“Everything seemed possible,
when I looked through the eyes of a child.
And every once in a while, I remember,
I still have the chance to be that wild.”
We all have an inner child within us – it is our natural personality with our innate instincts, intuition, emotions and creativity. As we grow older, the inner adult begins to take over and operate through logic and reasoning. In this reflection, I explore my inner child and attempt to create inner bonding between my inner child and adult. I integrate my personal experiences with the concept of the inner child and the various forms of psychotherapy presented in the following books:
- Inner Bonding by Margaret Paul
- Homecoming by John Bradshaw
- Healing the Child Within by Charles Whitfield
- Self-Therapy: A Step-by-Step Guide to Creating Wholeness and Healing Your Inner Child by Jay Earley
This article is divided into 3 parts:
- Part I: A Love Letter to My Inner Child
- Part II: Concepts about the Inner Child
- Part III: Reparenting the Inner Child + Forms of Psychotherapy
PART I: A LOVE LETTER TO MY INNER CHILD
In the book Inner Bonding, psychologist Margaret Paul describes that regardless of our childhood experiences, we can take on the role of the loving inner parent (both the inner father and mother) and reparent our inner child. Communicating with the inner child is important for inner bonding and healing.
Dear inner child,
After decades of neglecting you, I choose to return to you as your loving inner parent and be your source of validation and support. Your biological parents did not make you feel accepted in this world. Your father was emotionally unavailable to you throughout your childhood. He was an authoritarian figure who was cold, critical and detached. He created a climate of fear in the family and you were afraid of expressing your emotions around him. This led you to habitually suppress your emotions and develop difficulties in expressing yourself around other people. You also internalised an inner adult voice of judgement and critical authority. No matter how hard you worked and how much you later achieved in life, the inner adult voice told you that you were not deserving of happiness and you had no worth in life. I am sorry for being the critical adult voice that you heard throughout your life. I now return to you with love and affection. Your worth is not attached to your achievements or your relationships with others. Your uniqueness and individuality give you an innate worth that is not dependent on extraneous circumstances.
When you were young, the family relocated to a new country. You soon lost contact with your cousins and close relatives. This was your first taste of loneliness and isolation. In the foreign land, you felt like a complete outsider to the local community. The new languages you heard and the strange sights and smells of the place bewildered you. You tried to integrate yourself into the community by picking up a new tongue, learning a new religion and adapting to a new way of life. Yet, no matter how hard you tried, you were still a stranger to the locals. Your appearance, your manner of speech and your family gave you away before they could get to know you. I am sorry that throughout your life, the inner adult within did not meet you in your loneliness and isolation. The critical inner adult voice only served to strengthen your shame about your native culture and heritage. The inner adult voice told you that you had to hide your cultural roots from the world in order to fit in. I now return to you with love and acceptance. You are a beautiful union of your native Eastern culture and the Western culture you grew up in. Your unique identity can help you to connect with people across cultures and languages. Your background helps you to understand this multicultural world and embrace the truth about people and life.
In school, you created a false identity to protect yourself from the pain and isolation you felt deep inside. The loneliness and fear of abandonment you experienced drove you to work hard and strive for excellence so that you could be accepted and validated. With hard work, you were accepted into the best school in the country, where you attended a programme for gifted students and later on attended medical school. Gradually, you began to attach your personal worth to your academic achievements. You collected book prizes, trophies and awards because they made you feel alive. You could never truly enjoy the success because deep inside, you were still the lonely and fearful child who needed validation and acceptance from the world. I now return to you with love and provide you with all the affirmations and support that you did not receive throughout your schooling years. You have worked harder than anyone else to find your place in this world. You also you have a unique combination of talents and gifts which can help you succeed in life as as person and as a doctor. You deserve to take credit for the hard work and the achievements you have attained in life.
You were a creative and intuitive child by nature. In school, you loved english literature and you found yourself through reading and writing poems. You had a natural sense of unity and connection with other people and with nature. You preferred to experience this world through your emotions and intuition and felt a deep sense of compassion for all of life. Yet, the inner adult voice told you that it was only right to operate through logic and reasoning. The inner adult made the decision on your behalf to attend medical school. Throughout medical school, you felt that your true nature and your talents could not be expressed. You longed to break free from the restrictions of vocational training and have the freedom to be yourself. I am sorry that the inner adult voice made you suppress your inner creativity and intuition. I now return to you with love and allow you the freedom to express yourself as you are. I embrace both my creative and intuitive side as well as my logical and analytical side. While my intuitive aspect helps me to embrace my spirituality and connect with people, the analytic and logical aspect helps me to understand medical and scientific principles. The different qualities within me can act as complementary forces and allow me to help others in constructive ways.
To my inner child, I am sorry that you stumbled through life alone and could not find the right parent figures to provide you with the attention and love you required. You faced difficulties in life that you did not have the maturity to handle. As a result, part of you were left abandoned at the age where you experienced pain and fear and could not grow out of the darkness. I now return to you as a loving parent and I promise to meet the needs that your biological parents could not fulfil. I will provide the unconditional love, support and guidance to reparent and nurture you to help you grow.
With unconditional love,
The loving inner parent
PART II: CONCEPTS ABOUT THE INNER CHILD
The Inner Child
- The concept of the child within has been present in our culture for a long time. Carl Jung called it the “divine child” and Emmet Fox called it the “wonder child.” Psychotherapists Alice Miller and Donald Winnicott refered to it as the “true self.” Many in the field of alcoholism and chemical dependence called it the “inner child”. (Healing the Child Within)
- The inner child is who we are when we were born, our core self and natural personality with its talents, instincts, intuition and emotion. It is our right-brain and creative aspect that develops through feeling and experiencing. It’s the part of us that existed before we had experience. (Inner Bonding)
- The child within refers to the part of us which is alive, energetic, creative and fulfilled – it is our real self. However, most of us deny it. If this is not nurtured and allowed freedom of expression, a false or codependent self image emerges. Denial of the child within results in the development of a false self or negative ego. (Healing the Child Within)
- The inner child is childlike. Our vulnerability, intuition, imagination and ability to feel our emotions have not changed or aged with adult experience. Hence, even if we had unhappy childhoods, it does not mean our inner nature is essentially unhappy. (Inner Bonding)
The Inner Adult
- The adult within is the part of us that thinks logically and has collected knowledge through our experience in the world. It is our intellect, the left-brain, logical, analytical and conscious part of our mind. It is the part of us that operates through thought and action as opposed to feeling and being which are the realms of the inner child. (Inner Bonding)
- The inner adult makes the decision regarding our intentions and actions. Taking action on behalf of the inner child is the job of the adult. (Inner Bonding)
Needs of the Child (Adapted from Healing the Child Within)
- Physical touch
- Attention – attention allows the child to feel safe and secure
- Mirroring and echoing – when the parent reacts non-verbally with facial expression, posture, sounds and movement, a child feels validated and understood
- Guidance – this may include advice, assistance, modelling and teaching appropriate social skills
- Listening, participating and accepting – this allows the child to feel respected and validated
- Support – this includes anything that can help the real self fulfil its potential
- Loyalty and trust – in order the grow, the child must feel trusted and also be able to trust others
- Accomplishment – it is important for the parent to give guidance and support and help the child achieve or accomplish tasks
- Altered consciousness, enjoyment and fun – e.g. daydreaming, laughing, playing
- Freedom – the freedom to take risks and be spontaneous
- Nurturing – this is a reciprocal relationship; the nurturing person must be able to nurture and the child must be able to let go and surrender in order to be nurtured
- Unconditional love
Parental Conditions that May Stifle the Child Within (Adapted from Healing the Child Within)
- Alcoholism and other chemical dependence
- Chronic mental illness or disabling chronic physical illness
- Child abuse – this may be emotional, physical sexual or spiritual
- Codependence – broadly it refers to any suffering and/or dysfunction that is associated with or results from focusing on the needs and behaviours of others. Codependents become so focused and preoccupied with the important people in their lives that they neglect their true self.
- Characteristics of dysfunctional families
- Keeping family secrets
- Chaos and the threat of chaos
- Denial of feelings and reality
The Wounded Inner Child (Adapted from Homecoming)
Natural qualities in a child and how they may be wounded
- Wonder: a child has a sense of wonder and curiosity. If the sense of wonder is repressed, the child may be fearful of exploring and taking risks.
- Optimism: the child is naturally optimistic and believes that the world is full of hope and possibilities.
- Naïveté: while children are innocent and require constant care and attention, overprotection of their innocence can also cause problems.
- Dependence: a child’s dependence causes him to be vulnerable. When a child trusts completely, he is vulnerable to violation and abuse.
- Emotions: children need to be allowed to express their emotions e.g. laughing, crying.
- Resilience: children have natural resilience and should be allowed to demonstrate this.
- Free play: children have a natural sense of freedom. When they feel safe, they move and operate with spontaneity.
- Uniqueness: although the child is immature, he has an innate sense of wholeness and feels connected and unified with himself.
- Love: children are naturally predisposed to love and affection. However, they must first be loved before they can learn how to love.
How the wounded inner child can C-O-N-T-A-M-I-N-A-T-E our lives
- Codependence: the author defines this as a form of loss of identity – to be codependent is to be out of touch with one’s feelings, needs and desires and to be dependent on others for emotions, worth and identity. Without a healthy inner life, one is exiled to trying to find fulfilment on the outside.
- Offensive behaviour
- Narcissistic disorders: the depriver inner child contaminates the adult with an insatiable need for love, attention and affection.
- Trust issues: if the child perceives the world as a dangerous, hostile and unpredictable place, he will always seek to be on guard and in control instead of trusting others.
- Acting out/ acting in behaviours:
- Acting out: our emotions may drive us to protect and fight for our rights
- Acting in: this refers to acting out on ourselves when we punish ourselves the way we were punished in childhood
- Magical belief: it is natural for children to think magically. If the child is wounded and has unmet needs, he may continue to think magically as an adult.
- Intimacy dysfunctions
- Non-disciplined behaviours: children need parents who model self-discipline rather than preach it.
- Addictive/ compulsive behaviours: the wounded inner child is a major cause of addictions and addictive behaviour
- Thought distortions e.g. emotional thinking
- Emptiness (apathy, depression)
PART III: REPARENTING THE INNER CHILD + FORMS OF PSYCHOTHERAPY
1. INNER BONDING THERAPY – Summary of Inner Bonding by Margaret Paul
Inner Bonding Therapy
- Inner bonding is a process of connecting our adult thoughts within our instinctive gut feelings – the feelings of our ‘inner child’. This allows us to be free of conflict within ourselves. The power of inner bonding lies in the power of giving love from the inner adult to the inner child.
- Inner bonding requires our adult self to be conscious and connected with our inner, natural self – the vulnerable self driven by emotions. Inner bonding is about freeing ourselves from the false beliefs that create shame and fear.
- Loving behaviour: behaviour that nurtures and supports our own and others’ emotional and spiritual growth. When we are being loving to our inner child, we are open to learning about our inner child. Loving the inner child means choosing to learn about our past and present pain, fears and beliefs.
- Overview of the steps of inner bonding
- 1 Gain awareness of the conflict between the inner child and inner adult
- 2 Respond as a loving adult – show interest, empathy, care and compassion to the inner child. We should respond with:
- The intent to learn
- Belief that there are good and valid reasons behind our feelings and behaviour
- Willingness to feel pain (The pain is still within the inner child. If we protect ourselves from the pain, we allow the pain to control our lives.)
- 3 Dialogue with the inner child – as the child is speaking, listen with the adult mind and try to understand the feelings and the beliefs behind the feelings.
- Clearing out false beliefs – there are 6 major false beliefs
- There is something wrong with me e.g. unlovable, inadequate, insignificant
- I am powerless over how I feel e.g. I do not have the power to make myself happy, I rely on others and is a victim
- Other people’s feelings are more important than mine and I am responsible for their feelings e.g. if others feel hurt, it is my fault and I deserve guilt
- I can control what others think and feel about me as well as what they do to me.
- Resisting others’ control over me is essential to my integrity
- I cannot handle pain, fear, hurt grief and loneliness – I have to protect myself from these feelings
- Clearing out false beliefs – there are 6 major false beliefs
- 4 Dialogue with the higher power – this can be God, a higher source, or whatever our personal religious or spiritual beliefs lead us to conceive as the divine source of love and truth.
- 5 Take Action – this can be inward (talking to the inner child and teaching about the truth about ourselves and our false beliefs) as well as outward (changing our behaviour with people and situations).
The Abandoned Inner Child and the Intent to Protect
- For many of us, a child crying in the night, unanswered and uncomforted epitomises our feelings of being abandoned and alone. In this instance, the loving inner adult can come and parent the inner child.
- The intent to protect
- At any moment, we are either in the intent to learn or the intent to protect and avoid our inner experience. When the adult chooses the intent to protect against feeling and taking responsibility for the child’s pain and joy, the adult disconnects from the inner child.
- There are negative and positive kinds of protections. The negative type involves being either permissive or authoritarian, avoiding feeling the pain. The positive type of protection occurs when the adult acts as a loving parent and is there for the child with a loving and open heart with the intent to learn and bring about joy.
- The ways in which we protect
- Addictions to substances, things, activities and other people
- Overt control
- Covert control
Reparenting The Inner Child
- As adults, if we disconnect from our feelings to protect ourselves from pain, our inner adult has not been loving to our inner child. An unloving adult/parent is either authoritarian or permissive.
- When the adult is authoritarian, it criticises, judges, shames, controls and discounts the inner child.
- When the adult is permissive, it is absent, indulgent and neglectful, resisting meeting the needs of the inner child.
- We must accept the job of being our own inner parent. On an internal level, we are our one and only possible parent, regardless of how our parents have treated us.
- We all need 2 parents, hence the inner adult is both the father and mother to the inner child. The mother part of us engages in nurturing inner dialogue with the child, exploring false beliefs and asking for truth from the higher power. The father part of us takes loving action in the world on behalf of the inner child.
- If we do not accept our responsibility as both father and mother to our inner child, the child will seek someone else to do it.
- Learning to love the inner child
- We must embrace what is uniquely valuable and lovable about who we are, not for our talents and personality but for our essential selves.
- We must value our own kind of intelligence, which is not based on academic achievement.
- We must take action on behalf of the inner child to build our self confidence.
- Heading for home – the bonded and connected state
- When our inner adult and inner child are connected, we feel grounded, centred and secure.
- We need to learn how to stay connected within the context of our everyday lives. In the connected state, we are conscious of both the gut-level feelings of the inner child and the rational thoughts of the inner adult.
- The home stretch – staying bonded in conflict
- The goal of inner bonding therapy is to live as much of our lives as possible in the connected, bonded or higher self state. However, this may be difficult when there is conflict in our relationships with others and when the adult receives messages from the external world that threaten to violate our personal boundaries.
Parenting in Different Scenarios
- Loving the inner child when we are alone
- We must not be afraid of being alone.
- Our external relationships are mirrors of our internal relationship. Others will love and support us when we learn to and support ourselves.
- Loving the inner child with our parents
- Regardless of our relationships with parents when growing up, roles change when we become adults.
- In taking care of our parents, if we are able to do it out of love, we are not being codependent. If we are giving our of fear and obligation, we are being codependent and will feel angry and resentful.
- Loving the inner child with our friends
- Close friends frequently exhibit signs of emotional codependency.
- We must define boundaries for ourselves.
- Loving the inner child in professional relationships
- The power struggles at work are similar to those parents have with children. Equally common are the typical codependent interactions of control and compliance.
- In all our relationships with others, the way we relate to others depends on the relationship we have with our inner child.
- When our inner child has unhealed wounds from childhood, we project the pain onto the people we relate to, acting as if they are our parents and family.
- To reclaim our power, it is important to learn to be a loving adult to the inner child so we can stand up for the inner child when it is appropriate.
2. EXERCISES TO RECLAIM THE INNER CHILD – Summary of Homecoming by John Bradshaw
‘Original pain’ work
- Our emotions are forms of immediate experience. If emotions are repressed, they clamour to be expressed. The more repression there is, the more destructive the repressed emotions are.
- These unresolved and unexpressed emotions are what the author refers to as ‘original pain’. The earlier the emotions are inhibited, the deeper the imprint of the damage.
- Original pain work involves re-experiencing these early traumas and repressed emotions so that a person no longer has to act out these repressed emotions.
- Original pain as grief work: original pain work involves nature’s own healing process – grief is the healing feeling and we heal naturally if we are allowed to grieve.
- Validating abuse: we must not minimise or rationalise the abuse, but instead learnt to accept and validate the abuse.
- Emotions we may feel when grieving
- Hurt and sadness
- Toxic shame and loneliness
- We must allow ourselves to feel these feelings fully – to stomp, storm, sob and cry. Recovery is a process and takes time.
Exercises to Reclaim the wounded inner child from infancy to adolescence
- Exercises to reclaim the wounded inner infant
- Debriefing: gather information about that stage of development
- Share our about that stage of development with a friend: it is important to have someone hear us and validate our original pain
- Feel the feelings
- Letter writing to infant and from infant
- Affirmations: the wounded inner child is still present with the original energy and needs nurturing words
- Infant meditation
- Reclaim the wounded inner toddler
- Sharing toddlerhood with a friend
- Feeling the feelings
- Letter writing
- Toddler meditation
- Reclaim the preschool self
- Write about abusive brothers and sisters
- Share about the preschool inner child with a friend
- Feel the feelings
- Letter writing
- Identify and write down dysfunctional family-system roles – identify the feelings that were repressed in order to play these roles
- Preschooler meditation
- Reclaim school-age self
- Identify significant adult figures including teachers and spiritual mentors
- Write down milestones for each year
- Identify traumatic events
- Share school age child’s history with a friend
- Feel the feelings
- Write a myth or fairytale
- Identify dysfunctional family-system roles
- School age meditation
- Reclaiming adolescence
- Share experiences with support person
- Feel the feelings
- Homecoming meditation
- Forgiveness – forgiveness allows for healing from the past, freeing our energies for the present
Championing the wounded inner child
Use adulthood as a new source of potency
- Ask for forgiveness
- Tell the inner child about a higher power
- Give the child a new childhood – change our personal history
- Anchors – any time a new experience resembles the earlier traumatic experience, the original emotions are triggered and original anchor is fired
- Make a security anchor
- Let the adult find new fathers and mothers for the inner child
Giving the inner child new permissions
- Nurturing discipline with new rules
- It is okay to feel what you feel – feelings are not right or wrong
- It is okay to want what you want
- It is okay to see and hear what you see and hear
- It is okay to have fun and play
- It is essential to tell the truth at all times
- it is important to know limits and to delay gratification some of the time
- It is crucial to develop a balanced sense of responsibility
- It is okay to make mistakes
- Other peoples’ feelings, needs and wants must be respected
- It is okay to have problems and conflict
- Give the inner child permission to be himself and give up roles associated with a false self
Protect the wounded inner child
- Give time and attention
- Communicate with the inner child
- Find a new family for the inner child
- Use the power and protection of prayer
- Stroke the inner child
3. INTERNAL FAMILY SYSTEMS MODEL – Summary of A Step-by-Step Guide to Creating Wholeness and Healing Your Inner Child by Jay Earley
Basic Principles of the IFS Model
- The mind is divided into an indeterminate number of subpersonalities/ parts. There are no bad parts and each has a positive intention for the individual.
- The goal of therapy is not to eliminate the parts but to help them find their non-extreme goals. The self leads the individual’s internal system.
- Parts may blend with the self, overtaking the self.
Roles in the IFS Model
- Protectors: this can be external protectors (prevent harm from other people) or internal protectors (prevent self from feeling the emotion of the exile).
- Exiles: these are aspects of ourselves that have experienced pain in childhood that did not have the maturity to cope with and as a result have been abandoned at that age.
Steps in the IFS Model
Step 1 Getting to know the protector:
- P1 Access a part
- P2 Unblend target part: ask the part to separate from you/ see an image of the part at a distance
- P3 Unblend concerned part: ask the concerned part to step aside and ask what it is afraid of
- P4 Discover protector’s role: explore its intentions, fears, role and emotions
- P5 Develop trusting relationship with protector: give understanding and appreciation for this role
Step 2 Getting permission to work with exile
Address the protector’s fears:
- The exile’s pain is too much
- There is no point
- The protector doesn’t want to be eliminated
- The exile will be harmed
- The protector doesn’t trust the self’s competence
- A secret will be revealed
- A dangerous protector may be triggered
Step 3 Getting to know the exile
- E1 Access an exile: sense it in the body/ get an image of it
- E2 Unblend from exile: ask the exile to contain its feelings and consciously separate from exile/ get image of exile at a distance
- E3 Unblend from concerned part
- E4 Learning from exile: emotions, intentions, fears
- E5 Develop trusting relationship with exile: communicate compassion
Step 4 Accessing and witnessing childhood memories
- Ask exile to show image or memory
- Ask exile for emotions
Step 5 Reparenting an exile
- Bring the self into the childhood situation
- Ask the exile what it needs from the self, and give it to the exile through internal imagination
- Check how the exile is responding to reparenting
Step 6 Retrieving an exile
- Bring to safe place in present life
- Bring to body
- Bring to imaginary place where he can feel safe
Step 7 Unburdening an exile
- Check for burdens – extreme feelings and beliefs
- Release to light, water, wind, earth, fire
Step 8 Integration and unburdening of protector
- Introduce transformed exile to protector
- Help it realise its role of protection is no longer necessary
- Protector can now choose a new role in psyche
- Reimagine the self in the original trailhead and see if any parts are activated
p.s. Leave a comment if this resonated with you. I love to hear your stories!
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