Inside all of us is an underdeveloped part referred to as the inner child. It can manifest in various forms. It can be the happy, carefree child who was left behind when dysfunction started or it can be sad or angry or disturbed child. However it manifests, it will affect the way we see the world and how we react to anything that triggers us. We will often find that when we react spontaneously to a trigger, it mirrors what we did as a child. It can be explosive, defensive, withdrawn or attacking. We never tend to lose the protection measures that dominated our childhood.
Of course, in reality, there is no child as such inside us. It is but a representation of pain and trauma or a longing for simpler, less stressful times. The inner child is a culmination of thoughts, feelings, coping strategies and experiences that have created our “core wound”. The very deep part of our psyche that gives us our “window of the world” and is our connection to childhood and our caregivers.
In many cases, and especially when trauma is deep, it is hard to imagine connecting with the trauma, let alone relive it. Many people would prefer to leave that trauma where it is, firmly in the past. This they do by blocking memories, consciously or sub-consciously and exiling the core (inner child). However, the core would is always triggered and will express itself in anger, depression and psychosis.
Many of my clients tell me they cannot remember anything after a certain childhood point. While this is often normal, many times it is because memories are painful and protectively these memories are blocked. In most cases though, the way parents treat a child is largely dependent on how they were treated as children. Even in cases where the parenting techniques are wrong, the same parental pattern goes on for generations until someone realises their mistake. But just knowing the problem is never enough. A solution and remedy has to be found and used. One way of doing this is by reparenting.
What is Reparenting?
Reparenting deals with three aspects of an individual. They are: Adult,Inner Child and Parent.The Adult is the individual, the Inner Child is the childhood stage at which the individual was wronged and the Parent is a therapist (or the individual) who gives the right response the child should have received. Thus, reparenting is nothing but going back to the stage in which the adult was wronged and satisfying or making peace with the inner child hidden inside by giving the response and fulfilling the needs that were required at that time by self counselling or therapy.
Reparenting the Inner Child
The feelings and beliefs that the inner child carries have two different causes. One is the inner critic attacks in the adult’s present life and the second is the things that happened in childhood, usually criticism from parents and care-givers. The pain that the critic causes in the present is bad enough but it also aggravates the inner child and makes that pain worse, ultimately strengthening the inner critic. To start the reparenting process, it is important to access and work with the inner child and treat it with empathy and compassion, feel its pain and witness the situations that caused it pain. Your inner child has been hidden for a long time, so you have to bear in mind that your inner child may not know how to express certain feelings. They may believe that they’re not allowed to express their feelings, or that their feelings are unimportant. They believe that they are unimportant and also believe the lies that they were told. All these things you have to keep in mind, and slowly encourage them to express the way they feel/think.
According to John Bradshaw, author of “Home Coming: Reclaiming and Championing Your Inner Child,” the process of healing your wounded inner child is one of grief. And it involves these seven steps (in Bradshaw’s words):
For your wounded inner child to come out of hiding, he must be able to trust that you will be there for him. Your inner child also needs a supportive, non-shaming ally to validate his abandonment, neglect, abuse, and enmeshment. Those are the first essential elements in original pain work.
If you’re still inclined to minimise and/or rationalise the ways in which you were shamed, ignored, or used to nurture your parents, you need now to accept the fact that these things truly wounded your soul. Your parents weren’t bad, they were just wounded kids themselves.
If this is all shocking to you, that’s great, because shock is the beginning of grief. After shock comes depression and then denial.
It’s okay to be angry, even if what was done to you was unintentional. In fact, you HAVE to be angry if you want to heal your wounded inner child. I don’t mean you need to scream and holler (although you might). It’s just okay to be mad about a dirty deal. I know [my parents] did the best that two wounded adult children could do. But I’m also aware that I was deeply wounded spiritually and that it has had life-damaging consequences for me. What that means is that I hold us all responsible to stop what we’re doing to ourselves and to others. I will not tolerate the outright dysfunction and abuse that dominated my family system.
After anger comes hurt and sadness. If we were victimised, we must grieve that betrayal. We must also grieve what might have been–our dreams and aspirations. We must grieve our unfulfilled developmental needs.
When we grieve for someone who has died, remorse is sometimes more relevant; for instance, perhaps we wish we had spent more time with the deceased person. But in grieving childhood abandonment, you must help your wounded inner child see that there was nothing he could have done differently. His pain is about what happened to him; it is not about him.
The deepest core feelings of grief are toxic shame and loneliness. We were shamed by [our parents’] abandoning us. We feel we are bad, as if we’re contaminated. And that shame leads to loneliness. Since our inner child feels flawed and defective, he has to cover up his true self with his adapted false self. He then comes to identify himself by his false self. His true self remains alone and isolated. Staying with this last layer of painful feelings is the hardest part of the grief process. “The only way out is through,” we say in therapy. It’s hard to stay at that level of shame and loneliness; but as we embrace these feelings, we come out the other side. We encounter the self that’s been in hiding. You see, because we hid it from others, we hid it from ourselves. In embracing our shame and loneliness, we begin to touch our truest self.