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  • Writer's pictureChris Hardesty

"How Old do you Feel?"

The Importance of "Checking in" with your Inner Child

father and son laying in floor

A year or so into my own recovery, as a fellow group member was processing an emotionally charged issue with our group, I recall the counselor asking him, “How old do you feel right now?” At first it seemed strange that he would ask such a question. I thought to myself, “What does that have to do with what is happening with this guy in group tonight?” I watched in amazement as the man thought about the question and then answered, “I feel like I am 10-years-old!” In turn, the man’s answer led to profound insight about the source of his pain and what he genuinely needed.

Years later, now as a counselor, this is one of my favorite questions to ask clients. This simple question is powerful because our emotional reactions are often connected to our “Inner Child” or as Faithful & True would say, our “Little Boy” (or “Little Girl”). The idea works like this… Think of a time when you felt a very strong or disproportional reaction to something (i.e., a $100 reaction to a $1 issue). We call this becoming “triggered.” A question you can ask yourself is, “How old do I feel?” Really think about it, and frequently the answer will be an age from your childhood or adolescence. This is because the trigger has activated your “Inner Child” and he or she may very well take control of the situation in destructive ways unless you realize what is happening.

Last week I worked through a powerful example of this with a client who has given me permission to use his trigger for this article—I will call him Frank. Several months ago, Frank was attending our Men's Journey Workshop and the weather was beautiful. Innocently enough, during one of the breaks, he decided to sit in a chair on the back patio of one of our neighbors in the Faithful & True complex. A few minutes later, someone came out of the neighbor’s door and asked Frank to leave the patio. Frank said the request was made respectfully, and yet, his reaction was somewhat frazzled. Frank promptly stood up embarrassed, avoided eye contact, apologized under his breath, and quickly walked away looking at the ground.

During last week’s counseling session, I was helping Frank learn how to recognize when his Inner Child becomes activated. I asked him, “Do you remember a time when you felt ‘little’?” He recalled his experience at the workshop when he was asked to leave the neighbor’s patio. I asked him, “How old did you feel when that happened?” “Somewhere between 12-to-14-years-old,” he replied. I asked him how he was feeling and what he was thinking. He described feelings of anger, frustration, confusion, and shame coupled with thoughts that centered on a sense of inadequacy and not being important. I went on to ask him what past story from that age reminded him of the recent experience on the patio, to which he responded, “My dad used to have all these ridiculous and meaningless rules. I would always ask him to explain why he had those rules, but he just told me that was the way it was, and to be quiet. I never felt like I had a voice with my dad.” I paused briefly and, in an effort to connect the past with the present, I asked him, “Could it be that your ‘father’ was the one that told you to leave the patio that day?” Beginning to tear up and become emotional, Frank softly responded, “Yes.”

As our session progressed, this ultimately led to increased insight of Frank’s deeply seated wound of not being heard and understood—of feeling dismissed and unimportant. In turn, I encouraged Frank that when he recognizes his Inner Child is activated, to come alongside his Little Boy remind him that he is okay and to help him understand what was happening back then. In turn, this creates the space for the adult version of himself to validate and grieve the childhood wound and make wise choices in the present about how to respond constructively. 

As you continue your journey, I encourage you to ask yourself often, “How old do I feel?” Allow the answer to lead you to insight and healing.


Dr. Greg Miller

Chris Hardesty MA, LPCC, MBA, CSAT, is the Director of Men's Groups. He also leads in-person men's groups and counsels with men struggling with sexual addiction.

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