celebrating our inner child.
Just maybe, when we feel joy, we should invite our inner child to dance.