Stephanie Red Feather
Shadow Speak
Knock, Knock! Who's There?
It's Your Inner Child

So let me just kick this off by unzipping my proverbial fly and sharing something incredibly personal. I was recently reading through old journals and discovered a telling conversation between my adult self and my inner child from four years ago that hit me llike a two-by-four across the forehead. As I read it, I marveled at my inner child's bluntness and wisdom. I had completely forgotten about this exchange.

Inner Child DrawingI have chosen to share that dialog with you in this first article to show you an example of what can happen when we repress and ignore our inner child. Before reading the dialog, you should know I had given her the opportunity to color. (See the graphic at the right.) Then I decided to start talking to her based on what she drew...

Adult Stephanie: You don't want what?

Child Stephanie: I don't know.

Adult: You seemed pretty sure in your drawing.

Child: So.

Adult: Are you angry?

Child: I'm not happy.

Adult: So what would make you happy?

Child: Flowers. Paint. Rainbows. Waterfalls. My swing. Climbing a tree. Playing with my horses. Making a fort in the bushes. Playing in the leaves. My special bag of trinkets. Drawing. Rocks. Mom's pretty things.

Adult: Wow, you seem very clear what would make you happy.

Child: Of course I am. Why is that a surprise? Just because you forgot doesn't mean I did.

Adult: You think I don't know what makes me happy?

Child: Yes.

Adult: Why do you say that?

Child: (With great exasperation) DUH! Because you aren't doing them!

Adult: But that's not the same as not knowing.

Child: Might as well be.

The Child WithinAdult: Why do you say that?

Child: (Again, big sigh of frustration) It doesn't matter what you know. It matters what you do!

Adult: So to you, not doing the things that make me happy is the same as not knowing what makes me happy.

Child: I don't care what you think.

(At this moment I make a few notes in my journal...)

Child: QUIT WRITING SO MUCH and pay attention to me.

Adult: I'm sorry. Is there a name you want me to call you?

Child: DUH! It's Stephanie. It's your name. I know who you are.

Adult: Ok.

Child: Do you think I'm stupid?

Adult: I don't think you're stupid. And I need to apologize because I haven't given you the credit you deserve.

Child: Whatever.

Adult: Why do you react that way?

Child: There you go with the words that don't matter when you haven't said the words that DO matter.

Adult: You mean, "I'm sorry?"

Child: Yes.

Adult: Stephanie, I am sorry.

Child: Ok.

Adult: So what do you want to talk about now?

Child: I don't need to talk. You're the one that wants to talk.

Adult: Indeed. Why are you trying to get my attention?

Child: Because you forgot about me.

Adult: I didn't forget about you.

Child: Yes you did.

Eye of a childAdult: Why do you say that?

Child: Because you don't play anymore! You've forgotten how! You don't know what makes you happy. Your stupid adult "COMPLICATIONS" get in the way.

Adult: What did you mean when you said, "I don't want this" in your drawing.

Child: You're making me grow up. I don't want to be an adult. I'm a child. You're too serious. Too wound up. I don't want to go with you if you're not going to play. I don't want what you want if you forget what makes you happy.

Adult: So what would you tell me if I asked you, "How do I get back in touch with what makes me happy?"

Child: (Exasperated again) You make it sound like it's a big deal. I don't understand how you could ever not be in touch with what makes you happy. You don't have to go find it. Just feel it. It's always there. Do you feel yourself smiling on the inside? That's happy.

Adult: Smiling on the inside. I like that.

Child: You adults can be so stupid sometimes. I don't see what all the big deal is about getting older and growing up. I think sometimes you adults have forgotten everything that's important.

Adult: What do you think is important?

Child: Smiling. Playing. Eating. Sleeping. Laughing. Being warm when it's cold. Exploring. Smelling. Touching. Taking bubble baths. Being hugged and kissed. Going barefoot. Playing with animals. Being naked. Dreaming. Napping. Getting dirty.

Adult: I love you, Stephanie.

Child: Sure takes you a long time to figure some things out.

Adult: I love you even more.

Regression, according to psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud, is a defense mechanism leading to the temporary or long-term reversion of the ego to an earlier stage of development rather than handling unacceptable impulses in a more adult way. The defense mechanism of regression, in psychoanalytic theory, occurs when an individual's personality reverts to an earlier stage of development, adopting more childish mannerisms.

Our inner child is something we usually relegate to the shadow as adults. We grow up, think we have everything figured out, laugh with mildly disapproving tones at the silliness of our youth and then march confidently forward in our delusion of adulthood where we never give our inner child another thought.

Except, she chose to tag along without our knowing.

It is important to develop a relationship with your inner child for several reasons. One, to give her a voice. When we get triggered, we almost always regress, which means our responses and reasoning revert back to that of a child (ourselves at a young age). When a charged situation causes someone to regress, a 40-year old man can "all of a sudden" act like an 8-year old boy.

Doing exercises (such as drawing or dialoging on your own or with a counselor) gives your inner child the opportunity to express her fears, her anger, whatever emotions might have been disallowed by her parents and to voice her dreams and desires. When our inner child isn't given the opportunity to express and heal, we can unintentionally sentence ourselves to repeating patterns of regression which will ultimately sabotage our relationships and our ability to function in the world.

Another reason to develop a relationship with your inner child is to recognize when she is speaking/reacting. I know some people who have a relationship with their inner child at two or three different ages, from childhood into teenage years, and can get very specific in their understand of who is speaking and why they are triggered. When you feel a fear or anxiety welling up, becoming adept at understanding WHO is reacting gives you the opportunity to then make conscious choices instead of reacting from the place of a child's mentality. And, it gives you the opportunity to calm and reassure your inner child. When I discover my inner child has become apprehensive, I feel a change in my body and I will talk to myself out loud to comfort and reassure my inner child that I've got this (adult Stephanie is in charge), that she is okay and is not being asked to make any big decisions that she can't or shouldn't have to handle.

It is also important to recognize your inner child because when you do, you bring her out of the subconscious (the shadow) and into a conscious relationship with you. One thing I can tell you about the shadow is that what is hidden there is ALWAYS seeking expression. And it doesn't matter how much we ignore it, repress it or pretend it isn't there, it will find a way to express. The problem is, the expression then has no other option than to come out sideways as inappropriate behavior.

When you acknowledge that your inner child is a part of you, then you can begin to develop a mindful and deliberate relationship with her so that when she needs to express herself, you can guide and direct that energy in safe, healthy and creative ways. That's way better than launching a stream of profanity, punching a wall, making rash decisions you'll later regret, stomping away and slamming a door, picking a fight or recklessly driving your car or motorcycle because it's really your 10-year-old who's behind the wheel.

Suggested activities:

1. Sit down with the intention of letting your inner child express herself through art. Give her (yourself) permission that it doesn't have to be perfect or make sense. This kind of art isn't about pleasing an authority or adhering to a standard. You can use crayons, pastels, paint, or any medium that suits you.

2. Have a dialog with your inner child. Either write or type (whichever is most organic for you) and dialog much as I did above. Ask him a question and see what he says. And don't censor him. Give him (you) permission to say whatever. Let him know he's safe and that whatever he wants to say is allowed and he won't be punished or judged.

Dancing With Child3. If you had an especially abusive or difficult childhood, purchase (or repurpose) a doll or stuffed animal to become a physical representation of your inner child. Create a special place on your altar or somewhere in your house that is for her. Spend time daily holding her, talking to her and caring for her. When you get triggered or feel scared, pick her up and comfort her, saying out loud whatever it is you need to hear for yourself. Sleep with her if that would feel good to you. Tell her all the things you always wanted to hear as a child.

4. A great way to move energy is to move your body. Give your inner child permission to dance, stretch, spin, roll, or move in whatever way he wants to. Let him pick the music and let go of judging how silly you might look. Your body will know what to do.

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