Should I kill or embrace my inner child?

One episode of Game of Thrones – I don’t know which season – is called “Kill the boy”. It’s not referring to an actual murder – although the show has given us plenty of child corpses, very few, if any, of which have died of natural causes. It is referring to Maester Aemon’s words to Jon Snow. I’m not going to spoil the show here, watch it if you’re interested.

What Aemon was actually telling Jon Snow was that he should do is what he believed was right. Jon needed to get rid of his insecurity, make a decision, and follow it through. Even if it turned out not to be the optimal decision along the way. Many characters in the show have shared the same sentiment in one way or another.

Before I set out to write this, I did two quick searches on Google. One search was “kill the inner child”, the other was “embrace the inner child”. I thought about what it would mean to kill the inner child for me and a quick brainstorm of who I am showed me that I rely so heavily on that child that I’m not sure I would be able to function if I killed it.

Like Jon Snow, I too am full of insecurities. Although I can make many decisions that I found others are unable to make – without second thought – the small decisions that I ought to make every day boggle me down. Sometimes when I’m already in my car, I change my destination. Not because I remembered something urgent, but because I just stopped feeling like going to the place I was planning to go to. I have a change of heart, so to speak, and I follow it unquestioningly.

At times like these my inner child is under control, and it’s a bit capricious. A couple of times I caught myself doing this – changing my mind mid-drive about my destination – and then my adult self took control. It was like saying to the kid “Look, I can see that you can’t decide where to go, so let’s just go home.” And the child just silently nodded and sullenly took a back seat. So to speak.

It seemed as if it wanted something, but couldn’t articulate what it was. And I had no clue either. Which is – kind of – a given, since the inner child is part of me.

There are many other references to killing your inner child that I have found over the years. I’ve already written about one, though I’ve forgotten most of the things about it (including where I mentioned it). Jordan Peterson also – in a way – professes killing your inner child. “Life is suffering” he proclaims, then proceeds with an emphatic “YES!” On one occasion, in very colorful images he described how to fight your self-destructive habits (including addictions). He likened them to little machines in the back of your mind that are very good at one thing – whether it’s perpetuating your addictions, or self-sabotaging behaviors such as procrastination… It can even be something positive, though right now no examples come to mind. In any case, he warns about the kind of machines you are building in the back of your mind. You better be careful, he says.

In order to dismantle that machine, you need to make it powerless. Any decisions it makes must not be acted upon. You need to basically kill it by means of frustration, because any submission to it makes it stronger because it learns a new way to beat your conscious self.

Your inner child is basically a machine like that. Maybe a set of machines. These machines were set up in your childhood and were never dismantled. So, killing your inner child basically means to become determined to dismantle all of those machines by means of frustration. You kill your inner child by making it powerless to direct your actions.

If I remember anything from my childhood it’s how powerless I felt. About everything. Even cleaning my room was not within my power. My closet was always full of junk that wasn’t mine. Throwing it out was not an option. I was not allowed. The attic was full of junk also – notebooks from my my mother’s and aunt’s primary and high school days, required reading books, a pile of stuff nobody ever ought to care about… Meanwhile, my toys, books, and other stuff I had regularly ended up in a fire. The junk in the attic was cleared up only when I developed an interest in it. I was never allowed to stay home alone. I was allowed to go out and play with friends, but if I didn’t answer when called then all hell broke loose. If my parents decided I was going somewhere with them, then I was going somewhere with them, period. I usually wasn’t even told about it, however, until I was halfway dressed.

And so I found that the only way I could gain some control was – to lie; to deceive; to hide; to double-cross… you catch the drift. So now, I have machines in my mind that are set up to do exactly that. Except if I stand up to my inner child, they are all working against me.

And why the hell not? The kid in me has been so bored out of its mind in the past, so frustrated in its endeavors, it’s no wonder it’s going to fight back with all it’s got when faced with the same treatment again. And it’s utterly unfair. Nobody would consider killing an actual traumatized child on the basis that it’s been traumatized.

Letting it take full control, however, is also out of the question. I know exactly where that would lead and it would be self-defeating on multiple fronts. I mean – I could create an environment where that child could roam freely, so to speak – and then lie to everyone about what I was really doing. It would be a life of duplicity and much of my mental effort would be spent on maintaining it. Truth is, however, I already live a life of duplicity and I lie, though my transgressions are nowhere near the adult content my inner child has in mind. That’s almost not even in the same universe of possibilities!

So given the chance, that child would destroy me. And itself in the process. Yet I look at it and I can only feel empathy. That child is only seeking attention. Positive attention. A couple of nice words for something other than faking. I’ve been complimented on my choice of clothes several times. A meaningless, laughable compliment from my perspective. Clothes are a tool to me. It is like telling me what a nice shovel I have there in my tool shed. I’ve also been complimented on my courage to live a barefoot lifestyle. That’s nice, but it’s like congratulating me for knowing how to walk.

There have only been a handful of moments when I felt that I was being accepted or complimented for who I was, rather than for how well I conformed. I could probably remember every one of them if I put my mind to it. None of these memories would involve my parents. They were instead my harshest critics, people who put me down, made me feel stupid, and who made impossible anything I ever tried of my own accord, particularly when it didn’t align with their visions for my future.

I’ve always liked programming, but thanks to them I flinch every single time when I’m sitting by the computer and someone opens the door, or I hear someone approaching. My attention is everywhere even as I write this, which makes it really difficult for me to really focus and enter the so-called zone. If I know that it is likely I will be disturbed, I won’t even be able to start.

So my recent experimentation with minimalism is really a way for me to clear out distractions. To make my environment seem peaceful and conducive to work, to convince my inner child that there are no threats lurking on the other side of the walls and doors and windows.

I suppose this is why I immediately liked the idea of working in cafes. People there come and go and nobody is particularly interested in what I’m doing, much less give me a hard time about it. Plus, somebody is making me beverages whenever I ask for them. But working on a small Surface Pro 3 and working on a desktop computer with two large screens is by no means the same. I can only get so much work done on a tiny Surface. But there are other ways in which that environment is distracting, which make doing any serious work there impossible.

I can’t (and don’t want to) kill the child, I can’t let it loose. One other philosophy is to embrace it. But for me, that is only a short-term solution. Long-term, this would mean to fully accept who that child is and change my life in order to suit that child’s preferences. While that is perfectly possible, I don’t want to do that. It would mean abandoning my family without taking responsibility for everything I’ve done. It is neither a viable, nor a desirable long-term solution.

Instead, what I want to do is to empower the child. It is risky, but I know that that child is really only afraid. I have (partially) dealt with many phobias (fear of the dark, doomsday phobias, fear of making mistakes – courtesy of both my parents and the educational system – etc.) and anxieties (social anxiety being my number one and one I’m still – to an extent – dealing with) in my past, along with bad habits and addictions I wrote about in my previous posts. Many of them I can trace back to be the direct cause of my current situation. I brought all of those with me from my childhood and while I have traversed a great distance in defeating them, I have yet to go a long distance.

I have written how adopting a barefoot lifestyle has helped me grow a backbone (by defeating one aspect of my social anxiety) and save my marriage. Prior to this, I have – since I can remember – always been on a path of self-improvement. I’d buy self-help books, read self-help blogs like Steve Pavlina back in the day, etc. I’ve tried a wide variety of different approaches to problems I saw as momentarily insurmountable and solved them. As proof of this I submit that – despite the current state of my affairs – I am married and I do have children, while as late as my late 20’s I used to think I’d die without ever having sex again.

I conclude from all this that I have always been on a path – though subconsciously – of empowering my inner child; of showing it how to overcome the fears it carried around since childhood and achieve my (its) goals.

Several days before I figured out what I should do, I thought about redecorating my study. I have redecorated once before, by turning my desk so that the screens would face away from the entrance, towards the windows (which meant I would be facing the entrance and have windows, obstructed from outside view by some plants and trees, at my back). While it made a lot more sense because the new arrangement wouldn’t block a part of my bookshelf, this was really a decision based on my fear, rather than common sense. Like I said previously, I would flinch every time I heard someone approach when I was working on my computer. Seeing who it was and determining their mood and intentions was crucial in deciding about my response. I’d usually have a quick shortcut that would close stuff I was currently working on and open some things I could “sell” as school-related (even though most of the time it didn’t matter, I got yelled at all the same). So, having the content of my screens obstructed from view from all perspectives but my own was an asset for me. Hence my “new” work set-up at 34 years of age.

The “new” new decoration would face my screens and my back towards the entrance and away from the windows, which makes sense in more way than one. Besides the fact that I wouldn’t see the glare from the windows in my screens, the desk would also be oriented so that I wouldn’t have to buy longer power and signal cables for my computer any more (yes, I actually did that and the only reason was – catering to my fear).

The idea was that the child should face this fear. Empowerment. Show the child that there’s nothing to be afraid of and if anyone gives me a hard time, I’m a bloody adult now, I can stand up for myself.

As I turned that desk the other way and started using it – I immediately noticed how frightened I really was of this set-up. I was home alone and there was no chance of anyone intruding. Yet, at every sound I heard, at every shadow in the corner of my eye – I flinched and froze in place; scanned around for any sign of someone approaching; even stopped my breathing so I wouldn’t be heard, but more importantly so I could hear better. And that was when I was actually doing work.

Finding out things like this is incredibly tricky. To realize about yourself that you are doing some things one way because you are – for whatever reason – afraid to do them the right way is much trickier than it sounds. In this example, my brain was wired to label the way I turned my table initially as the right way, even though my fear was dictating its orientation. And that particular orientation also clashed with other things that I prefer – not just the fact that I prefer not having to buy longer cables, and not having the glare in my screens. For example, it made the study feel more cramped whereas I prefer spacious rooms. It added to the clutter because even though I did a good enough job of hiding the longer cables by attaching them to the desk, they were still visible from the entrance. My work space had a problematic arrangement as some things I needed often were out of reach. And finally, to get from the entrance to behind my desk (and back) required some serious maneuvering, making me bump into it often.

But empowering my inner child doesn’t just come down to facing my fears. There is also the matter of making it – making myself – able to protect myself. And I don’t only mean physically, although it is an important aspect. It means protecting myself – and now my family as well – in all aspects of life: are we going to have a roof over our heads; are we going to have food, money, and all other necessities of modern life; are we going to continue to function like a true family, or are we going to divorce and feel bitter about each other, traumatizing our children, and their children, and their grandchildren…

One of the things I noticed I ought to do to make all this possible is to create a source of income for me and my family that is independent of my parents. I have already started a small business from home, where I earn a small monthly income at the moment. I’m working on getting more clients to increase that income.

Physically, I’m not very strong and I don’t know how to fight. I’ve always been one to avoid fighting. But I have great endurance and solid agility. My pain threshold is a matter to be debated. I flinch when I notice something might hurt me (and even say “ow” before it actually hurts me), but when I’m prepared for it I can take a truckload of pain. I’ve decided to take either Krav Maga, or Jiu-Jitsu lessons.

Also I’m thinking of assertiveness training, because I find I’m lacking in this area.

Doing all of these would definitely feel like filling a large hole in my life, one created in my earliest childhood by lack of bonding with my mother (leaving me insecure), as well as (later) having an uninvolved, emotionally detached father (leaving me weak).

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