Have you ever said, maybe even out loud, “Oh, grow up!” Exasperation over someone’s immaturity got on your nerves, and you couldn’t tolerate their child-like behavior one more minute.

Reactivity is a signal, an invitation to explore inner terrain.

This seems like an ideal time to get curious and reflect on how we feel about the child-like parts of ourselves and others. During the season when Christians celebrate the mystery of God’s incarnation, God entering our world as a baby, can we welcome our inner children?

When you feel the presence of one of your inner children, a young part of you who is needy, what happens inside? How do you respond to their need for comfort, reassurance, or space to express intense emotions? Typically, we avoid neediness. You might notice a part of you who is critical or dismissive. It’s natural for parts of you to be reactive to vulnerability.

Our culture does not celebrate vulnerability.

Attention, admiration, and money flow to the people who are physically strong, beautiful, and powerful. Americans value stoicism; if you fall, dust yourself off and get going. Don’t pause to feel the impact of adversity. Charge ahead and achieve!

The members of your internal family who want to protect you from vulnerability are keenly aware of these messages. They work hard to manage the way you show up in the world, wanting you to conform to the dominant culture so you fit in or are celebrated for success as it’s defined. They mean well; they don’t want you to experience shame or the pain of being an outsider.

The challenge is that their efforts marginalize the tender, often young, members of your internal family. They are relegated to the basement, left alone with their burdens. The “grown-ups” in your inner family are celebrated, and the little ones are shunned.

Yet, many of us celebrate the mystery and wonder of God humbly coming to us as a baby. Maybe we need to reconsider our protectors’ view of our inner children.

Could embracing vulnerability be the path to healing?

When Jesus announced his ministry, he spoke of the poor, the oppressed, the captives, and the blind (Luke 4:18-19). His message? I am leading you to healing and freedom. You who are vulnerable, powerless, and burdened, I see you. I love you, and I am here to help you. It sounds like he’s speaking directly to the little ones locked in the basement.

Even Jesus’ closest friends did not understand that his priorities, his view of worth, was inverse to the world’s standards. The disciples were annoyed when people brought their children to Jesus (Matthew 19:13-14). They didn’t think children were significant enough to warrant Jesus’ attention. “On the contrary,” Jesus said. When his disciples wanted to know who was most important, to see heaven’s organizational chart, he called a child over and told them, “Here she is. She’s the greatest. She’s the one whose example you should follow” (from Matthew 18:1-4).

These little ones who cry when they’re sad, whine when they’re hungry, throw tantrums when they’re thwarted, who need adults to survive, will show us the way to healing and wholeness. Their needs matter to God, and God wants them to matter to us.

If we offer our inner children compassionate curiosity, they can tell us their stories. They hold burdens of painful emotions, distorted beliefs, distressing images, and uncomfortable sensations from experiences they couldn’t process. They’ve been waiting for you to bring them comfort, to create a safe space for them to tell you their story. They are needy, and you can reassure them there’s nothing wrong with that.

Are some of your protectors protesting?

I’m supposed to welcome the whiny, blubbering, desperate part of me? Are you sure? Your protectors won’t be convinced that it’s safe; they worry you will be overwhelmed. Reassure them that if they allow you to connect with her, she won’t need to overwhelm you. When she feels your presence and the Presence of Love within you, she will trust her needs can be met.

Welcome the little ones.

Take them by the hand and lead them out of the basement to a sunny room where they can get to know you. When they share their stories, healing happens.