You may have noticed that, during the quarantine, you’ve felt a little…regressive. Everything your partner is doing is making you irritable or weepy, you’re either extra tired or extra energized, or you’re acting slightly sillier than usual. Don’t worry-- you’re not losing it. For lots of us (read: most of us), times of chaos and confusion can elicit childlike responses that helped us cope during our younger years. Afterall, think of the last time your physical and emotional safety existed entirely in the hands of someone or something outside of yourself? You got it- childhood.

Later this month, you’ll see a post about how the pandemic has this habit of leading us to feelings of irritability, anxiety, and grief. Here is a quick summary: The chaos of the world has led you to feeling a little less in control of your own life. This can make some people feel “crazy,” but this perceived craziness is really just an indicator that our inner child is being triggered. Instead of shunning your inner child, it is important to pay attention to it. Your inner child is there to help you understand what exactly you need in the moment to feel slightly more in control. So, how can you help that poor kid that’s feeling fearful and out of control? You can pay attention to it! Below are some steps and techniques to channel your inner child, to love it, and to listen to it.  Step one: Name your feeling(s) and acknowledge their right to be there Humans, including inner children, want to feel heard and understood. Kids especially need to be mirrored and reflected so they can begin to learn what they are feeling, and in turn learn to cope with their feelings. Once a child learns to cope with an emotion, they can feel upset but express it in a healthy way.  So, naming a feeling may sound easy, but can be tricky for a lot of adults. As small people grow into big people with positions of power, a family to take care of, and people to tend to, they often learn to ignore their feelings for the sake of “the other.” Some start to numb out using substances, food, or television, while others will focus on their career. When you do this, you are forgetting to pay attention to your inner child, which makes them feel neglected. Neglect, as you know, causes all sorts of anxiety and sad feelings. But here’s the kicker: if you don’t pay attention to your inner child, it cannot know what it is feeling, and therefore it cannot cope. So instead it feels more sad or anxious, and the cycle repeats (See this article to learn more about why naming your emotions is important).  In order to figure out what you are feeling, the first step is actually to pay attention to your physical body. Check in right now. What are you experiencing viscerally? Anxiety can manifest as tightness in the chest, a quicker heartbeat, nausea, etc. Sadness can manifest as a lump in the throat, exhaustion, or headaches. Pay attention, what are you feeling? Don’t forget to acknowledge that you should be feeling whatever it is that you are feeling. You are responsible for how you express your feelings and how to dial them down, and this is a learned skill. You are not, however, responsible for feeling your feelings in the first place. This is something that just comes. Instead of ignoring it, use it as information that your body felt important to present to you in this moment.   Step two: Visualize your inner child I use this technique in therapy often. Adults are often so hard on themselves, and find it immensely difficult to be patient or give themselves a break. Picturing your inner child (you as a child) can help create a sense of patience and connectedness with the parts of you that you typically disconnect from.  So, now that you’ve named your feeling(s), picture you as a little kid. How old are you? What are you wearing? Did you have a silly hair cut at the age you’re picturing? Do you smell like shampoo, or dirt, or maybe chlorine from a pool? What do you like to do? (I once had a client tell me that she used to take eggs from the refrigerator and put them under a heat lamp in her room in hopes that they would hatch into little chicks. How could you be mad at that little kid?!)  Step three: Ask your inner child what they need from you Take a look at that little kid. If you’re feeling stuck or having a hard time doing this, picture a friend’s kid, or a niece or nephew. I will give you a hint about what your inner child needs from you: the answer is never the negative talk that adults give themselves on the daily. It is never helpful to tell your niece or nephew how worthless they are, or what a failure they’re going to be. It is also never helpful to shun, ignore, or blame a kid.  So picture that kid and ask them: What do you need from me? What can I do to help? The goal here is to be the adult resource for your inner child. For a thorough exploration on how to communicate with your inner child, check out  this article . Your kiddo may just need to be seen and heard. Or maybe they need reassurance and validation that their existence matters, and that they deserve to be heard. Visualize them and ask. This may feel silly, and that is okay. Silliness doesn’t make it any less valuable, especially when it can help you cope with anxiety.   Step four: Do an activity that your inner child likes to do This is probably something you liked to do as a kid, or maybe something that you didn’t love but that reminds you of the good parts of childhood. This is an activity that makes YOU happy. Not your family, not your work, but you. Sometimes this will overlap with what makes other people satisfied, and this is fine as long as you are able to keep the child as the focus of your attention.  Think coloring, reading, taking a bath, or listening to music (check out this article for some ideas). Give your inner child some control, and ask them what they want to do. If there are safe adults around (like yourself) your inner child can feel safe to explore and do something they love, even when the world is scary!   Conclusion Pay attention to your inner child, and not just during the pandemic! As kids turn into adults, they learn to ignore their feelings in order to exist as a fully functional human in the only way they know how. But, the world is always a bit chaotic, so grounding in what you need in the moment is an effective way to maintain feelings of control and of connectedness.  ​Alyssa Ashenfarb, LCSW    

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Other Blog Posts:

Working from home, home schooling, and marriage- oh my!​

Master of all...usually, but lately, nobody is feeling on top of their game, in their home, as homeschooling support, or as partners.

 

The idea of spending all of your time cooped up in your home with your kids and your partner is simultaneously making you want to cringe and jump for joy. Your patience is running thin, and you’re wondering how you’re going to make your relationship feel special when everything is driving you a little nuts.

 

Good news is that there are small things that you and your partner can do to keep the love alive and revived, as things feel like they are boiling over. Here are some tips on exactly how to keep connected even with tension:

 

 

 

1. Start with an Appreciation Party

 

If you’ve ever seen a therapist, you’ve probably been told to try to practice gratitude. Research has shown that expressing gratitude, especially to people you love, makes you feel good, strengthens your relationship, and leaves your partner feeling happy, too (see this article to learn about some of the effects gratitude can have on you).

 

Use this awareness to your benefit! Be sure to remind your partner how much they mean to you, and all the things they typically do (both prior pandemic and during the pandemic) that you are so appreciative of.

 

 

 

2. Set ground rules- Solidify the “You’ve gone too far” line

 

It is really easy to feel irritable, anxious and sad during times of chaos and confusion. Soon enough all the distractions add up and your bickering is escalating much more quickly than it has in the past. Now, you’re both on edge and communication is not the first thing that comes to mind. Instead, the cold shoulder or yelling ensues.

 

Let's avoid this and make it simpler. At the start of your week (or day), sit down and review the lines that cannot be crossed with your partner. Maybe you or your partner were laid off or furloughed, and while you normally would love to dive into how to fix this, you agree that there is not much to be done right now. Instead, you would prefer a distraction over rumination.

 

Quick bonus tip: before you sit down for this discussion, have a pre-planning meeting with yourself. Decide what lines are absolutely not okay to cross between you two and/or in front of the kids. Knowing your own boundaries and how to express them is a skill that can not only increase relationship satisfaction, but can also impact your overall quality of life.

 

 

 

3. Find your huddle

 

Remember when sports were a thing? Huddles during football are an essential moment that allows the team to connect and communicate about the strategy they need to be most successful. Believe it or not, even non-NFL stars need this check in too! Being able to communicate with your partner about your stress levels and how you need each other’s encouragement can be a game changer. Have a plan for how to subtly have periodic two-minute moments (I'm always a big fan of a small hand signal), and use the time to express gratitude, vent, reconnect and support each other. You'll be an MVP in no time!

 

Quick bonus tip: Check in on both you and your partner’s love language to better attune to each other’s needs in the moment.

 

 

 

4. Decompression success party

 

More gratitude, please! Starting and ending your day or week with your own decompression party can help the two of you unify your team mentality, and can allow you to have a little release moment. After all, helping each other cope with stress can strengthen your relationship as a whole.

 

After you've gone through another tough week, spend some moments with your partner doing what the two of you love. Carve out at least 30 minutes to an hour reconnecting and rejuvenating together. That could look like a small walk together outside, finding a funny show or play list to dance and laugh to, and/or enjoying laughter and connection with some privacy.

 

 

 

In conclusion…

 

Gratitude, boundaries, moments of joy and connection, and more gratitude. And here’s a quick secret: This is essentially what therapists will teach during their sessions. Show your partner how much they mean to you and relish in their company. In turn, the trickier and less comfortable parts of a relationship should get at least a bit easier. This may sound simple, but sometimes couples need a little extra push. If this is the case, reach out to a couples therapist! We are here to help, and the vast majority of us are providing virtual therapy during the quarantine.​

 

 

Mollie Eliasof, LCSW

 

 

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