Is your Inner Child Holding You Back?
How to Break Free of This Cycle
Early on, I worked out that good little boys didn’t get shouted at, didn’t get hit, and didn’t get into trouble. I hoped that if I was always good and never bad, my parents would never say to me, “We are so disappointed in you.” I hated it when they said that.
However, being good full-time is hard work. You have to suppress a lot of feelings. You can’t always speak the truth. Sometimes you have to lie. And that feels bad.
A Battle No One Can Win
Trying to be a “good little boy” is difficult for lots of reasons. For starters, adults have different versions of what good is. Your mum and your dad might not agree on what good is. Your grandparents probably don’t agree with what your parents think. Your teachers have their own ideas—and so too do your friends. And everyone changes his or her mind all the time anyway, and that just makes you mad. You can’t win. It’s so unfair. But you tell yourself that you mustn’t say anything because—of course—that’s not “good.”
The problem you’ll soon discover is, the more you try to be a good little girl or good little boy, the more you have to put on an act.
Ironically, putting on an act is not innocent. It’s a calculated attempt to win love and approval, or, simply to stay out of trouble. Being “good” is just one act.
Other Roles We Play to Win Love
When we talk about putting on an act to win love or affection or security, other acts we learned to play as children include
- being strong (“brave little soldier”),
- being helpful (“my little helper”),
- being nice (“my little angel”), and
- being a little adult (“a big girl”).
More acts include:
- being an invisible child,
- being the family hero,
- being a scapegoat,
- being a problem child, and
- being the entertainer.
In my book, Life Loves You, which I co-wrote with my dear friend, Louise Hay, I asked Louise if she recognized times in her life when she played an act to win love or attention.
“I tried to be a good little girl at first,” she said, “But that got me unwanted attention from my stepfather. In the end, I tried to be an invisible child in order to make myself safe.”
Whatever act we choose, the act by it’s nature causes us to feel estranged from our basic goodness.
At the heart of these roles lies the basic fear “I am not loveable.” This fear by it’s nature morphs into the belief that in order to be loveable, “I must deserve love, I must earn it.”
When we identify with this erroneous belief, love ceases to feel natural and unconditional. Instead, we fear that love is a prize that must be earned, deserved, and achieved somehow—but only if we are worthy.
We take our childhood acts into adulthood with us. These acts turn into roles we play out in relationships. Without our basic goodness, we are lost. We search outside of ourselves for love. We look for a prince or princess who can save us from our basic fear of being unlovable. We are trapped in a dungeon of unworthiness, hoping someone will rescue us.
“Loving the inner child is about forgiving ourselves for our loss of innocence and loss of goodness,” says Louise. “The truth is, we all did the best we could with what we knew at every stage of our childhood. And yet, we may still be judging ourselves and punishing ourselves for not having done it better, for making mistakes, for abandoning ourselves, for upsetting others, and for not being a good enough boy or girl. Until we forgive ourselves, we will be trapped in a prison of righteous resentment. Forgiveness is the only way out of this prison. Forgiveness sets us free.”
Excerpted from Life Loves You (2015) by Louise Hay & Robert Holden, Ph.D.