Note to Your Inner Child: Childlike and Childish Are Not the Same Thing

istock_000004864630xsmall.jpgThese days, the self-help books and life coaching newsletters are full of people advising you to get in touch with your inner child. And they have a valid point, if their advice is taken correctly. However, too many people confuse connecting with their inner child and living irresponsibility or cultivating a lack of maturity.

The whole point of the “inner child” movement was to free yourself from unnecessary and limiting beliefs, such as only kids can play or that creativity is a trait reserved for children and artists. ( It was designed to help you release pent-up anger and negativity while embracing all the things that make life worth living – an open of mind, a curious and inquisitive state of being, a safe and nurtured core and a lightness of spirit and energy. It was never a call to abandon mature behavior, responsible action or moral consequences.

Connect with and encouraging the expression of your inner child is a worthwhile pursuit. But to allow that activity to cross into bad behavior and negativity risks not only your own success and quality of life, but also that of those around you. Here are a few distinctions to help you tell the difference:

Freedom vs. abandon. Freedom is openness to new experiences. It is preparation meeting opportunity, and prevention meeting happenstance. Freedom means putting yourself in a position to take advantage of whatever comes your way, without endangering yourself or others in the process.

On the other hand, abandon is simply that: the abandonment of planning, preparation and prevention. It is making choices without considering consequences, leaping without looking. It is a dangerous and willful blindness that refuses to see even that which is immediately in front of it, in the pursuit of mindless pleasure.

Creativity vs. shock appeal. Creativity is the synthesis of ideas into new expressions. It is being willing to be open to the world around you, to look at in with fresh eyes and without preconceived notions. Creativity gives new meaning to old experiences, and fresh appeal to worn surroundings. It makes something of nothing, and turns trash to treasure.

Shock appeal is doing the unordinary or the bizarre simply to get a reaction, or creating a scene for the purpose of drawing attention to yourself at the expense of others. It is destructive and insensitive to the needs and wishes of others, and it mistakes violent reaction and repulsion for the act opening minds and creating conversation. Shock appeal is destructive, rather than creative, and can only result in a cycle increasing degradation as each further shock numbs the audience.

Originality vs. irresponsibility. Being original means going your own way, but in a measured and attentive manner. Originality embraces responsibility – you do your own thing because not doing so would materially harm your true self. But you pay your bills and your dues, and you accept, own and try to mitigate any disturbance you may create True, it may mean upsetting or even alienating others, but it does so only because to not do so would create even greater harm.

Irresponsibility turns its back on consequences, moral and contractual obligations and empathy. It demands that its own needs be met while ignoring or willfully denying those of others. The irresponsible considers all others to be disposable, dispensable props whose sole existence is to support his or her choices, regardless of the harm. There is nothing original about being irresponsible.

Strength vs. obstinacy. Strength is a measure of personal power, coming from the inside out. It indicates a stable, solid core of integrity and hard work, upon which to rest greater responsibilities and privileges. Strength conquers through collaboration, and tries to create win-win situations. Strength empowers not just the wielder, but also those around them.

Obstinacy is the hallmark of the child. It is stubbornness without consideration, willfulness without empathy or reason. Obstinacy denies others the same privileges and rights that you would take for yourself, and refuses to be moved even when your position is clearly in the wrong. Obstinacy is like the oak in the storm, breaking when the stronger willow would bend. And when it falls, it destroys not only itself, but cuts a wide swath around it.

Openness vs. credulity. The inner child opens you to new things, new thoughts and new ideas. Openness applies critical thinking, reason and curiosity to what you see, rather than taking for granted what you have been told. It allows you to consider options you would previously have discarded or dismissed.

Credulity, on the other hand, is the mind that is so open that its brains are in danger of falling out. It accepts new ideas without testing their validity, simply because they are new and because they challenge the status quo (which, much to the surprise of the credulous, may occasionally have merit). Credulity relies on emotional “instinct” rather than rational thought, and goes with its gut rather than its heart and head. Without protection, credulity leads the credulous to become the prey and plaything of the manipulative, and the dupe of those who wish to do mischief while keeping themselves at a safe arm’s length.

Thanks to Widow’s Quest for including this post in the Carnival of Positive Thinking, to for featuring this article in the Carnival of Improving Life, and to Anand for publishing this post in the favorites.

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