Some of you may read that title and think that you haven’t got an inner child, after all, childhood vanished chronologically for you too many years ago to think about ! Well I may share your increasing years and all the deepening wrinkles and creaks that spring from advancing years but I very much have an inner child, who is alive and kicking and generally having a great time, thanks to the positive attention I have been paying her over several years. And let me tell you that no matter how many birthdays may come and go and no matter how ‘old’ we become, we all have an inner child in us, who stays very childlike (not childish- there is a real difference) and who is vital to our personal happiness and sense of Self.
What do I hear you say? That you can’t possibly have an inner child because you don’t feel particularly happy, and your sense of Self is not as healthy as it could be?
Well that state of being also proves that your inner child is very much around, although more likely to be silently screaming with frustration or dismal with despair that your older self is not paying her (or him) any attention, unless, perhaps it is critical. Remember the poem “ when a child lives with criticism it learns to condemn” ? Well that’s what is happening with your inner child.
Still not convinced? Let me put it this way. How much do you moan at yourself for things that you do, or maybe don’t do and feel that you ‘should’? A lot? How easy is it for you to look at yourself with pleasure in the mirror? Not easy? How much do you really like yourself ‘warts and all?’ Not much? If these were your answers then your inner child is active too but feeling very sad, lost and lonely, and pretty small and insignificant too.
Are you convinced you really have an inner child now? Or do you feel you may have one but wish he or she would go away and leave you alone? Well you are not alone in that reaction. Indeed it’s quite common. And it is that resentment of your inner self that helps to perpetuate the situation. It stops you healing and becoming whole.
Let me explain a little more about your Inner Child Self and see if I can change your viewpoint on how important he or she is. And how much influence he or she may be surreptiiously exerting over your supposedly grown-up life.
No matter how old we are, according to the school of thought known as Transactional Analysis, we have three “ego states” inside us. The Parent, the Adult and The Child. These three states are part of us for ever and we can change from one state to another and back again in a nanosecond, which is why it is difficult at first to recognise that there are in fact three different parts of us and not just one messed up, contradictory person.
The Parent in us is not really part of our “True Self” but is inherited from our own parents, or other childhood authority figures, who in turn inherited these parental traits from their parents or authority figures and so on into history. If the parenting received was nurturing, supportive and loving chances are that the Parent inside us is also going to be nurturing, supportive and loving, which is a good foundation for our development. That’s common sense. If, however, those parental figures were critical, fault finding, non loving or supportive it doesn’t take too much imagination to realise that our inner Parent is likely to be equally Critical. We all know how emotionally debilitating harsh criticism can be, whether implied or forcefully delivered and we all know that we can carry the affects of that criticism or that nurturing and watch the effect they have on how we relate to others, and our Selves in terms of confidence, esteem, ability to create true intimacy and sustain relationships and indeed fulfil our true potential in all areas. It is thus the affect of the parenting skills we receive and which we internalised that decides whether our Inner Child state is able to be the Natural, spontaneous and indeed ‘magical’ child he or she is meant to be. No matter how old we are we need that Natural Child as we need blood through our veins, so that we can appreciate and enjoy life to the full. It is when that Child in us becomes Adapted that problems begin. An Adapted Child state is cloaked in limiting beliefs about Self and demonstrates this with various levels of destructive behaviour, which often develop into addictive behaviours. The Adapted Child will then act out all that he/she believes she is to herself and to the world. This could be in either shy or rebellious behaviour and thus perpetuate the myth that these behaviours are part of his/her real self and subsequently he or she will suffer a lifetime of problems because these adapted behaviours are taking that person further away from their real self.
The myth is that we need those adapted behaviours to be accepted by those whom we see as important for our survival and often very existence. This can mean individuals, or society at large, or both. It is as though we are playing a part in a lifelong play in which we struggle to learn the lines and the moves and understand what the other characters want from us.
Adapted Child, Critical Parent. Recognise any of these two states in yourself at all? Thought so! We all have something of them to a lesser or greater degree. And we muddle along with them, doing the best we can as a square peg trying to fit into a round hole. It’s uncomfortable and impossible, isn’t it?
But what can we do about it? What can we do to stop play acting and get back to our Real Self?
Enter the Adult, stage right!
Or rather, as I like to call him/her, the Loving Adult.
Eric Berne talks of the Adult state in TA as the logical rational part of us- we might today call it our computer brain, that sifts information, assesses it and stores it accordingly. But much as technology has advanced I defy anyone to want to be in a meaningful relationship with something so dispassionate!. Logic is great but to be really supportive it needs to be generously mixed with compassion, empathy and encouragement-all attributes of Love, which really does make the world go around!
Yes, our Adult really does need to Love our Child. This love needs to be unconditional love, without condemning judgement. It needs to love not only the ‘good’ bits ‘ of us but the ‘not so good’ or shadow’ bits of us too. This, in counselling parlance is called Unconditional Positive Regard, (or UPR) When we receive that from others we feel worthwhile. Imagine how much better we can feel when we receive it from ourselves!
This is the basis of all good Inner Child work. To create a loving and supportive heart-based relationship with the Child as well as engage our logical and rational mind. With these two aspects working in partnership they can defend the Child, when necessary, against the demoralising, non helpful Critical Parent within us. When we truly love and accept ourselves then we have the foundation of being able to love and accept others. Life becomes calmer, more peaceful and stable and paradoxically it also becomes more FUN because through loving our Adapted Child self we are able to set free the Natural Child hidden inside and reveal him/her in all their wonder and begin to really Live for the first time.
Inner Child therapy is powerful and positive and often quicker than other forms of personal therapy. Perhaps you may want to investigate its possibilities for yourself. If you feel that Inner Child therapy can help you deal with issues from your past, or present then you can contact me on 01376 570358, or email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit my other website www.kairoshealing.co.uk
Penny Gillman, Counsellor and Inner Child Therapist, Kelvedon, Essex