The Inner Child
by Diane Linsley
This is a subject that is dear to my heart, but difficult to put into
words. So I'm going to tell it as a story. Sometimes stories are
better than didactic lessons. And my Inner Child likes stories -
especially when she's the heroine :)
I have great compassion for my Inner Child. But it didn't start out
that way. When she first emerged from the dark basement of my unconscious, we didn't get along at all.
In the article, Spiritual Dreamwork, I describe a dream from early 2012 that portended the emergence of my Inner Child. Three weeks later, I was innocently working in my garden when I suddenly became aware of a voice inside of me that was yelling to get my attention. It said, "You never listen to me! You are the worst mother ever! You shut me away for 36 years!"
I stopped in my tracks. Then another voice came in and said, "Well, what do you expect? Who would want a child like you? Of course I had to get rid of you. You're more trouble than you're worth!"
Uh-oh. I had a problem.
Voice Dialogue and the Inner Child
My understanding of inner voices comes from the work of Drs. Hal and Sidra Stone. I've spent a lot of time doing Voice Dialogue with myself and teaching it to other people. Voice Dialogue is extremely effective at helping us understand the different aspects of our complex personalities.
The Inner Child is the one voice who never grows up - by definition. This is the voice who will always feel sad when bad things happen. She will whine about suffering, and she will want to be loved by everyone - even people who are not good for her. She will always want attention, play time and tasty treats. And she doesn't think rationally.
For several months before the emergence of my Inner Child, I'd been having recurring dreams about finding an abandoned baby inside a drawer in my closet. In the dream, I felt terribly guilty, and I wondered how I could have forgotten that I had a baby. The baby was laying there, half-dead from malnourishment, suffering in her dirty diaper.
I'd wake up from these very realistic dreams feeling terrible. I'd have to remind myself that I was a good mother to my children. So why was I having these dreams?
When my Inner Child spoke to me on that fateful day in the garden, I didn't know what to do. I had recently begun practicing Voice Dialogue, so I decided to adopt an attitude of curiosity and start a conversation. In the beginning, I was the referee between the voices of the angry Child and the equally frustrated Mother. I went back and forth between these two voices, allowing each of them to express themselves. But they didn't seem to be getting anywhere. I finally called a truce and told them that I would deal with them later. I had work to do.
Over the next few weeks, the battle continued. I kept thinking, "Oh, crap. Of all the children in the world, I had to get an angry one. Why couldn't I have a nice Inner Child?"
I didn't understand that my Inner Child was only angry because she was abandoned. And I was the one who had abandoned her 36 years before (when I was only a child myself) because I was forced by the circumstances in my family of origin to grow up.
I was the oldest of 8 kids, and I was what psychologists call parentalized at age 8. I was put in charge of raising my 7 younger siblings. My mom told me, "You don't need dolls anymore. You have real babies to take care of." So I gave away my toys to charity ("for the poor kids who needed them"), and I grew up. After that, there was no more fun - just work. Life was very serious.
Well, wouldn't you be angry if that happened to you?
Loving the Inner Child
So at age 44, I began the hard work of learning to love my Inner Child. All I could do in the beginning was listen to her yell. But underneath the anger was fear. She was desperately afraid that I would abandon her again and lock her away forever. Once she was reassured that I was listening, and that I had no intention of locking her away, she calmed down.
The first thing she wanted was to have fun again. So I let her accompany me in the garden. My regular gardening chores became more interesting. I felt like I had a little person tagging along with me. She always reminded me to stop and smell the roses. But not just smell them. She loved to touch the soft petals and talk to them. She loved pansies and tiny insects. She loved to lie in the grass and watch the clouds. She felt everything so keenly. Sometimes we would forget to work as we lost ourselves in the sensual beauty of the garden. Everything was so real. How had I failed to notice these things before?
My kids were in their late teens at this time, and they thought I'd lost my mind. They were busy trying to grow up, but sometimes I could convince them to play with me. One of my daughters had taken up Zumba dancing, and she gave me lessons. My Inner Child loves to dance! I never knew.
Then at age 46, I got divorced. Life got serious again, and a new aspect of my Inner Child emerged. As I went through a year of therapy, it seemed like the crying would never end. I literally had not cried in over 20 years. I'd been disconnected from my emotions because crying was not allowed in my family of origin or my marriage. Now I had a lifetime's worth of grieving to do. Fortunately, I had a life coach with a strong maternal side, and she helped me learn how to parent my sad Inner Child.
Another Revealing Dream
Two years later, I was in another miserable relationship, and I had the following dream:
I was standing in a dim room, and my ex-husband walked in with a 4-year-old girl. He left her in the corner and walked out without saying a word. The little girl was covered with dirt, and she looked like she hadn't had a bath in a very long time. Her hair was disheveled, and it was full of flower seeds.
At first, I felt repulsed by this grubby little urchin, and I didn't want to go near her. But then she spoke to me. She said, "Are you my mother?" I was startled, and I replied, "Yes, I guess I am." Then she asked, "Who is my father?"
I was stumped. As I looked more closely at her - the color of her eyes and hair (it was half blond and half brunette), I was even more mystified. She didn't look like anyone I knew. A vision of three men flashed through my mind - my ex-husband, my current boyfriend, and someone I didn't know yet.
Then I realized that it didn't matter who her father was. She was my child - my responsibility. So I took her in my arms and said, "You're my child, and I'm going to take care of you." Then I led her away to give her a bath.
I woke up startled from the dream. It was one of the most "real" dreams I've ever had. And it was very accurate. Several months later, I left that unhappy relationship just to end up in another one. The new relationship was with the third man in the dream. Fortunately, it only lasted for 2 months.
It didn't take long to figure out that none of those men were good for my Inner Child. If there was a purpose for them being in my life, it was to teach me that I alone am responsible for my Inner Child. Nobody can love her like I can. And it's not my job to fix those men - even though I have compassion for their severely damaged inner children. That was a big lesson in overcoming codependency.
Parenting the Inner Child
Well, story time is over. This is where the article gets didactic...maybe. My Inner Child is helping me write this article, and she says that you are smart enough to get the point without me preaching to you. But I would like to say a couple of things, very briefly.
First, consider how you think about children. The men in my life didn't like children. They treated my Inner Child with contempt - the same way they treated their own inner children. Compassion starts with how we treat ourselves.
Do you think of your Inner Child as a burden or a blessing? Mine was a real pain in the you-know-what. But once I learned how to take care of her, she became a great blessing. She taught me how to love my body, enjoy life, and make friends.
There are many aspects of the Inner Child. When it's neglected, it can become angry and undermine us. When it's sad, it challenges us to learn self-compassion. The vulnerable Child is our connection to the vulnerability in other people. When the Inner Child is happy, it's a source of endless joy and wonder. The Inner Child helps us develop the voice of the mature Parent. I learned how to love my Inner Child, as well as discipline her by putting her to bed on time and making her eat her vegetables (she prefers chocolate, of course). As a responsible Parent, I learned how to set boundaries, and I stopped allowing others to hurt my Child. I learned how to protect her from narcissistic abuse.
Self-Care and the Inner Child
The Inner Child helps me be aware of how I treat myself. Before she came into my life, I didn't realize how rough I was with myself. Now I'm very aware of the importance of self-care.
How do you brush your teeth, comb your hair, and dress yourself? Are you rough and impatient with yourself? Do you bang into things, slam cupboards, or stub your toe often? How do you touch yourself? Is it gently and lovingly? Do you even touch yourself at all?
If you've been unconsciously abusing or neglecting your Inner Child, now is the time to become aware. You can begin today to be the Parent that you always wished you had. The Inner Child is here - now. It lives in the Now. Ask it, "What do you need from me today?" And keep your promises. Believe me, you don't want an angry Child.
It can take a long time to regain your Inner Child's trust after a lifetime of self-abandonment. But your relationship with yourself is essential. It sets the pattern for all the relationships in your life.
This is serious spiritual work. But it doesn't have to be solemn. Enjoy your Inner Child :)
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