Healing the Inner Child: Breaking Patterns and Ending Cycles
I am not what happened to me. I am what I choose to become. ~ C.G. Jung
The inner child within us represents the unconscious parts of our psyche that carry the patterns and memories of childhood emotional experiences. With an unquenched need to be seen and heard unconditionally, the child develops mental coping strategies and patterns of behavior which serve as shields and safety nets, providing it with a sense of safety and stability when the world feels unsafe and unloving. In the life of the adult child, these patterns, programs and suppressed emotions are usually no longer relevant or supportive. In most cases, they create fear and limitation, bringing up challenges within relationships and inhibiting the adult child’s potential and growth through life.
A wounded inner child dwells within each of us; we may even have several inner children representing the different experiences that we have passed through in our lifetime. The inner child who needs the most attention in the process of healing is the one whose emotional and psychic development got stuck at any given stage of development due to trauma, neglect, or abandonment. When emotional development has been stunted, the adult child is left with unresolved issues that keep surfacing in many areas of the adult’s life until these issues become known, seen and resolved. How we read our self, the other - beginning with the parents imago- and the world, begins at birth. The connection that the child experiences with the other, or the lack thereof, provides the basis for the child’s reading of the world at large. Is the world a safe, reliable, protective place or is it hurtful, isolating and erratic? This phenomenological reading of such implicit messages may chart the course of one’s entire life. The child’s image of the parental dynamics triggers a discrete, historically generated energy that engulfs the ego (or sense of self) and alters one’s sense of reality. The parental complexes are usually the most influential because they define the original experience of relationship with the world and remain its chief operative. Given the subjective misreading of these primal relationships, the lens with which the child, and later the adult, views the world and his/her relationships within it is inherently distorted. Whichever way we look at the experienced traumas of life, it would not be over-simplistic to say that the origin of the wound can be traced back to a fundamental dynamic of “too much” or “too little” – an engulfing parental imago or an insufficient one. The adaptive persona (the image the child fabricates to the external world) is developed in response to an overwhelming or underwhelming environment that the child experiences. An overwhelmed child, for example, learns that he is powerless in this world and will continue to attract persons and situations in his life that reinforce his early perception of the world and his invoked beliefs. Later in life, one strategy that the overwhelmed adult child may utilize to unconsciously draw upon this idea of powerlessness is that of having power over others. But even the most powerful of professionals and leaders cannot escape the grip of the infantile powerlessness – for no matter how much ambition, drive and success are wielded, a gnawing sense of inadequacy, shrouded by grandiosity of achievement, still prevails. In a relationship dynamic, the powerless adult child will either be attracted to a partner who is controlling or to one who can be easily controlled. The underlying drive in such a relationship would be power rather than love.
Another defensive strategy for the powerless adult child may be the ever- appeasing, responsible and “sacrificing” personality. The drive in this case is the belief that “if I see to the needs of my partner, my partner will see to my needs.” This pattern continues in the adult’s life as a pattern of living for others, with an overwhelming sense of responsibility towards others, at the expense, of course, of repressing one’s own personal needs.
The undifferentiated child mind is limited in his discernment of how he relates to others in the earlier years of development. The child’s inner narrative persistently echoes, “What my mother or father manifest is my own doing, my own responsibility. I will learn to adapt to their needs so I may be seen and loved. I will suppress my real needs, instincts and likings so that they approve of me. My survival in this world is contingent upon their sustenance of my physical and emotional needs. Without my sole caregivers, my only lifeline to this world, I will not survive.” What the child does not know yet is that these thoughts and images are construed projections of the “primal objects” that the child experiences in the earlier years. The the child acquires the false self as an assemblage of behaviors and attitudes toward self and others whose purpose is the management of the existential angst experienced by the child. Sadly, this distorted and wounded vision of the self and the world is followed by many wrong choices in a lifetime, and subsequent reinforcing consequences. Whenever we transfer the authority of instinct and intuition to our external environment, often as a result of childhood vulnerability and dependence, we remain thereafter at its mercy.
The spiritual path requires that we lead the inner, wounded child onto the shores of safety and maturity. The purpose of the adult version of this child is to hold space for the lurking child to step out of hiding and to explore the world with a more expansive vision and the capacity to weather the storms without getting swept away by the high winds. In its positive aspect, the child self gives the adult access to creative and spontaneous energies and provides the link to the deeper wisdom of collective ancestry. The biggest gift we could give ourselves is the gift of healing our childhood wounds; this entails stepping outside the wound and recognizing that not only did we not get the life we coveted, but that other forces were at work within us, making choices, creating patterns, and serving our carried karmic destiny. Healing the wounded child in us can open us to the energies of the universal and transpersonal levels of the self. And for those of us who are parents to children, the biggest gift we can give them is to live our lives fully and authentically. By doing so, we allow our children to open up their imagination to all possibilities, and grant them permission to walk their own paths. Wherever we allow ourselves to get stuck, they will be stuck as well or will spend their life trying to overcompensate. The gift of living life fully not only enlarges our soul, but also frees up the generations behind us to live their own lives fully and authentically. In doing so, the freedom we seek from our parents will be granted to our children.
REFLECTION: Meditation for Healing the Inner Child
Sit or lie down in a comfortable position. Become aware of your breath. Take deep, slow inhalations, and slow, gentle exhalations. Guide your breath to all the areas that feel tense in your body. Bring the energy of your breath into these areas where the flow of energy is constricted. Inhale deeply and as you exhale, release the trapped energy and tension from these areas. Allow the breath to relax your muscles, and any tension you may be holding. Breathe in slowly and breathe out gently.
Now as you proceed with the next steps of connecting with your inner child, remember that if at any time this connection invokes any pain or discomfort, your breath can bring you into a state of calmness and stillness again. If any intense emotions surface, bring your attention back to your breath and visualize a violet light transmuting this emotion, bring your state of being back to calmness.
Now visualize yourself as a young child, standing in front of a screen projecting scenes of disharmonious events in your life. The scenes may project people or situations that bring out negative or disharmonious reactions or feelings. Ask to hear the voice of the inner child in relation to any scene of your choice. The child may be sad, angry, unhappy or scared. Be open to whatever you hear. Note the image of the child (age, clothes, place he/she is, facial expression, etc.) You may even feel the presence of this child in some part of your body. Tune into your inner child and let your adult ego be still, quiet, and observant. Connect with the objective and compassionate observer and bring your child into consciousness. Then, allow the child to express his or her thoughts and feelings about the chosen situation freely and openly. Experience these thoughts and feelings and allow yourself to accept all that comes, no matter how immature, painful or crazy these may seem to you. Stay as long as you need with each scene you choose, and fully feel the emotion that is evoked; the then feel the violet light clearing these energies. Remember that you are observing from a place where you can feel safe and secure.
Now bring your positive adult ego into dialogue with the inner child. Your adult ego is like the caring, loving and compassionate parent to the child. Make sure that the adult ego is listening intently to the words of the child. Bear no judgment to what is being said. Allow your inner child to express himself/herself freely so she/he may experience growth in this experience. Feel the closeness to the child and make sure that she/he feels your close presence. Keep the dialogue going until both the child and the adult have respect and love for each other. Let the child know that he/she is seen, heard and respected. Still focusing on the disharmonious event, invoke the positive Self in you and ask for its guidance, direction and blessing for the child. Listen for the messages passed on to the child and to the adult ego. Now visualize a violet light shining down and surrounding the child and the adult, slowly integrating the pain of the trauma/disharmony that was felt.
You have just taken the first step to heal your inner child. When you are ready, gently bring your awareness back to your physical body. Deepen your breath, and with the next inhalation stretch you body, coming back to waking consciousness.
Journal or draw this experience with our inner child.