Updated: Nov 26, 2018
Today I want to talk about my ‘Littles.’ My Littles are basically my inner child at different ages and how she was stunted in her growth at the time, due to developmental trauma and why the importance of recognizing her and her needs is so instrumental in my healing journey of trauma recovery. Human beings all have an "inner child," which is defined by therapists as that part of our identity that is free-spirited, spontaneous, and creative, while being driven to instantly gratify their wants and needs. If you spend time with a 2-year-old, you can readily see their inner child, full of the verve of life in the moment while telling you directly what they want and how they feel. On the flip side, they can express their negative feelings with illogical outbursts or be tenacious in striving for the object of their immediate desire. As children develop into adults, the inner child fades more and more into the background through adolescence and into adulthood.
My earliest memories center around my Mom, which is pretty normal considering that our primary relationship is the focal point of most kids lives. What was dysfunctional in my world was in having a narcissistic Mother the constant message was that she was perfect and I was flawed. When I was about four years old I remember trying to plant flowers. I dug up some tulips with my little blue plastic shovel and yellow pail and I moved them to another flowerbed, wrecking them in the process. I got my frilly dress all muddy and went in the house to get my Mom to show her the flowers. She hit the roof, ripped my dress to get it off me and sent me to my room, locking me in and telling me that little girls didn’t get dirty. I ruined my dress that she had spent good money on so clearly, I was “bad.” My joy in showing her the wilted flowers died, and fear and shame took its place. The messages became: “don’t try anything new,” and “you are shameful and unworthy,” and “good girls don’t get messy.” From that point forward, getting messy was avoided at all costs, trying new things was intensely frightening and I never felt able to succeed at doing new things, because I wasn’t worthy, if I couldn’t master it right away I didn’t try at all. My inner critic has carried that message to this day because my Little had been condemned and controlled.
How do I reach that little girl inside who was hurt that day and stopped trying to live in the joy of spontaneity? How do I nourish my Little’s needs? On this journey of trauma recovery, I found for a long time through therapy that it felt forced and fake to ‘talk to my inner child,’ it felt like I couldn’t reach her. That time and place of joy and innocence was long gone. When my therapist told me to tell her that I loved her that she was safe and beautifully unique, it didn’t feel authentic.
And then one day, she showed up. Early in my journey I had a wonderful therapist who said, well why don’t you start gardening again. Inner critic responded with, well I won’t be able to grow anything of course and then I will fail, because I am after all unworthy. But I decided to try. I bought some tulip bulbs and I planted them. I used my daughter’s plastic shovel and bucket. I watered and tended them and every time I did, I felt a little hope that something would grow. And after a bit, small green stalks started to pop up in the flowerbed. Pretty soon they were beautiful full-grown tulips. I was positively giddy with my tulip bed and so I tried another flowerbed and then another and…well you get the idea.
It was soul satisfying.
My eyes saw the flowers, not through my adult eyes but through the eyes of my Little. Positive, nourished and loved. My tulips loved the earth and sun and water and I loved them. They were beautiful and I felt beautiful inside too. She felt comforted and so did I. We walked through the process together and I realized that maybe my role with my Littles now, was one of comfort. I could comfort her, but in reality she nurtured me. She and I could do it together and maybe the flowers would grow and maybe they wouldn’t but it was okay to try, no matter the outcome. I could be proud of her for just trying one more time and she could hold my hand in the process.
I had reconnected with my four year old Little. More importantly, I had started to nurture her, which was something she had gone without for a long time. Opening my heart to her was a tremendous gift that I had been denying myself. She brought unconditional love to the table, something I had never given me.
My Littles are ageless and will always be part of who I am as an adult. Her voice may have been stifled, and she may have been stepped on, told how to feel, hurt and damaged by physical abuse and emotional neglect, but she has been trying to reach me since the dawn of me. Her joy, her innocence, her laughter.
When I connect with her, she brings her joy to me. That sparkle in my eye is all her, I just have to recognize my need for her in my life, as an adult and try. Try by doing something difficult. Try by not listening to the inner critic who says I will fail. Try by not believing the lies that my abuse taught me. Honoring my Littles shifted my perspective from perfectionism and unworthiness to acceptance and self-compassion. She knows nothing of limitations or expectations and loves completely. She celebrates that I am not my abuse, I am that little girl who joyfully plants flowers and watches them bloom on a sunlit day.