What is the Inner Child?
A bit of theory to get us started – sorry but bear with me!
As far back as the 1900s, Freud spoke of the Id, the Ego and the Super ego to describe elements of the personality. In the sixties, Eric Berne, who believed that psychology should be made accessible to all (Thank you Eric!) based the ideas of Transactional Analysis on Freud’s three ego states, renaming them Parent, Adult and Child. Berne put forward the idea that at any given time, every person in a social situation will exhibit a Parental, Adult or Child ego state and will regularly shift from one ego state to another. Briefly when you are in your parental state you are in the same state of mind as one of your parents. You are in your adult state when you are thinking and being reasonable and objective and you are in your child state when your reaction is the same as it was when you were a child – generally feeling and reacting. If you are to be a well- balanced person, Parent, Adult and Child each have an equal and legitimate part to play in our personality and must all work and live in harmony with each other.
Why do we need to work with the inner child in counselling?
I am sometimes asked by clients, ‘ Why can’t I just forget about my childhood? It’s painful and I’d rather forget about it. What good will raking up the past do?’
‘Behind the wall we erect to protect ourselves from the history of our childhood stands the neglected child we once were, the child that was once abandoned and betrayed. It waits for us to summon the courage to hear its voice. It wants to be protected and understood, and it wants us to free it from its isolation, loneliness and speechlessness.’
Alice Miller (1992)
To be an emotionally healthy person it is important that there are no memories that are sealed off, but that they are integrated into the whole person. It is very common to hear clients say that they try not to think about certain painful past events in their childhood. In reality the memories, however well sealed off, never actually go away. It is not possible to function as an emotionally healthy adult on the unsteady foundations of a childhood of fear and isolation where real needs were not met adequately.
Many of us put so much energy into trying to bury our unpleasant feelings that we become physically ill or suffer anxiety and depression. We may seek other ways of trying to hide from or mask our feelings such as burying ourselves in over working, the over use of alcohol, cigarettes, sex, food, the taking of recreational drugs and eating disorders (Anorexia, Bulimia or Binge Eating Disorder) Sadly, even prescribed tranquillisers or anti-depressant drugs, which have their place in the treatment of severe anxiety and depression, can be used as yet another attempt to hide from or block off painful childhood experiences and the unhelpful messages those experiences have left us with. Indeed the experience of depression could be seen as a useful alarm to make us stop, find out where our inner child is hurting and to find a way of taking care of and meeting her/his needs.
‘When an adult feels no joy in living that is a sure sign that the Inner Child is locked away. This is not to say that we must be happy all the time. But the Inner Child must be able to feel its feelings, whatever they are. To rob it of its feelings is to take away its life and its joy.’ (Capacchione, L. 1991)
Developing and having an immediate, personal relationship with the deepest part of oneself (the inner child) can be the deepest healing of all.
So. If I agree to some Inner Child counselling, what will I be letting myself in for?
Many of us live with a debilitating sense of deep emptiness (a form of depression at having lost one’s true self) which can be accompanied with anxiety but we can’t quite work our why or what to do to change how we feel. Your Inner child knows exactly why and what he/she needs.
The aim of our work together will be to help you to get in touch with and get to know your Inner child, to recognise his/her needs and vulnerabilities. The spirit of the Inner Child wants us to find and honour our true self, to become our own loving parent and to heal every area of our life. If we can learn to approach him/her with gentle kindness, we can learn to become our own accepting and nurturing parent, lessening our dependence on love and acceptance from others and helping us to become more emotionally robust.
I help you to work with your Inner child through guided visualisation, playing, drawing, and creative arts. Much of the writing and drawing will be done with your non-dominant hand as this is controlled by the right hemisphere of your brain – the area concerned with intuitive and emotional perception and creativity. This can be a powerful way of awakening your inner child and helping him/her to make the adult aware of his/her emotional needs.
A word of warning about Inner Child counselling
Working with the inner child in counselling involves working with the very core of yourself and should not be undertaken lightly. It will involve commitment from you and sometimes people feel worse before they start to feel better. I would not embark on this work with you until I have got to know you well and you feel confident that we have a relationship of trust and I am sure you can assess the support you may need between sessions.