We all have one. A much younger version of ourselves, one that didn’t get the love or care or comfort needed when we were very small. Maybe that little one was explicitly abused. Maybe there were so many other children that the little one’s emotional needs were lost in the crowd. There are so many ways, intentional or not, to hurt a vulnerable little one.
Now that we’re adults, what are we willing to do for that little one?
Or perhaps we should start with the questions: do we even need to do anything? I didn’t buy into carrying for the wounded self for a long time. I’m the linear, scientific type. The talk of the inner child struck me as touchy-feely psychobabble. I don’t feel that way anymore (and apologize to the field of psychology for my past snarky and ill-informed remarks). I have come to see that emotions are not linear or rational and that metaphors have great healing powers. Whatever the inner wounded child really is, a series of poorly formed neurological connections or a piece of my spirit caught in a time warp, I’ve learned that tending to her is one of the few things I can do to heal my decades-long depression.
In my case, my littlest, uncertain self is maybe four years old. Or perhaps younger; I’m not sure. Sometimes I imagine her holding a blanket and sucking her thumb. Her fear is being abandoned and unloved. She is confused. Someone told her hurt was not really hurt, that it was fine, and that she should be quiet.
Not surprisingly, certain things in my adult life can make the little one upset. Some of them I’m aware of. Others are still murky.
The ones I know: People telling her that her perceptions of a situation are completely off base. The sense that no one wants to take care of her. Knowing she is supposed to do something she really doesn’t want to do. The withdrawal of support from someone she thought she could trust. Pain, especially pain at the opening of her vagina.
Some of these triggers have been very present in my life recently, thanks to my recent pelvic surgery, assorted work pressures, and, well, just life. I haven’t been paying a lot of attention to her, though. Instead, my attention has been consumed with recovery from surgery.
And now my therapist is going on vacation. Adult me is going to cope. But this little self feels it as a loss. E. is going away! She will forget about me! This led me to send a text to E. last night at the ridiculous hour of 1:45 AM.
Late night angst (so hard to sleep these days!). Everything for the past month has been so focused on surgery and my reproductive organs The girl feels so abandoned and afraid. It’s mixed up. On the one hand, it’s not about the surgery, but also connected because it physically hurts in the same place.
I need to concentrate on long, slow breaths because I can feel myself breathing too shallow and fast.
I know you are sleeping–sleeping well I hope–but the texting tells me there is someone there. I’m crossing my fingers you turn the sound off your phone at night and don’t see this til the morning.
What I didn’t say was that her upcoming absence was certainly a piece of my concern. I also don’t think I made it clear that part of why the little one feels abandoned is that we stopped talking about her needs sometime back in March, as I prepared for my surgery and then processed my recovery since then. And we won’t really be able to pick this work up again until June. It’s a long time! It’s all too much to express in a text. Really I just wanted to reach out and tell her that the little one was frightened.
When I woke up late this morning, she had already responded.
Sound was off, no problem. I’m glad you know you have a trusted relationship with me and can reach out. What you say makes sense. The little one is so familiar with neglect. I’m sure this feels like a repeat. What’s good it that it is not a repeat. You, the wise self healer, know you will return. You long to return. Sharing this longing and hope might help the girl know about the new system you are building. I’m sure the girl is struggling to trust a promise. Show her the underlying pain in you about missing her. That deep sharing may help her feel met, even through this temporary distance.
I realize E. doesn’t tell me that she cares for the girl. E. doesn’t reassure her. She reminds me that I can care for her and reassure her. Sometimes I haven’t liked that (those same old feelings of wanting someone else to take care of me). But today it felt okay. I haven’t (yet) followed E’s suggestion. Perhaps I will. But I did make the girl a simple little card to reassure her that even if my head is sometimes otherwise occupied, I’m always with her. My scientific side is rolling her eyes. But the little one loves to get mail, so she feels better tonight and has stopped hyperventilating.