I’ve been seeing a survivorship therapist at MSKCC for the last couple of months. We mostly talk about my challenges with survivorship — how I’ve been dealing with my caught-between-two-worlds identity crisis, about feeling unsafe, and about grief. But we sometimes explore other topics too — for example, about family drama or about my job. During my recent visit, we touched on the topic of…my inner child. A topic I am very sensitive about.
I had brought up a dream I had last year where I saw myself at 6 years old, and as my adult self, interacted with my younger self (you can read about it here). In the dream, I try to coach my inner child, and to my surprise, she ends up trying to coach ME instead.
Apparently I’ve been very judgmental of my younger self — the way I was so shy and how I didn’t stand up for myself, for example. My therapist said that perhaps I should welcome that child into my life more often. She even went as far as suggesting I allow my inner child to make some decisions from time to time. So risky, I thought. But she told me that my inner child would have never judged me the way I’ve been judging her all these years. She was right about that.
My therapist also asked how I felt about my inner child. I said that I love her very much. I told her I also miss her, but considering my current circumstances and recent experiences, I am afraid she’ll be hiding for a while. I want to protect her. I, the adult, need to take on my current responsibilities and challenges.
My therapist said that my inner child possessed a level of wisdom I should not be dismissing so easily, as that wisdom could help with my survivorship. Although we didn’t go into details about what that ‘wisdom’ was (we may continue the discussion next time I see her), I suspected I knew what she referred to.
I remember myself as a child. I was such a free soul. Hardly ever complained. Forgot and forgave quickly. And yet, when I think of myself as a little girl, I often wish that she had been someone else. Someone closer to who I am today. Perhaps more aggressive and outgoing…someone who didn’t forget so quickly. But, who said that behaving like a child at times doesn’t have its advantages? Why can’t we create a bridge between the child and the adult? It’s like my survivorship challenge. Maybe I will never live in either world — the cancer world and the non-cancer world — 100% of the time, but I can create a bridge where I can allow myself to enjoy part of that world I miss so much. The world where cancer didn’t exist. I can take a break from the cancer world, because I still can.
After finishing my talk with my therapist I headed for my train home. But on my way to the train I came across Dylan’s Candy Bar. I have always seen it but never dare entered the store. All that sugar? No way! But that day I allowed my inner child to make that call. That probably wasn’t what my therapist intended when she suggested I allowed my inner child to make decisions. But the experience I had made me realize something new.
I went into the store and felt like I was a kid again, except with a lot more options. I didn’t question a thing. I grabbed gummy bears, bubble gums, chocolate, jelly beans, candy corn, chocolate-covered almonds, sour worms, sour watermelon slices, and many other kinds. I looked around the store and thought about how lucky the other children who come here are. I didn’t have those candies growing up, or the money. I smiled a lot in that store.
At home, I told my guy about what my therapist had talked about and my trip to the candy store. He reached for the bag full of candies. “Hey, those are for my inner child!” I said. “What, she doesn’t share?” he replied. When I caught myself making the decision, I quickly shifted to allow my inner child to run the show. “Actually, she does enjoy sharing. You can take what you want,” I told my guy.
Later that evening, I sat by myself and started to eat the candies. I didn’t think of sugar, weight gain, my health, or cancer. I watched a reflection of myself in the blank TV screen, a little girl eating candy. I saw how much I’ve changed, but also how much I’ve stayed the same at the same time.
I allowed my inner child to make a decision that day and it felt alright, even if it was just for that one moment. I allowed her to come out and play, but not for too long. Not for too long.
What are some things you miss about your younger self?
Thank you for sharing this story. Growing up shouldn’t mean we stop having fun, the good old days when each little thing was a special treat. Adults feel guilty about the silliest things 😉
That’s right, Carolyn, we should never stop allowing ourselves to have fun. Things get a lot more complicated as we get older though. And I agree sometimes we are responsible for that. We adjust to so many different changes in an environment we don’t fully trust. Sometimes that ‘wisdom’ we once had when we were kids is sacrificed in order for us to survive. But I am in the process of exploring a new possibility with the belief that perhaps we can make some things work (or more manageable) if ‘we stick together’.
Thank you for stopping by. xo
🙂 I loved this post and letting her decide. My inner child is 8 years old and is very spontaneous and lovely. She has been craving for some granola bar lately – I think I know what I will do tomorrow 🙂 It is sometime good to forgive and forget and open a new white chapter, leaving things that do not serve use well behind. As a matter of fact, that thought made me decide right now to live very spontaneously tomorrow – let’s see how it will go 🙂
It’s so sweet the way you describe your inner child. I already like her (imagine the two of them together!).
‘Forgiveness’ is a very complicated subject for many. I don’t fully understand what it means. All I know is if I remember something bad someone did to me, and I no longer feel pain when I think of it, then I guess that means I’ve forgiven (or left ‘it’ behind). But as long as I remember something, and feel pain about it, then I am still in the process of ‘healing’ (sort of like ‘grieving’ in a way, maybe). When I was kid this process went a lot faster but so did everything else.
I hope you allow your inner child to make some decisions today (get that granola bar!) and the two of you can have some fun. xo
you have described the healing and forgiving process so well that I guess it must be in text books! You nailed it -forgiving is tricky…. I have my own processes going on, sometimes painful and lasting for years. But what your post had reminded me was about taking a break from these feelings time to time; I had read it somewhere; somebody suggested that we allocate time to go thru th epain/worry/stress whatever is bothering for us; let yourself feel it but after, say 15 minutes, go back to life. This is a great idea if implemented, preventing me for example thinking about the same thing over and over. When your inner child enjoyed these candies yesterday, that is what I was reminded… allowing us to leave burdens and just be, even for a short time.. I love my inner child and today we woke up early (right after 9 am, which is early for me :)), luckily could catch the bus right away and went to a shopping center to shop. I like this unplanned trip and losing myself while going thru the stores and purchasing items that I need. I did not forget to have treats, which put smiles on my face. I should do more spontaneous and unplanned activities 🙂
I love this. Because I’ve been drawing and making art for so long, since I was a child, that has helped me hang onto my inner child. I really have no choice! She’s the one who is motivated to sit for hours, drawing in Adobe Illustrator and playing with Photoshop without fear or self-censorship. She’s the one who wrote first, in fact, poems and stories, even stories about myself, so really, she’s why I write a blog. She’s the one who first loved dogs and cats and all animals. I’ll bet there’s a lot more of your inner child with you all the time than you realize. I think our inner childs are the ones who teach us to have a sense of wonder and fun and silliness. They are also the ones who first bump into that sense of powerlessness in the face of circumstances we can’t control. I think they’re with us all the time, really. I hope you continue to enjoy and learn more about both of you. xoxo, Kathi
And I love your story. And your art. I agree our inner childs never really leave us. I’ve often tried hiding mine but I also think that she has been more involved in my life than I realize. And now that you mention it, my inner child loves writing and telling stories — she is why I write my blog too. I also write about her (my childhood). It’s truly very special when we never leave that connection behind. I am looking forward to seeing more of her and yours too.
Thank you for sharing your story. xo
I love this post and getting this insight into how you’ve been feeling. I think I get to let my inner child out often because of the work I do, which is why I love it and find it so healing. It’s my job to be silly, playful and goofy. But it must be hard for you to know when to let that girl inside out. Whatever you do, I think you need to make more trips to the candy store. It sounded downright cathartic!!!! (and yummy)
The experience was very therapeutic and yummy. I thought about you while I was writing this post because of the kind of job that you do. I also thought of you when I was inside the store (when we were trying to coordinate a date for us to meet), wondering if you had brought your son into that store yet. It felt magical being there. And yes, I am planning to go back and hitting the lower level too. It is hard to know when to let her out but I want to see more of her. I am glad you get to see your inner child a lot. xo
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Good post! It’s funny but I don’t know how to connect with my younger inner child. She was always rigid and a good girl….lots to ponder here!
I am sure you are still a ‘good girl’ (wondering how much of this ‘defining’ we allow ourselves to do instead of letting society label us). You’ll find ways to connect with your inner child and maybe you already have and haven’t noticed. xo
I love this post! Do you think your inner child would share some chocolate with me?
For sure! Next time you visit NY let us know.
As a child, I often felt like a misfit, but maybe most kids feel that way. Since you read my memoir, you know about some of that. I was always too shy, too tall, too chubby, too non-athletic, too this and too that. And like you and Kathi, this might be one reason I turned to writing early on, and hence the blog evolved, too, because again, I felt like a misfit of sorts after my diagnosis. I love your story about stopping into the candy store and letting your inner child make the decision to indulge. Maybe we all need to do this kind of thing more often. I also love the idea of that bridge and stepping back into the world of our youth from time to time. Usually we hear that wisdom comes with age, but there is much to learned from our inner child too. Thank you for reminding of us of that in this wonderful post.
Hi Nancy, yes I remember those details from your memoir. I agree most kids feel some level of insecurity and often feel like a misfit. Despite my insecurities at the time, I was always able to have fun, probably because I didn’t use to overthink or spend too much time questioning situations or questioning myself. I need to bring those days back somehow, even if only for short periods of time. xo
I love this post. I think trauma such as cancer sometimes brings up these issues of re-acquainting ourselves with our inner child. I LOVE that you went to the candy store and let your inner child go free. As a kid, I was also shy, and I’m often judgmental about her. I think maybe it’s difficult for us all to accept our younger self. I think a lot about my younger self since I started therapy, and the truth is that, while I’m so self-critical of her, I must embrace her, for she made me who I am today.
Beth, I love what you said about embracing your inner child because she made you who you are today. I have to admit I often wonder if my inner child is right about some things. At the end of the day we all change to be able to adjust to circumstances we cannot control. To some extent I find it sad. Thank you for sharing your experience about your relationship with your inner child. I hope you find more ways to connect with her. xo