Inner Child Therapy: How We Become What We Are

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Consider the following situation. Paula, as a five year old, enjoyed being outside with her friends, male and female, playing with a ball, riding her bike and generally enjoying the outdoors. Her mother thought this was not how a young girl should be and kept her away from her friends and arranged play days with more “suitable” children. Paula learnt to suppress the adventurous part of her personality and promote the parts more acceptable to her mother. She did this because she thought she would be loved if she complied. As she grew older, she started to resent her female peers who were tough and adventurous. Sometimes, these girls would bully and harass her because she wasn’t like them and didnt belong to their group. She was too quiet and compliant and she felt down because she didnt know how to react. She envied them and wished she could have their adventurous spirit.

To understand fully the situation described above, it is essential to realise that we are all made up of various parts that form an internal family of thinking that basically develops from the environment we grew up in and interaction with our caregivers. We could have a part that loves or wants love, hates, is angry or sad, is happy, rebels, conforms, controls, is deceptive or truthful, is feminine or masculine, is a critic or an avoider or is an adult and a child. Each of these parts have different agendas, hopes and dreams and they compete in our mind to become the dominant force in our thinking. They are often in conflict with each other but we can often sort out this conflict in our mind fairly easily. For example, the adult part says that you need to delay a purchase for a month due to lack of finance where the avoidance part says go ahead you deserve it. It is easy to make a choice for one or the other and face the consequences.

A more difficult problem occurs when we find a part of us unacceptable due to the way we see ourselves or the situation we find ourselves in. Sometimes, significant others drive this issue and we feel a part should be subdued. Take for example a part that needs to be loved that was neglected in childhood. As this part could not have its needs met, it was split from the other parts and exiled. There is then a reluctance to show this part to anyone for fear of how it might be handled. Strangely, we often attract the type of people who mirror these exiled parts. If we split of the part that likes to be in control, we often attract people who like to manage and control. Split off the ‘ I need to be loved’ part, we often attract people who are needy and codependent.

The more we cut off and exile these parts, the further away they are from our awareness but they will always be part of our psyche. When we see them in other people, they often become the enemy and we are in constant conflict with them. This is very often played out in relationships and the workplace where conflicts lead to moving on and escaping the pain. Projection happens when we recognise our exiled parts in others but not in ourselves leading to a situation where we often cannot distinguish between our internal and external world and often act out in the exact way that led us to exile those parts in the first place. The more we push away the split- off exiled parts from our awareness, the stronger they tend to come. This is often complicated by issues such as codependency where an external reference is normal , meaning that a codependent will often react strongly when they feel abandoned or rejected. They will act out with their exile parts dominant when this happens.

The Adult Self

The formation and strengthening of an adult self will bring logic and reasoning to situations where parts and exiled parts are reacting to triggers. The adult Self stays in the present moment and is not affected by past experiences. It can connect with and parent exiled parts and parts that are already in the conscious mind. It can bring awareness so that we can see that the exiled parts might also serve a positive role. Anger for example, could tell us that healthy boundaries might be needed in our lives. Awareness might also bring deeply exiled parts into the light. In therapy, this might be assessed through an analysis of reactions, thoughts and dreams. In time, one must learn to love and forgive the exiles as a step towards loving ourselves.

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Dr. Nicholas Jenner, a therapist, coach, and speaker, has over 20 years of experience in the field of therapy and coaching. His specialty lies in treating codependency, a condition that is often characterized by a compulsive dependence on a partner, friend, or family member for emotional or psychological sustenance. Dr. Jenner's approach to treating codependency involves using Internal Family Systems (IFS) therapy, a treatment method that has gained widespread popularity in recent years. He identifies the underlying causes of codependent behavior by exploring his patients' internal "parts," or their different emotional states, to develop strategies to break free from it. Dr. Jenner has authored numerous works on the topic and offers online therapy services to assist individuals in developing healthy relationships and achieving emotional independence.

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This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. “we are all made up of various parts that form an internal family of thinking that basically develops from the environment we grew up in and interaction with our…. caregivers.”


    Hmmm. Who named them this?

    I don’t remember those.

    I remember…. paingivers.

    1. Some are that, some are worse and some are evil. Generally, parents care for their children as best they can and give care as best they can. However, there are some parents who consciously wreck a child’s life.