This is the first blog in our series on relationships.
Answer the following questions. See how many yes responses you have. In all these questions, if you resonate with some of them, you may not know where these feelings came from, why they seem so entrenched, and why they are so hard to prevent or change.
Is there a part of you that often feels a sense of profound sadness somewhere deep inside?
Is there a current of simmering anger inside that can sometimes explode into rage?
Do you have an underlying sense of loneliness, even if on the outside you look like you have a good social life?
Do you have difficulty trusting your partner?
When confronted with some of life’s challenges, do you tend to become hopeless and feel nothing will ever work out for you?
Do you often feel inadequate (never quite good enough) in your personal life or career?
Do you tend to cover up your feelings and pretend everything is fine or you don’t care?
Are you frequently anxious, afraid of making the wrong decisions, or feel that life is not safe or reliable?
Do you have a hard time saying no to people? Are you frequently trying to please people (saying yes), even if it means doing things you really don’t want to do?
Is there a part of you that feels numb, shut down, or dead? Is it hard to enjoy things or feel you are really “here”?
Do you have a voice inside your head (self-talk) that constantly seems to criticize you, put you down, or is always negative?
If you answered yes to any of these, you probably just met your Inner Child or Inner Children. Respectively, you met the Sad Child, the Angry or Rage Child, the Lonely Child, the Distrustful or Jealous Child, the Hopeless Child, the Inadequate Child, the Whatever (I Don’t Care) Kid, the Anxious or Fearful Child, the People Pleaser, the Dead or Zombie Child, and the Critical Parent. There are many more, such as the Pollyanna/Hopeful Child, the Lost Child, the Bully Child, the Cynical Child, the Addict Child, the Poor Me Child, and so on, but you get the gist. Let’s find out more about how we discovered these Children Within.
In wellness and therapeutic circles, for a number of years there was talk about being in your Inner Child or connecting to your Child Within. Where did the term and concept of Inner Children come from, and why is it so useful in our personal healing processes?
Back in the 1970s, a number of young Social Workers like myself, were working in areas of child abuse, domestic violence, sexual assault, and child welfare. We began to notice what seemed to be a strange phenomenon in that a number of our clients, both victims and abusers, frequently acted as if they were a child: an angry child, a sad child, a hopeless child, a hopeful child, and so on. However, when they were in this mode, they certainly did not feel like mature, centered adults. However, this was an individual experience for each of us as there was nothing in the literature addressing this. We were surprised when we would get together at major conferences, like the Child Welfare League of America, and began to talk about this idea of an Inner Child, only to discover others were noticing the same patterns in their clients. It was sort of an underground knowledge. Until the mid-1980s.
Thank you Charles Whitfield for Healing the Child Within and my mentor, John Bradshaw, for Homecoming. Both books legitimized the Inner Child concept and opened a whole new area of therapeutic exploration and intervention. Homecoming is especially valuable, and it is worth buying the audio version to receive John’s own guided meditations for the various inner children.
So, what and who and why are our Inner Children? If you came from a dysfunctional family with issues relating to domestic violence (spouse abuse), child abuse (physical, mental, emotional, verbal, or sexual), child neglect (emotional or physical), abandonment (actual or emotional), mental illness, alcoholism/addiction, or chronic illness, more than likely you will have a series of Inner Children who represent various trauma or conflict points in your childhood. They are the stuck points, the unresolved pieces that never healed. In my work, I don’t believe this is just a useful psychological model; I believe our inner children are real. They may not live in the present, but when you see them come out, they feel and look real. Our job is to give them a voice. We want to give them the voice they often did not have as children, because how many children have felt unheard or misunderstood or unappreciated or devalued or unloved by one or both parents? To give you an idea how this works, here are several real-life examples.
Rob has struggled with fears of abandonment in all his relationships. He unconsciously worries that his partners and friends will leave him (or even die). He has a lot of anxiety in his life and frequently feels a deep sense of sadness he can’t explain. When I asked him how old is the Child Within who is always afraid, especially of abandonment, without thinking, he replied, “Twelve.” I asked him what was going on at 12 and he told me his father had died of cancer. He recounted that his father was really a great and funny Dad, and he really missed him. He had to helplessly watch Dad’s deteriorating health over a period of two years. As the oldest son, he was expected to be strong and take care of his Mom and younger siblings. His Mom was devastated and slipped into a two-year depression where she hardly paid attention to Rob or his brother and sister. This is a fairly straightforward example of actual abandonment, as perceived by the child (father’s death), and emotional abandonment (Mom’s depression). Rob healed this Inner Child when he was able to finally grieve for his father and work through his anger at his Mom. The fears of abandonment, anxiety and underlying sadness were largely gone.
Despite being popular with her friends and successful in her business, Yvette never felt that she was quite good enough. She ended a promising relationship without realizing it was her fear that she would not be able to live up to his expectations, although he constantly tried to reassure her that he loved her just the way she was. When I asked her how old is the Child Within who feels inadequate, immediately her face changed, she looked very sad—and she looked like a young child. She replied in a small voice that she “felt” like she was nine years old. She did not remember much of her childhood, so we performed an inner child hypnotic regression. The memories came back and were clear. Her mother was always criticizing her: “You’re lazy.” “You’re an ungrateful daughter for all that I do for you.” “Who could ever love you.” “You never do anything right.” “I regret that I didn’t get the abortion.” “You were born on a garbage heap.” “You’re a piece of shit.” And so on. No wonder she did not want to remember this. This verbal abuse may sound extreme, but I have heard too many of these stories over the past 48 years. There are a lot of wonderful, hard-working parents out there, and then there are these seriously damaged parents. With this programming, it was no wonder Yvette had a hard time believing in herself. Through a lot of patience with herself and hard work in therapy, Yvette came to love herself and finally felt valued, as she had learned to value herself.
Carla had been sexually abused by an uncle and grandfather from two until ten. She also had an angry, critical father and an emotionally distant mother. This affected her for decades. As a Mom, she sometimes morphed into the critical, yelling parent, which left her wracked with guilt. In her relationships, she kept picking emotionally unavailable partners, all also exhibiting sexual addiction behavior (pornography, cheating). Through therapy, she came to know her Rage Child, her Wailing Child, her Terrified Child, her Lonely Child, her Party Kid, and others, each representing an age when that issue was at the forefront. In a process we call Reparenting, she became the loving, healthy mother and father for herself she never had. Her Inner Children let go of their desperate desire that Mommy and Daddy finally change and be the good parents. Her Inner Children now looked to her for the love and nurturing they needed.
This is only a small sampling of the Inner Child conflicts we work with daily as counselors and coaches. However, if you think this represents a small minority of the world’s population, perhaps these statistics will bring the topic more into focus. One in four boys and girls are sexually abused. One in three children are physically abused and/or emotionally abused. Fifty percent of women report they have been physically or emotionally abused by a partner. One in five women will be raped. Lastly, it is estimated that 80% of all families are dysfunctional (from mildly to severely). Point made?
Our work is to heal the Family Within, to get all the Inner Children on the same page and on the same winning Team—YOU!