The Universal Inner Child
The poet Ted Hughes (son of Silvia Plath) wrote a letter to his 24-year-old son Nicholas, and, quite exquisitely, advised him to embrace his “childish self” so as to experience life to its fullest. Here it is, in part.
It was a most curious and interesting remark you made about feeling, occasionally, very childish, in certain situations. Every single one of us is still a child. It’s something people don’t discuss, because it’s something most people are aware of, only as a general crisis of sense of inadequacy, or helpless dependence, or pointless loneliness, or a sense of not having a strong enough ego to meet and master inner storms that come from an unexpected angle.
But not many people realise that it is, in fact, the suffering of the child inside them. Everybody tries to protect this vulnerable two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight-year-old inside. And we try to acquire skills and aptitudes for dealing with the situations that threaten to overwhelm it. So everybody develops a whole armour of the secondary self, the artificially constructed being that deals with the outer world. And when we meet people this is what we usually meet.
But when you develop a strong divining sense for the child behind that armour, they too sense when that is what you are appealing to, and they respond with an impulse of real life, you get a little flash of the essential person, which is the child.
It is the carrier of all the living qualities. At every moment, behind the most efficient seeming adult exterior, the whole world of the person’s childhood is being carefully held like a glass of water bulging above the brim. And in fact, that child is the only real thing in them.It’s the centre of all the possible magic and revelation.
Since that artificial secondary self took over the control of life around the age of eight, and relegated the real, vulnerable, supersensitive, suffering-self back into its nursery, it has lacked training.
And so, wherever life takes it by surprise, that inner self is thrown into the front line — unprepared, with all its childhood terrors round its ears. And yet that’s the moment it wants. That’s where it comes alive — even if only to be overwhelmed and bewildered and hurt.That’s the paradox: the only time most people feel alive is when something overwhelms their ordinary, carefully armoured self, and the naked child is flung out onto the world.
That’s why the things that are worst to undergo are best remembered.
But when that child gets buried away under their adaptive and protective shells—he becomes one of the walking dead. So when you realise you’ve gone a few weeks and haven’t felt that awful struggle of your childish self — struggling to lift itself out of its inadequacy and incompetence — you’ll know you’ve gone some weeks without meeting new challenge, and without growing, and that you’ve gone some weeks towards losing touch with yourself.
The only calibration that counts is how much heart people invest, how much they ignore their fears of being hurt or caught out or humiliated. And the only thing people regret is that they didn’t live boldly enough, that they didn’t invest enough heart, didn’t love enough. Nothing else really counts at all. The beautiful vulnerability of our inner child and its longing to be seen, heard, and let loose, provides the absolutely most exquisite moments in life.