Let’s Call It The “Inner Adult” | Steve's Quest: The Animated Musical Web Series

Let’s Call It The “Inner Adult”

Some say we have an “inner child” — a part of ourselves that’s “emotional,” vulnerable, and open about its wants and needs.  Lots of personal growth work is about accessing and nurturing this “inner child” part.

Personally, I’m not a fan of the term “inner child.”  In our culture, it’s usually seen as a criticism to label someone or something a child.  If I call you “childish” or “childlike,” I’m basically saying you’re weak, spoiled, selfish, irrational, and so on.

I think I’ve got a better name for this vulnerable, emotionally open part.  I want to call it the “inner adult.”  After all, doesn’t it take maturity and courage to step up and say what we’re feeling, and what we need and want?

I don’t know about you, but expressing desires and emotions can be scary for me.  It can feel risky to tell someone that I want to spend time with them, that I’m angry with them, that I love them, or something along those lines.  It took a lot of growth for me to get comfortable being that open.

Our Culture Has Adulthood Backwards

Of course, the conventional wisdom says the opposite.  It seems the ideal adult, in our culture’s eyes, is emotionally closed, and never asks for anything.  We’re supposed to be tough and self-sufficient, and “never let ‘em see us sweat.”

Self-development, from this point of view, isn’t about learning to express what we feel and want — it’s about acquiring money, credentials, and other stuff, so that we’ll become “important” and others will start giving us what we want even though we don’t ask for it.

Ironically, though, this “superman” or “superwoman” image is often just a manipulative strategy, developed in childhood, for getting our needs met.  The idea is that, if we look invincible and “unemotional,” we’ll please our caregivers, and they’ll give us the love and attention we crave.

That invulnerable façade is really a ploy by a scared kid who fears that his parents will criticize him for expressing his needs, and thinks they’ll only care for him if he impresses them with his need-lessness.

It Takes Maturity To Be Vulnerable

What usually passes for “adulthood” today, I think, is really a deep-seated insecurity and immaturity.  It’s the qualities we tend to see as “childlike” — openness, vulnerability and curiosity — that take real wisdom and maturity to develop.

To be clear, I don’t mean to say that, in order to grow, we should imitate children.  We don’t need to throw tantrums or grab stuff we want from other people.  One important distinction I think we come to see with age is the difference between telling someone what we want, and using force or acting out to get it.  Children aren’t always aware of that distinction (though, of course, adults aren’t always either).

My point is that self-development, in many ways, is about unearthing the parts of ourselves we buried because we learned, as children, that they weren’t acceptable.  A big part of “growing up,” I think, is rediscovering who we’ve always been.

14 thoughts on
Let’s Call It The “Inner Adult”

  1. Sara


    This is one of my favorites of your all your posts. It’s one of those posts that speaks so clearly what needs to be said. It’s the kind of post, you really have to read more than once and let the words sink into your soul. For example, these words: “It’s the qualities we tend to see as “childlike” — openness, vulnerability and curiosity — that take real wisdom and maturity to develop.” Ah, the wisdom in those words!

    And then there’s your closing line, “A big part of “growing up,” I think, is rediscovering who we’ve always been.” This line should be on T-shirts and mugs. I mean you might have to take out a few words, but the thought should be mirrored back to people every day in some way….We DO need to “rediscover who we’ve always been.”

    Thank you for this post today. It was really what I needed:~)

  2. Sandra / Always Well Within


    There’s so much wisdom and sanity shining through this post. I’ve always been averse to the term “inner child.” I’ve come to see its the frightened and insecure aspect of my being that is triggered by the term for all the reasons you’ve outlined in this article. #1 being this drive to be invincible. But that’s such a sham.

    Openness, vulnerability, and curiosity are all qualities I am slowly learning to embrace. Thanks for these powerful insights and your encouragement.

  3. Evelyn Lim

    I am okay with the term “inner child”. It’s simply a label. Somewhat overused but it conveys the meaning that relate to the parts we have abandoned or suppressed as a child.

    But what’s interesting to me is when I first read the term “inner adult” on your post. I tried to access my feelings on it. “Inner adult” seems to touch on something raw, something vulnerable. And you are right, it will take courage to “expose” this inner adult, which somehow I seem to want to protect in case it gets rejected or bullied. Very interesting!

  4. Cheryl Lyon

    It certainly does take courage to “expose” the inner adult. And maybe a lifetime to develop the maturity to not truly not care if it gets rejected. And I’m still working on both. And yet, I recognize that true connection only happens when the inner adult is open and vulnerable. True connection only happens when we take off the Teflon costumes and allow people to see us sweat and care and love. A thought-provoking piece!

    -Cheryl Lyon

  5. Davina Haisell

    Hi Chris.

    I loved this post! It’s great when a blogger introduces a new concept, and the re-framing of “inner child” as “inner adult” is fabulous. Having said that, I can appreciate the term inner child in the sense that it helps me to feel compassionate for that part of myself that is learning. But… the term inner adult is so empowering. Sometimes all we need is a simple shift of perception to get over a hurdle. Great job!

  6. Hilary

    Hi Chris .. interesting take and as we get older we do wonder what we’re doing .. and sort of compare ourselves in the ways of being human with others .. perhaps many people don’t really look and understand the parts that make us humans .. and analyse what it is to be human.

    It is easier when we realise our frailties and admit them, when necessary – don’t dwell on them or play with them on others. People don’t put themselves our shoes .. and that’s something that as humans we should do more often .. in order to understand others and their trials and tribulations. No-one is perfect .. yet many wouldn’t think that.

    Happy 4th July .. cheers Hilary

  7. Chris - Post author

    Hi Sara — I liked what you said about how this is “what needs to be said” — I get a sense that there is a collective need to talk about various issues that we as a culture have avoided for a long time, like the issue of what a “child” is versus what an “adult” is, and ideally I will be part of serving that need.

  8. Chris - Post author

    Hi Sandra — thanks, I appreciated your share about how looking at your more “child”-like parts can be frightening. I have the same kind of experience — my sense now is that the only reason I identify part of me with childhood is that I neglected that part for a long time, and that in fact I need to integrate that part to fully mature to adulthood.

  9. Chris - Post author

    Hi Evelyn — I liked how you shared your visceral reaction to the idea of the “inner adult” and the desire to protect it — I get the sense that this is what personal development is really about — that is, letting down the behaviors and tensions that are meant to protect the inner adult from being rejected.

  10. Chris - Post author

    Hi Cheryl — good to meet you. I can relate to what you say about developing the maturity not to care about the rejection of the “child” part — and, one thing I’ve noticed is that, for me at least, it seems to take just as much maturity to be able to admit when I feel rejected and hurt. That’s been my practice recently and it’s been challenging.

  11. Chris - Post author

    Hi Davina — I’m glad the re-imagining of the vulnerable part as the “inner adult” was helpful to you. And, I can relate to what you say about seeing yourself as having an inner child because it encourages compassion toward that part — I think that can happen for me too.

  12. Chris - Post author

    Hi Hilary — I like what you said about admitting our lack of perfection — the part of ourselves we usually think of as the “adult” does seem to be devoted to looking perfect, and trying to do that, as we all know, is very burdensome.

  13. Chris - Post author

    Hi Patty — it’s good to see you again. I can get how revealing the “child” part has a heroic quality to it — if I actually build my path in life around what the emotionally open part wants (and it is the only part, in my experience, that can genuinely want things), that takes courage.

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