source: Essential Secrets of Psychotherapy - The Inner Child
Destructive behavior takes various forms: from subtle self-sabotage and self-defeating patterns to passive hostility to severe self-destructive symptoms, violent aggression and, sometimes, evil deeds. Commonly, destructive behavior in adults bears the impetuous, impulsive quality of childish petulance or narcissistic temper tantrums.
Or an infantile neediness, dependency, and dread of abandonment.
Or an irresponsibility and angry refusal to be an adult: the "Peter Pan syndrome," or what Jungians refer to as a puer or puella complex. The archetypal Jungian notion of the puer aeternus (male) or (female) puella aeterna — the eternal child — provides the basis for what has come in pop psychology and self-help movements to be known as the "inner child."
The fact is that the majority of so-called adults are not truly adults at all.
We all get older. Anyone, with a little luck, can do that. But, psychologically speaking, this is not adulthood. True adulthood hinges on acknowledging, accepting, and taking responsibility for loving and parenting one's own inner child. For most adults, this never happens.
Instead, their inner child has been denied, neglected, disparaged, abandoned or rejected. We are told by society to "grow up," putting childish things aside. To become adults, we've been taught that our inner child — representing our child-like capacity for innocence, wonder, awe, joy, sensitivity and playfulness — must be stifled, quarantined or even killed. The inner child comprises and potentiates these positive qualities. But it also holds our accumulated childhood hurts, traumas, fears and angers. "Grown-ups" are convinced they have successfully outgrown, jettisoned, and left this child — and its emotional baggage — long behind. But this is far from the truth.
In fact, these so-called grown-ups or adults are unwittingly being constantly influenced or covertly controlled by this unconscious inner child. For many, it is not an adult self directing their lives, but rather an emotionally wounded inner child inhabiting an adult body. A five-year-old running around in a forty-year-old frame. It is a hurt, angry, fearful little boy or girl calling the shots, making adult decisions. A boy or girl being sent out into the world to do a man's or woman's job. A five or ten-year old (or two of them!) trying to engage in grown-up relationships. Can a child have a mature relationship? A career? An independent life? Yet this is precisely what's happening with us all everyday to some degree or another.
And then we wonder why our relationships fall apart. Why we feel so anxious. Afraid. Insecure. Inferior. Small. Lost. Lonely.
But think about it: How else would any child feel having to fend for themselves in an apparently adult world? Without proper parental supervision, protection, structure or support?
If we can recognize this problem for what it is, we can begin dealing with it, by choosing to become psychological — not just chronological — adults. How is this accomplished?
First, one becomes conscious of his or her own inner child. Remaining unconscious is what empowers the dissociated inner child to take possession of the personality at times, to overpower the will of the adult.
Next, we learn to take our inner child seriously, and to consciously communicate with that little girl or boy within: to listen to how he or she feels and what he or she needs from us here and now. The often frustrated primal needs of that perennial inner child — for love, acceptance, protection, nurturance, understanding — remain the same today as when we were children. As pseudo-adults, we futilely attempt to force others into fulfilling these infantile needs for us. But this is doomed to failure. What we didn't sufficiently receive in the past from our parents as children must be confronted in the present, painful though it may be. The past traumas, sadness, disappointments and depression cannot be changed and must be accepted. Becoming an adult means swallowing this "bitter pill": that, unfortunately for most of us, certain infantile needs were, maliciously or not, unmet by our imperfect parents or caretakers. And they never will be, no matter how good or smart or attractive or spiritual or loving we become. Those days are over. What was done cannot be undone. We should not as adults now expect others to meet all of these unfulfilled childhood needs. They cannot. Authentic adulthood requires both accepting the painful past and the primary responsibility for taking care of that inner child's needs, for being a "good enough" parent to him or her now — and in the future.
At least in the sort of psychotherapy I practice, the adult part of the personality learns (and this, like much of therapy, is a learning process) to relate to the inner child exactly as a good parent relates to a flesh-and-blood child, providing discipline, limits, boundaries and structure. These are all — along with support, nurturance, and acceptance — indispensable elements of loving and living with any child, whether metaphorical or actual. By initiating and maintaining an ongoing dialogue between the two, a reconciliation between inner child and mature adult can be reached. A new, mutually beneficial, cooperative, symbiotic relationship can be created in which the sometimes conflicting needs of both the adult self and inner child can be creatively satisfied.
When we speak of listening with compassion, we usually think of listening to someone else. But we must also listen to the wounded child inside us. Sometimes the wounded child in us needs all our attention. That little child might emerge from the depths of your consciousness and ask for your attention. If you are mindful, you will hear his or her voice calling for help.
With practice, we can see that our wounded child is not only us. Our wounded child may represent several generations. Our mother may have suffered throughout her life. Our father may have suffered. Perhaps our parents weren’t able to look after the wounded child in themselves. So when we’re embracing the wounded child in us, we’re embracing all the wounded children of our past generations. This practice is not a practice for ourselves alone, but for numberless generations of ancestors and descendants.
Our ancestors may not have known how to care for their wounded child within, so they transmitted their wounded child to us. Our practice is to end this cycle. If we can heal our wounded child, we will not only liberate ourselves, but we will also help liberate whoever has hurt or abused us. The abuser may also have been the victim of abuse. There are people who have practiced with their inner child for a long time who have had a lessening of their suffering and have experienced transformation. Their relationships with their family and friends have become much easier.
The energy of mindfulness contains the energy of concentration as well as the energy of insight. Concentration helps us focus on just one thing. With concentration, the energy of looking becomes more powerful and insight is possible. Insight always has the power of liberating us. If mindfulness is there, and we know how to keep mindfulness alive, concentration will be there too. And if we know how to keep concentration alive, insight will also come. The energy of mindfulness enables us to look deeply and gain the insight we need so that transformation is possible.
Your parents may have been young, unprepared for parenthood, overwhelmed, insecure, stressed, depressed, anxious, unhappy, angry, unloved, or too burdened.
They may have been too strict, too permissive, too indulgent, overprotective, or dysfunctional.
They may have repeated their parents’ ineffectual style and may have even been disadvantaged as children as well.
Whatever their issues may have been, as their child you were the product of their misguided parenting.
The more mature and healthy parents are, the better able they are to undertake positive child-rearing practices. However, even the best parents are likely to make some mistakes in the upbringing of their children.
Children’s self-esteem is profoundly impacted by the attitudes, behaviors and treatments they receive from their parents. Children, who are discounted, unsupported, shamed, ignored, rebuffed, ridiculed, belittled or accused, may end up feeling shamed and unloved. These young people may also fail to attain an appropriate sense of self-worth, which is initially provided by parental inputs.
Each generation’s parenting norms also determine the treatments children receive. Some old beliefs labeled too much affection and love as risks in “spoiling” a child. Infants in some generations were fed only by schedule, not by hunger needs. Spanking was seen as a positive method of discipline and praise was considered harmful to children. Due to these attitudes many people, who are now adults, were deprived of the more solid, research-based practices of parenting that are now the standards for childcare.
These are three areas of common childhood deprivations that cause recurring difficulties throughout life: destructive messages, lack of parental support and absence of certain positive experiences.
Destructive messages about worth and performance are ways by which some parents knowingly or unknowingly inflict pain upon their children.
Here is a sample of these comments: “You are worthless like your father”. “You will never amount to anything”. “How can you be so stupid?” “Nobody can love a person like you”. “You can’t even do the simplest thing well”. “With your talents, you’ll be lucky if anyone ever hires you”. “You are a liar and can not be trusted”.
These and other horrific messages may haunt children into their adulthood. They may interfere with the adult children’s ability to live up to their potential unless they heal themselves from these recurring toxic hurdles.
If you suffer from these or similar pre-programmed defeating messages that interfere with your effective adult life:
• Imagine what you would say to a child who told you that he was exposed to these messages and asked your opinion about him.
• Recognize your abilities and recite them to yourself with pride.
• Encourage your spouse to highlight your positive characteristics and behaviors.
• If you are a parent, tell your children the opposite of what was said to you and also hear it about yourself.
Adults who recall the following experiences remember lacking parental support: “My parents never attended any of my games, award ceremonies, or even my graduation”. “I got straight A’s and my father never said a word of praise.” “I felt that no matter how hard I tried, I never seemed to please them.” “I was a star athlete and was reprimanded for not doing well enough, or making errors.”
If you experienced this as a child, it is imperative that you:
• Invite people to share with you your current milestones. Throw a party for yourself, have others celebrate with you.
• Marry a supportive, positive and admiring spouse.
• Surround yourself with good friends who value you.
• Ask for positive feedback when you accomplish a noteworthy task.
• Affirm yourself by saying; “I am very pleased with my efforts and success”.
Some people’s childhood lacked certain experiences about which they feel a loss. It may be about small issues like having been deprived of sweets in childhood, or toys, or the desired birthday gifts, or a party with a clown, or nice clothes. It may be about greater issues such as not having been read to, the absence of family vacations or not having a peaceful loving environment at home.
Whatever you may have lacked in childhood, recreate for yourself today:
• Read to yourself aloud or have your partner indulge you with this intimate activity.
• Buy and eat (in moderation) what you yearned for and missed in childhood.
• Throw yourself a birthday party.
• Treat yourself to fine items that make you feel nurtured.
• Take yourself and your family on a vacation to places you may have enjoyed as a child, frolic and have fun.
• Create the loving environment in your home that eluded you in your family of origin.
Though you can not recoup the losses of childhood fully, a close approximation of self-nurturing, self-respect, self-appreciation, fun and loving contact with your family today- can go a long way in re-parenting yourself and becoming a happier adult.