Words by: Vivian Tang Art by: Georgia Lilley
Our inner child is regarded as the truest form of self. Returning to this part of ourselves seems inherently tied to growth, as if we must practice self-reflection in order to move forward and achieve.
Activities that enable this level of introspection are mostly those that spawn creativity, such as painting. Meditation is also highly regarded for its ability to heighten awareness. Even revisiting old photos and albums are a reminder of who we used to be and the experiences that shaped us. Perhaps it’s why nostalgia is so admired in our culture—we’re akin to who we were, not who we are.
Personally, cooking native dishes has invited me to explore the child within. Making Cong You Bing [葱油饼], also known as a spring onion pancake that is a staple of Chinese cuisine, has been my most frequented hobby. It’s a simple form of meditation as I fall into the rhythm of kneading: the pull, stretch and general ease of motion. My senses are awakened by the aroma. Ears, attuned to the hiss of the fry pan. But my heart and mind are tethered to my memory.
Often, it’s not the event or activity itself but rather the emotions felt during the process that are imprinted on us. Food is not always synonymous with bonding as a child. A common theme amongst many Asian Australians is the conflict of whether to bring a Vegemite scroll to school for lunch or the ‘exotic’ (and delicious) food your mum would labour over for hours. In retrospect, the fear of being regarded as the ‘other’ amongst my peers was the catalyst that pushed me to deviate from my true self.
I chose to drive a wedge between myself and ‘foreignness’— my family, my traditions — in order to feel secure and that I belonged. On some level, it was my way of surviving. But it also left me stranded in limbo, unsure of the ground I stood on, feeling misunderstood, and disconnected. Award-winning poet and author Ocean Vuong regards it as the brutal demand of foreign social standards; if you want to “fit in,” assimilate, what will you be prepared to lose?
Our inner children represent the greatest, most honest parts of ourselves. They possess a quality of innocence frequently lost upon us, yet remain as the foundation of who we are today.
‘Inner child work’, a form of psychotherapy dedicated to nurturing and ‘reparenting’ the inner child, essentially theories that we develop ways of denying our true selves as a form of protection against feelings that were confusing and unsettling to us as children. Yet as adults, they often arise as maladaptive patterns of behaviour that fail to help us here and now. It may appear as a weakened sense of self, heightened feelings of anxiousness, or issues with handling difficult emotions. We may navigate life based on a compass of fear over compassion.
As a result, we are encouraged to revisit our unmet needs from childhood, with old hobbies serving as the gateway to our authentic selves. The resulting feelings and their impact help us to address the emotional needs that we require, both now and moving forward. Carving out a judgement-free space and validating the joy, sadness, or trepidation we feel allows us to heal emotional wounds and mend our sense of worth.
In times of uncertainty, when the world around us has collapsed, we withdraw to the essence of who we are. And we may not know the answer, but the time spent reconnecting with the experiences that mould us is the most important form of self-care that can be practiced.