Healing the inner child is a familiar therapeutic framework most people have read about, tried, done, or thought about. It provides a way to deal with childhood issues and we all have them.
Some people have monumental mountain ones, and some have miniscule molehill ones. But the size of the problem is irrelevant. Pain is pain. Even people who have idyllic flowers in the meadow next to bubbling brook childhoods of sweetness, laughter, love and light have some childhood issues because at some point what we decided was important, meaningful, must have or must do for the child we were, was thwarted in some way by someone or by something.
That unmet need, whatever it was, was shocking. The cocoon of safety, of ‘nice’ predictable expectation meeting outcomes like being liked, approved of, of value and esteemed, and the security of our tenure as what we thought we were, our developing identity as all those things, was brutalised in a way we couldn’t fathom.
It might have been a minor put-down, a derisive or sneering comment, a slap, a simple ‘not now!’ or a bewilderingly harsh ‘I wish you had never been born’, a ‘how could you be so stupid?’ or a ‘can’t you do anything right?’ or for some people a horrible abuse. Whatever it was, it was shocking…!! Literally. And shock becomes a physical emotional and psychological imprint and impacted by these shocks our need to defend against them is activated. This becomes even more important as we realise our inability to ‘control’ it recurring. So we devise strategies around how to deal with, alter, rearrange or manipulate the circumstance or person involved (among other things).
Another consequence of the shock and subsequent defence building that arises from that vulnerability, or feeling of the lack of safety, is fear.
Fear, specific or generalised, is so uncomfortable we try to not have it. Since that is pretty hard, we try just as hard to ignore it by pretending we are safe with our defences. They are our inadequate reassurance, in light of everything which continues to go awry since we can’t control for everything and everyone. Just to make it slightly more convoluted, we also have to remember that most of this happens without our deliberate or conscious awareness. Meaning that without remembering so, we have said to ourselves, ‘If I use this protective device or strategy, I won’t have this horrible feeling again.’ And sometimes it works, which reinforces our belief that we are safe, and sometimes it doesn’t, which frightens us even more, since this was its purpose, and now we’ve found it isn’t working. So why do we continue to use it? We have discovered through psychological experiments that intermittent positive reinforcement, or just getting the desired result sometimes, keeps a counter-productive behaviour going. And so we hang on to these defences even though they aren’t the most effective means of saving us from our fears, and actually, and often, hurt us.
The next question is what happens when we are consistently hurt? Easy. We avoid it and usually at all costs. But what happens if we are inconsistently hurt? Along with our sometimes working defences, we have to live with highly stressful ambiguity and ambivalence. It preoccupies us and we are always looking for a way to reconcile the impossible or to ‘not feel it’. This preoccupation uses up our energy to think and do and be productive and creative. We are consumed with ‘is this or are you, going to hurt me, or are you not?’ We don’t know whether to trust the person or not.
The situation we have devised is untenable. The person we don’t know whether we can trust to keep ourselves safe is the person who made these defences, which are supposed to keep us feeling safe but don’t, and whom we should be able to trust implicitly but can’t … our own self. We mistrust our self.
This, I discovered, was why, after therapy and inner child work, all of which helped in some way, I was still in a state of debilitating inconsistent fear. The adult grown up ‘parent me’ didn’t trust ‘me’ for obvious reasons… (but, to spell it out, because my ability to provide myself a fear-free care-free peace-filled, abundant and loving life hadn’t happened). So how in all seriousness could the ‘child me’ trust ‘me’? Would you?
I had done the anger, the shouting and the tears and the thrashing of major and minor pillow people (parents, teachers, relatives, friends), had cut etheric ties, changed neural pathways and patterns, and in spite of all the loving intentions, tenderness and reconciling assurances from ‘me’, and despite the child’s understanding, compassion and willingness to forgive, the bottom line was that I couldn’t meet my end of the deal or keep my promises, and that was patently obvious. The poor child still didn’t feel safe because the demonstration of my incapacity was self-evident.
The irony is that without the inner child and inner and outer parent wholeheartedly working together, nothing is going to, or ever can, work. This means that the process is sabotaged even though it is well intentioned.
So how then do I get the child to trust ‘me’ when I don’t trust me either?
Trust was the missing piece of the puzzle – but trust is tricky. The gaining of trust is entangled in the meaning of certitude. You can’t be partly certain. Likewise, trust is unquestioning and unquestionable. Our experience, though, shows us that nothing in this world can really be trusted. Yet it must exist because we ‘know’ it is missing.
If it isn’t out there in the world, it must be in here. But the inner child doesn’t have it and the inner parent doesn’t have it, and I don’t have it; so what part of us does have it? To find the certitude of trust we have to find the part of us which is the underlying principle from which it arises, and which I call God or Unconditional-Eternal-Love.
Paul and Fabian Foley are hypnotherapists and Pathways of Light® Ordained Ministerial Counsellors providing Healing Inner Child and other programs and counselling. Fabian has BA Psycholgy and MA Psychoanalytic Studies. Paul has worked in 12 Step counselling. They are based in Perth, WA.
Share this post