Don’t Listen To TikTok: You Don’t Need To Act Like A Child To Heal Your Mental Health

A grown woman covered in paint shows that she has just destroyed her fridge, kitchen cabinets, and floor. By throwing a tantrum, she insists, she’s healing. A concerningly large number of TikTok users agree with her. Is this really what therapy looks like?

By Alina Clough3 min read
shutterstock 2172827801 (1)
Shutterstock/Ekateryna Zubal

A pseudo-psychological trend has made waves on social media recently: TikTok users are making videos of themselves acting like children in order to “heal their inner child,” sometimes by destroying their own houses with finger paints, buying themselves toys, or even using baby pacifiers as “anxiety reducing toys.” Many of the users cite real psychological frameworks, making it seem as though their recommendations are backed by real research. So is therapy as simple as child’s play? Or is this trend just chasing clout and hurting people’s mental health in the process?

All the Rage

There’s a lot to unpack here. Acting like a child aside, psychologists don’t consider any kind of so-called “destruction therapy” to be a healthy way to treat anger issues. “Rage rooms,” where participants can pay, sometimes over $200, to go smash plates, TVs, and human-shaped targets with crowbars and baseball bats, have gotten popular lately, especially following pandemic lockdowns. Though it’s a fun and harmless idea for a date night or even a temporary stressor like a breakup, clinicians say that for people experiencing actual mental health issues, acting out can backfire. 

Christie Rizzo, a clinical psychologist at Northeastern University puts it this way: “I would not go so far as to say that breaking things in a controlled environment is a form of therapy. Rage rooms are for people who want to let loose while doing something fun and different, not for those who are dealing with mental health problems associated with anger and violence. The last thing people with anger issues need is another outlet to express their frustration.” 

Others agree, including Kevin Bennett, a professor of psychology at Penn State. “I don’t know of any therapist who would actually prescribe going to the rage room as a form of therapy,” he says. “Especially if you have aggressive tendencies to begin with, going to a rage room seems counterproductive.”

Rage rooms and the concept of an “inner child” share tangled roots in Freudian psychology. Dr. Bennett says that some people still hold on to outdated ideas of how the mind works due to Freud’s popularity. “The philosophy behind it goes back to Freudian psychotherapy almost a hundred years ago, this idea of catharsis, where you will relieve your aggression and anger and you feel better because you've vented it." But we’ve known better for over 50 years now, and modern research continually debunks Freud’s hypothesis. Rather than letting your body let go, throwing tantrums teaches your body that aggression is the correct response to anger.

How Freud Slipped

But what about other expressions of the inner child? Not all TikTok users supporting the trend are ruining their homes with finger painting; some are pretending to be little kids in other, odder ways. Behind fashion trends like kid core, which encourage grown adults to take outfit inspo from little kids’ dress-up, lies an even deeper urge for many wanting to relive childhood altogether by buying children’s toys and oversized plushies, playing with dress-up dolls, and even chewing on baby pacifiers and teething aids.

Though this side of the inner child trend might be less violent than rage rooms, it’s supported by similarly shaky, and misunderstood, psychology. Carl Jung, a psychologist Freud considered to be his intellectual heir, theorized that what we learn and experience from childhood sits in our subconscious. He called this subconscious set of beliefs the “inner child archetype,” which is where we get the pop psychology understanding of an inner child. Still, his theory isn’t as literal as a lot of people interpret it. It’s meant to be a purely theoretical tool to refer to the beliefs you’ve held since childhood, not suggest that there’s a little kid version of you deep inside.

Jung himself never suggested that this inner child archetype was supposed to be healed by adults acting like children, and even modern therapists who rely on his theories focus on correcting the unhealthy patterns we may have developed in childhood rather than recreating or reliving childhood. In fact, it tends to resemble cognitive behavioral therapy, the current gold standard for mental health treatment, that seeks to help patients adjust to reality – not escape from it. No matter how viral these videos get, sucking on pacifiers simply isn’t a suggested treatment for BPD.

Closing Thoughts

We have a crisis of adults fearing independence, and it’s leading to a misaligned attachment to childhood. “Kidults” now account for 60% of recent growth in the toy industry, or 1 in 4 toy purchases. There’s nothing wrong with nostalgia, but mentally healthy adults are well-adjusted enough to find enjoyment in age-appropriate activities. Adulthood is normal, and if you’re doing it right, growing up should be fun. The toy industry may be cheering on profits from the adult market, especially as they have fewer children. But as people continue to stoke fear of parenthood and growing up, are we replacing having kids with becoming them?

Love Evie? Sign up for our newsletter and get curated content weekly!