How old are you?
We talk a lot about the concept of the inner child. There are books written about it, meditations to follow to find yours, and plenty of jokes and references to the idea all over the media. If you have been to therapy, there is a significant chance that you have at least had conversation about yours or the “wounds” that we are inflicted with during our childhood stage. What we seem to talk less about is our inner teenager. This is the version of ourselves that we have developed TO SURVIVE when the wounds of childhood become unmanageable. This is the version of ourselves that we have developed TO PROTECT that inner child from having those wounds ripped open again. We often desire to protect that child because we have a belief that no one else is going to.
So, let’s pause for a second and just talk a little bit about the developmental stage of adolescence. Or, what I sometimes call “teenagehood.” We start our life in our family of origin. When puberty hits and the adolescent stage begins, it is our instinct to pull away from our family of origin and “separate and individuate.” Because I always like to compare us to our indigenous selves, what we are doing here is trying to find the tribe that we will belong to. We do this TO SURVIVE because we are drawn to acculturate to a tribe that is going to help keep us fed, clothed and protected. I think that it is this instinct where we really learn to judge others and shame others and ourselves. Both of those are generally regarded as bad (particularly in our modern-day times) but they were actually tools for survival back when we were the cave people versions of ourselves. First, we would assess the tribe for whether or not it was a good fit for us. Then, we would conform to the social norms of said tribe by paying attention to when we felt shame for being different than the others in the tribe that we were trying to be a fit for. When we found a home in this tribe, we felt a sense of love, belonging and safety. These thoughts, feelings and behaviors are all about being wired for survival.
So fast forward to modern-day times and let’s think again about this wounded inner child and our teenage self that has sworn to protect it. How do we do that? Why, we use the tools that we have access to in our adolescent brain, of course-judgement, shame and the desire to fit in to a group or people so that we can survive!
It is during our teenagehood that this version of ourselves finds ways to cope, numb the feelings that we cannot change, fit into a group of people and treat others in such a way that they cannot hurt us any further. The problem is that we are no longer cave people. Our modern-day world has far more ways to meet those objectives in an unhealthy way than our indigenous ancestors. And what is the result of all of this? We do not give ourselves the opportunity to step into our authentic selves and build a life we love to live. Instead, we spend our time numbing and putting on a mask of what we think we should be like. In fact, we usually end up feeling lonely and distrusting of others-isn’t that the exact opposite of what our intentions were in the first place?
Think about how you react in your different relationships. I bet you do show up as your inner child pretty frequently. I know that my inner child is about six years old. All she wants is to be told that she is a good girl…and maybe a strawberry popsicle. So, when I am in that place, I show up with a pretty solid habit of people pleasing. Sometimes, though, that inner teenager is the one at the wheel. Maybe you are full of sass or maybe you say things you don’t actually mean. Or perhapys you are like me. My 16-year-old self fades into invisiblity because she is terrified that everyone is going to realize that she does not belong. All of those behaviors, regardless of what they look like, are rooted in the innate need to protect ourselves.
So, the next time your teenager makes an appearance, give yourself a little bit of grace for how they behave but PAY ATTENTION. That version of yourself may be in need of some reassurance and protection.
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