On inner child work

Baby Apple’s dreams, anxieties, pursuits, and the way she persists into the present. (Originally posted on Substack.)

In March, I briefly kept an inner child journal for therapy homework. One exercise left a deep mark on me: I channeled my inner child by writing with my non-dominant hand. This turned out profoundly difficult to do.

Maybe it mimicked the way kids struggle to get their thoughts into words, even if deep down they know what they think and how they feel. The words in my head were large, loud, and fluid, but the writing came out scratchy and slow. Because writing was hard, I kept my sentences short and clear. No BS. But I also didn’t get to say what I was *really* thinking.

Then I was asked to look at that handwriting and (with my “grownup” hand) write what I thought of the child who wrote it. Did I criticize them, think they were messy and unintelligent? It turns out I didn’t. I adored the writer and thought they were adorable and funny, so simple and sweet but determined. I longed to protect that little writer with my bare hands.

I always thought I was my own worst critic. It turns out that didn’t apply across ages. I held no ill feelings for my past selves, didn’t resent them for anything. Her wounds — and mine — must have been something else.

When I sent out my last letter, my snippet referenced my “fear of being seen.” Mostly, it was an excuse to be less than good in my writing, to send it out unedited. But the more I thought about it, the truer it felt. I’m afraid to be seen — I’m afraid to be judged and deemed inadequate or unworthy, especially compared to what I could be.

I had a conversation with my best friend recently, about fashion and style. I encouraged her to think back to when she was younger, “to recall, with no judgment, what you liked wearing as a teen or preteen.”

What did we love to wear then, for the fun and the glee of it, and not because that’s how Instagram said we should dress? There’s an old photograph of me that’s burned into my brain, in an outfit I knew I really adored. I plan to find that picture and recreate the look.

See, I can sort of recall snippets of time when I wasn’t so anxious or insecure, when I didn’t judge or dislike myself so much, and didn’t hesitate to love things. Obviously, that changed. I’ve become self-conscious and hyper-critical of my every move, afraid to step out of line or say the wrong thing. I held back enjoying things if they didn’t add some sort of value.

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