dominates our adult behaviour, depending on how our needs were met in childhood. If we had secure childhoods, we’re unlikely to be dogged by a tricky Inner Child. If not, she may still ‘drive the bus’. And I want to know how I can make this work to my advantage, personally and professionally.
I start by putting my tax phobia to psychologist Glenys Yaffe, author of Self-esteem And Your Inner Child. ‘Your fears might well fit with the Inner Child model’, she agrees. ‘What we call our Inner Critical Parent stems from our childhood environment – usually our parents but also teachers. This might have been via blatant criticism, or it might have been our subtle awareness of expectations. Or the good girl may have learned that she got approval through doing well at school. In your case, the external authority figure has now been replaced by your own critical internal authority, so you experience your Vulnerable Inner Child in the form of anxiety when you do your tax.’
Looking at it like this, I can see other ways that my school shaped me, despite mostly happy times there. It was a bubble of privilege, so much so that it wasn’t unusual to be collected by a driver. Knowing no better, I thought I was odd for breaking this mould. I remember coveting my classmates’ diamanté-studded underwear when we changed for gym, and pulling off my hand-me-down, grim grey vests from my brother before they could be seen. One even had a mortifying ink stain. I’m sure this sense of not measuring up made me preoccupied with pristine femininity for years afterwards. As a novice journalist, I wrote about fashion and beauty despite my heart not being in it. I thought the key to alluring men was to be immaculate (down to perfect underwear). It wasn’t, of course, but it didn’t even stop me when my first boyfriend said, ‘I don’t want the perfect girlfriend, I want you.’
Still I know that, comparatively, I got off lightly. One of my dearest friends lost her father when she was 10. Not surprisingly, her romantic relationships with men have been shaped by a fear of the man vanishing. Sometimes, she chooses someone she isn’t into, so there’s less at stake. It doesn’t take Freud to see how a bereaved Inner Child rules her heart. Another friend acknowledges that ‘feeling like a disappointment’ to her parents has hampered her career, making her deliberately underachieve to meet their low expectations. Another suspects that her distant mother has made her ultra-needy – testing friendships by sending SOS texts at 2am, or crying on third dates to see how the man responds. Not very well, as a rule. But the Inner Child can help as well as hinder.
‘Our Creative Inner Child is important,’ says Yaffe. ‘If we can retain a child’s immersion in creativity and focus on the task itself rather than the end product, we get greater enjoyment. Our Playful Inner Child is our sense of fun. It’s important in work, friendships, intimate relationships and sexuality. Our Spiritual Inner Child is our experience of awe: appreciating beautiful music or nature. Being present enhances our appreciation of living.’
My theory is that the years between seven and 10 hold the key to adult happiness. At that age we are fully formed, but puberty has yet to quash our enthusiasms with self-consciousness. For me, aged nine, my pride and joy was a huge, meticulously furnished dolls’ house. Every day I arranged it with an obsessive, all-consuming delight, oblivious to time, pins and needles and the homework I should have been doing. But in my teens, I abandoned the dolls’ house and replaced it with things I felt I ‘should’ enjoy – parties, drinking, smoking, water-skiing – anything to prove I wasn’t that cautious little girl immersed in her miniature world.
A decade later, I moved into my first flat. It was a revelation. As I did it up, all alone, I felt the same giddy joy that I had arranging my dolls’ house all those years ago. I also realised that I hadn’t felt this happy in years. It was only then, at 27, that I let my Inner Child back in. I finally accepted that I prefer a weekend to myself, seeing friends oneon-one or just hanging pictures, to a party. At 31, I wrote a book, having previously shunned fiction as ‘less glamorous’ than magazines, and finally felt fulfilled at work. No surprise, considering I was always writing stories as a child, but it’s not necessarily about re-enacting our childhood hobbies. It’s just that, if you can find adult equivalents of your childhood passions, they’ll probably make you happier than Instagram, Tinder, yoga or whatever it is you feel you ‘should’ enjoy today.
All of which reminds me of the day, aged 11, I was summoned to the headmistress’s office for ‘a little talk’. ‘Francesca,’ she said. ‘I’d like to discuss your habit of leaving things to the last minute. I know it serves you well now, but in future, you’ll need to be more methodical.’ She had a point. Doing all my homework at 5am was rash (if quite Sheryl Sandberg). It worked for me then, and has continued to work ever since. So I’m afraid, Miss Byrne-Cooper, I still haven’t taken your advice. I’ve just finished writing this at 6.50am, and I’m wearing a grubby T-shirt of my husband’s. So much for pristine femininity. Maybe some things never change.
History Of The World In 100 Modern Objects by Francesca Hornak is out now (Portico, £12.99)