Near the end of my time working as a Certified Child Life Specialist (CCLS), I took a free self compassion for healthcare professionals workshop series being offered at lunch. The facilitator spoke about accessing your “inner child” to help with extending kindness to yourself. I was 30 years old at the time, my inner critic was harsh and dominated my mental space. I had trouble visualizing myself as a child. One of the suggestions the facilitator shared for those of us having difficulty was to picture the child outside of you, apart from you, perhaps following you through your day. I was able to connect with this suggestion. I had success imagining a small child that resembled a younger me accompanying me through my day at the hospital as I worked with patients and their families. I quickly realized that I did not provide this child (who represented me) any of the same kindness and attention that I did the kids I was working with. I almost never allowed this child (aka myself) to eat, pee, drink water, or rest. When I allowed these things to occur it was only after I was completely exhausted or in too much pain to ignore. I also NEVER let this child express herself – I did not want to know what she was thinking and feeling. 

This realization came with a lot of mixed emotions. I was relieved in some ways, and also completely grief stricken. Becoming aware of my inner child, and how cruel I was to her, combined with the safe relationship with my therapist led me to wake up to two realities simultaneously: I was in an abusive marriage and I needed to take a leave of absence from my job. I left the job. I divorced the abuser. I dedicated my healing to that little girl who was now glued to my side. Once I saw her, I could not unsee her. Over time, she was no longer separate from me. The more we built trust and safety, the more she came to inhabit my being. She transformed from a sad, scared, cowering creature into a bright, joyful, funny and intelligent being. After 3 years of dedicated time and attention, I have access to little Dorothy (Lil’ D, as I affectionately like to call her) all the time. I credit getting to know her and falling in love with her for much of the progress I have made. She is never “too much” and she gets to chase all of her dreams. I validate, shelter and protect her. She is always safe with me.

Little Dorothy didn’t know how to set boundaries. She was violated before she was old enough to know what a boundary was, or that she had any rights to set them. This led to an adult that also didn’t know how to set boundaries and found herself in  an abusive relationship that turned into an abusive marriage. Connecting with my child self allowed me to find my long lost sense of self. To establish what my boundaries might have been, if things had been different. What boundaries would I set for any child? Those answers came quickly, as I had dedicated my career to advocating for children. All children deserve love, respect, kindness… those thoughts led to “I deserve love, respect, kindness.” What did those things look like in action? It certainly didn’t look like the marriage I found myself in… This led to the first boundary that I ever set for myself and stuck to. It had to do with the way my ex-husband spoke to me. I practiced in therapy… “If he speaks to me this way, I can say stop. If he doesn’t stop, I will leave the room. If it continues, I will leave the relationship.”

Dearest little Dorothy, I know healing has felt like collecting complicated puzzle pieces in the dark. There was no picture or instructions to guide you. You held tightly to each fragmented piece, knowing that each was important but not knowing how to connect them. You waited so long for someone to come along and help. For someone who could reach the light switch. I’m sorry that it took me so long to get to you. The lights are on now, and you will never be alone again.  I’m eternally grateful that I found you and that we have so much life ahead of us to live. I needed your curiosity and creativity. You needed my forgiveness, understanding and protection. 

In my next series of posts, I’ll be sharing journal entries from my 9th grade diary and responding to them as my kind, compassionate, adult self. I have been a compulsive writer for as long as I remember. These writings were always kept private and secret. I didn’t think there was anyone in the world who would understand me and yet I wrote in hopes that someday someone might read, care, and connect with my words. I’m excited to bring this part of me into the world. 

Are you curious about your inner child? Do you want support in accessing this part of you? Send me a message. It’s one of my favorite coaching topics!