“We often tend to ignore how much of a child is still in all of us.”
“The most sophisticated people I know – inside they are all children. ”
What does the term ‘inner child’ mean?
The child that we once were still remains inside us all. She or he is still there, in memories, reactions, experiences. Perhaps this child partly resides in our unconscious mind:
“So, like a forgotten fire, a childhood can always flare up again within
Eckhart Tolle said that “The past has no power over the present moment.” However, the past will ‘flare up again’ if you, the adult, cannot prevent this from happening. If you lose your adult self, or do not have a strong enough set of coping mechanisms, the child that you were will be left alone.
Sometimes, people have been so badly traumatised in childhood that they need others to help them nurture their damaged selves. This is an absolutely understandable need for someone who has been hurt or abused in the past.
Then they may need therapeutic help. I like the concept of the therapist lending her ego’, that is, allowing the other person in therapy to ‘borrow’ their adult strength during this painful experience:
The notion of “lending ego” derives from the psychoanalytic tradition; and broadly conceived, it refers to a therapist’s functioning as an “auxiliary ego” for the patient. The patient is allowed to use or “borrow” the therapist’s presumably well-working mind and psychological capacities in order to enhance his or her own, relatively deficient, psychic functioning in particular domains. In effect, the patient is encouraged to think like the therapist, who presumably represents a good role model for mental health.
In a sense, we could extend this theory and say that as an adult, we sometimes might need to ‘lend to our inner child’ our own, adult, protective ego or self.
Counselling Directory explains these further:
Parent – Rooted in the past; a set of thoughts, feelings and behaviours learnt from our parents and other important people. This part of our personality can be supportive or critical.
Adult – Rooted in the present; relates to direct responses in the ‘here and now’ that are not influenced by our past. This tends to be the most rational part of our personality.
Child – Rooted in the past; a set of thoughts, feelings and behaviours learnt from our childhood. These can be free and natural or strongly adapted to parental influences.
When childhood, adapted behaviours and memories of trauma are rekindled, this can create difficulties in the present. The following case study illustrates this. (I have changed any identifiable personal details for confidentiality purposes.)
Childhood Fears in the Present
The person in my therapy room was very afraid. Moira, an elegant, professional woman in her forties, happily married with three children, was curled up in her chair, weeping , trembling. The reason? She was contemplating meeting her abusive mother, whom she had not seen for some years.
Mother now lived in France, but she would see her at a wedding in London the following month. Moira wanted to attend and be strong enough to face her mother, but was terrified. Her fears were those of the child that she had been, revivified in the present.
An only child, she had been helpless and isolated with her powerfully undermining and narcissistic parent. She seemed now to have lost sight of her highly functioning, adult self.
Over the next few weeks, we gently focussed on her awful memories and how powerfully they were affecting her adult life.
What frightened her most was the prospect of becoming a fearful, tearful wreck, in front of others. It took a while for her to realise this terror was, in fact, a memory. With help, she could regain her adult composure and, most importantly, hold onto this strong part of herself and not slip into her child persona.
She began to understand that she could use the strength gained over the past years. She had achieved this though her extensive education, her loyal friends, years of psychotherapy, her supportive husband and being a mother.
It also became evident that the scenario she was envisaging had gone, that never again would she be a helpless child. Equally, her once strong mother was in reality older now, ill and frail.
“Fear of breakdown is the fear of a breakdown that has already been experienced”
She was generally comfortable and secure in her adult identity in daily life. She wanted to be able to face her mother, exchange greetings, no more. She could have chosen to ignore her, blank her, but she did not feel this was right for her.
Having focussed on staying in her adult self and on protecting the frightened child aspect, she did manage to enjoy the wedding and cope with the meeting with her mother with dignity and strength. She also saw how ‘weak’ her mother appeared.
“She seems to have shrunk and her voice is less strident,” she told me. I think her mother had shrunk, perhaps physically, but certainly in the way Moira saw her. And Moira had grown psychologically.
“We don’t see the world as it is, we see it as we are”
The confidence this gave her was enormous; she could overcome her childhood fears and recognise that the child she was would never be alone again. Time had passed, changes had occurred and Moira could now protect the damaged child that she was.
“To abandon the child ‘within’ means that the adult ‘without’ will be an adult in name only. And frankly, I can only name a handful of things that are that tragic.”
“She held herself until the sobs of the child inside subsided entirely. I love you, she told herself. It will all be okay.”
Once the adult feels secure in herself, then she can let her child aspects play and be liberated, enhancing her adult life :
“We nurture our creativity when we release our inner child. Let it run and roam free. It will take you on a brighter journey.”
Do you have anything to add? Have you had experiences of inner child work in therapy? Do share in the comments section below if you can. Thanks. Linda.