when I first heard of the concept of the "inner child", I thought it sounded like either a multiple personality condition or some mystical ultra-sentimentalized delusion akin to having an invisible friend. eventually, as I heard and read more, I concluded that it was more like a metaphor or symbol of a stage of development or an emotional state that was frozen in time or lost/inaccessible to memory. I didn't feel a particular need or desire to get in touch with it/him. It seemed a bit far out or wacky. I assumed that at worst, I might be imagining something and that if there actually was anything real, it would end up as some sort of emotional, self-indulgent sob-fest, with little to gain except possibly some cathartic stress relief. I decided not to pursue it.
I have always hated looking at old photos of myself as a child or teen, since they were reminders of a terrible time. Either they showed a false happiness or a wistful, solemn awkwardness that hid pain and loneliness.
What happened took me by surprise. Going through old boxes that had been stored for years, I came across my first passport with a photo of me at 13, at the lowest point of the worst time in my life.
Suddenly, I felt something different for that boy that what I had ever felt before. I had always felt contempt, judgment and self-condemnation for that kid, the same things that everyone else had put on him. For the first time, I now saw him as if he were someone separate from me. I saw him as much younger, more vulnerable, and defenseless than before. Instead of self-loathing, I felt compassion and empathy for him. I felt like I wanted to hug him, comfort him, protect him, and tell him that he was a valuable and worthy person. I wept for him as if he was someone separate from me.
I felt like I needed to forgive him for what I had always blamed him for not doing a better job at handling a humiliating and demeaning situation. I told him that I understood that he had done the best he could without support or resources, he had done the only thing he knew to do in order to survive.
I also felt I needed to ask for his forgiveness. Soon after that photo was taken, we moved and though that change of location saved my life by removing me from chronic bullying, harassment and abuse, it also made it possible for me to leave that boy behind as someone I used to know and did not want to be associated with any longer. I had abandoned and rejected him and tried my best to forget and ignore him. And yet I had felt as if I dragged the shame of his experience around with me like a dead albatross around my neck. I felt like he did forgive me, too for trying to move on with life, that he understood my need to try to be free of the burden of memory and suffering.
It was a strange experience. Not like a vision or hallucination. Almost like a split awareness from both inside and outside both identities simultaneously. And as if a subjective and objective perspective were operating at the same time. It was a reconnection with a lost or isolated or dormant part of myself. An analogy might be putting on 3-D glasses as if everything came into sharper focus and greater depth. There was no rush or climax or crescendo to the experience, more like a gentle increase of awareness. Afterward I felt more whole and healthy than I did before. And now that a few weeks have passed, I know that I have learned to accept and love myself as I never did before. In short, it has been a very healing process. I have to keep reminding myself to be kind and gentle with that younger Lee and ask him to be patient with me and my younger self seems to be grateful to me like a trusted older brother for bringing him along in my life.
A man talking sense to himself is no madder than a man talking nonsense to not himself.
Or just as mad.
So there you are.
Stark raving sane.
- Tom Stoppard, Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead