The following is an abridged and edited version of Chapter 5 on the Inner Child from Debbie’s book.
Have you ever thought you really wanted to do something, yet as hard as you tried your body just felt frozen and nothing you did made a difference? It could be that you were experiencing a debate between an Intellectual Character, such as Mr. Together, telling you something like, Today’s the day to ask your boss for a raise, and an Emotional Character, such as The Victim, having the final word of, I’m afraid he’ll turn me down.
In our society we tend to define most things as being either good or bad, black or white, right or wrong, which, within ourselves, creates a prominent partition between the mind and body. People with medical issues are sent to specialists who divide you into your component parts and see you as an arm or a lung or an ear, depending on their field of expertise. If none of them can help you, they may even dismiss you by telling you it’s “all in your head”. Of course, what they mean by that is that you should change your mind so you won’t hurt anymore. It seems to be a more logical answer to them than the idea of looking at you as a whole body/mind continuum.
In our polarized and dualistic world, the mind is seen as superior to the body. Admonitions such as, “Be rational” and “Don’t be so emotional” abound. Being logical is considered a more acceptable way of solving a problem than by intuition or gut feelings. It’s no wonder we’re trained to spend most of our time in our heads, often completely cut off from the signals our body might be giving us. We’re content with the advice we receive within from our intellectual Sub-personalities such as The Skeptic/Scientist, The Preacher and The Judge to the questions we have in our life. Yet the real truth is that the emotional ones actually tend to rule us on a much more hidden and subconscious level, even going so far as to give us pains and illnesses for which no cause can be found.
In Search of The Inner Child
One way we dichotomize is by declaring a clear split between being a child and being an adult. But is there really such a well-defined division? I suggest that we imagine a continuum rather than drawing such a solid line, where we can keep a foot in both worlds and travel seamlessly between them. Even as much as we adore children and rush to defend their innocence, we obviously prize being “grown up” over being “little,” and kids are first in line to vie for that privilege. It is not until retirement that we afford citizens the right to enjoy a “second childhood.”
Why are we collectively in such a rush to walk away from childhood for the rewards of adulthood? Most of us are unwilling to be seen acting silly or childish, yet how many wish we could go back to enjoy the freedom and carefree days of our youth again? If you are on a soul-searching mission for your life’s purpose, the things you liked to do as a kid are always a big clue. Doesn’t it make sense that the true nature of your heart’s desire was present in you as a child? If you’ve ever felt that the adult world is a bit drab and stilted and wanted to be able to go back to that childlike world of whimsy and fantasy you enjoyed when you were young, a connection with your Inner Child is the key.
If you asked any parent of a youngster what they would do in order to protect their child, they would probably tell you they would do anything including giving up their own life to save that of their child’s. An equally valiant effort would be put forth to protect a cherished possession of monetary or nostalgic value. Therefore, why are people so unconcerned about the welfare of their own Inner Child? Does the value of life go down as we grow up?
Hearing The Inner Child
Children are constantly admonished to “grow up!” and “don’t be such a baby,” or to “shut up and just listen.” It doesn’t surprise me, but it still disturbs me, when I have male clients who go back to incidents as children when they were told not to cry. One man, who was fighting an addiction to painkillers, had grown up in England, and went back into the humiliation he felt at his boarding school where he was made fun of for crying when he was only six years old and lost a karate match. Even worse was a case I had when a client’s father had punished him and called him “a baby” for soiling his diapers which he was wearing because he was a baby!
When will we have a world that truly honors the wisdom that comes “out of the mouths of babes”? To do that we need to understand the way children communicate. For instance, in my work with adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse, I continually hear the Inner Child as having given very clear clues to the adults who could have stepped in to help. However, it was never by saying per se that someone was doing something to them. The way they told was in statements such as, I don’t like visiting Grandpa anymore. Do you have to leave me with him? I don’t want to sleep in that room. I’m scared to go to sleep. Am I going to die tonight?
Sometimes the way a child tells is not with words at all. Often the symptoms of the body are speaking for them instead. Obviously, with children who are being sexually abused, the tell-tale signs can come in the form of bladder or vaginal infections which are normally very rare in small children. There may even be a marked decrease in the amount of talking a child does, because of the secretive nature of the act. The child may begin to cover his or her mouth or make contortions with their lips as if they are being “buttoned up.” In other words, the “telling” is being done through a child’s silence.
It is not only abused children who develop symptoms to let their bodies speak for them. When I was nine years old, my body started talking to me in a painful way in the form of excruciating stomachaches. After many barrages of tests over a ten-year period, which began in sixth grade, I was given a nebulous diagnosis of pre-ulcer and spasmodic colon (now known as Irritable Bowel Syndrome or IBS). It wasn’t until I began working on my issues in my thirties that I realized my Inner Child was speaking to me in a way I had not been able to hear.
I learned that my stomachaches were a response to the emotional repression caused by my desire to fit into my parents’ and society’s expectations of me in the 1960’s. I was so eager to please, it was as if I was trying to squeeze myself into a smaller space than my soul required, and had to hold my breath most of the time to do it. Later in therapy I learned to breathe all of my “Debbie-ness” right into my solar plexus where I used to be riddled with pain, letting Little Debbie know I loved her just the way she was.
The first relief from the gnawing pain, which allowed me to stop carrying anti-spasmodic medicine constantly, was when I started meditating in college. Interestingly, Deepak Chopra says that no drugs including anti-spasm drugs, opiates, anti-depressants, tranquilizers or bulk-forming agents have been found effective with healing IBS, which has no structural cause. Yet mind/body approaches and relaxation techniques, such as hypnotherapy, have had a near 100% success rate at reducing the classical symptoms. (From Deepak Chopra, M.D.’s manual: Training in Mind Body Medicine and Ayurveda by the Sharp Institute for Human Potential.)
Some of you may still be wondering why you should care whether or not you ever get in touch with your Inner Child, if such a thing exists? This is my answer. Think of all the beautiful, wonderful things about children. The list of their positive qualities might include being fun, intuitive, playful, happy, spontaneous, innocent, loving, curious, creative and authentic. Now think about the things about kids that might drive you a little crazy. Their negative traits might include being spoiled, bratty, loud, dependent, ungrateful, demanding, selfish, messy, mean and needy.
Now think of adults you know. Do any still have those negative traits of children? Those are people who have not developed a healthy relationship with their Inner Child. In fact, the truth is that for many of them, their bodies may be fully grown, but their emotional maturity may never have gone beyond that of being big kids disguised in adult bodies. They’ve simply sprouted into spoiled, bratty, loud, dependent, ungrateful, demanding, selfish, messy, mean and needy adults.
The Magical Child
Conversely, when people consciously embrace and nurture their own Inner Child they can mature gracefully into fun, intuitive, playful, happy, spontaneous, innocent, loving, curious, creative and authentic adults. By working through the physical and emotional pain that numbs us from enjoying the vibrancy of life, we are able to emerge healed and whole. In Alchemical Hypnotherapy we do this through the technique of Running and Changing our past incidents that have festered and created emotional complexes in our psyches.
Here’s an example of a simple “run and change” I did with a woman I’ll call Anna who came to me feeling unhappy inside. She used words like “awful, unpleasant, inadequate, weak and undeserving” to describe herself and the lack of joy in her life. To get to the root of Anna’s emotional complex we used the strategy of going back to the first time she felt that all her joy had been taken away.
During the session her subconscious mind immediately went to the memory of a time when Anna was little and her parents woke her up to drive to the mountains in the middle of the night in order to see snow and make snowmen. The only problem was when they got there the snow had melted and she felt that her parents had lied to her. To make matters worse, in her child’s mind she actually believed the snowmen were dead. Anna had no idea that incident had devastated her Inner Child so much.
To make her feel better, her father’s answer had been to tell her to look up at the stars and see the angels in the sky. In an amazing turn of events, during the session the angels told little Anna that the snowmen went up to be with them, and then, when it snowed, they went back down to be snowmen again. This delighted her child so much that we Changed the Incident by having Little Anna imagine playing with what she was now calling the “snow angels” and she said there were even little ones she called “snow children.” Anna came back from that session feeling renewed and ready to embrace life with joy again.
The way this works scientifically can best be understood through the exciting field of Quantum Physics. According to its research the way we experience the physical body is a direct result of all the concepts, ideas and beliefs we have held about it up to the present time. It sees the body as a river of energy and intelligence and says us that every experience we have lives in every cell of our body. Therefore changing our perceptions changes the physical constitution of the body!
I once had a chance to see that truth in action when I was a child away at a YMCA summer camp. One night after dinner a camper at my table remarked how much she enjoyed dinner. Another girl at the table said, “I’m surprised. I thought you were kosher and didn’t eat pork.” Upon hearing those words, the same girl who had just finished telling us how much she liked the food, turned around and vomited. It obviously was the word “pork” and its association to her mind/body, and not the food itself, that resulted in that extreme physical reaction.
Through therapeutic emotional clearing processes, such as those we use in Alchemy, we literally make our cells new again. It occurs by peeling off the layers of protection we wear in order to go on with our lives, and letting go of old worn out assumptions we’ve made about the world around us. Getting in touch with our Inner Child gives us the ability to perceive anew in our adult body, through the eyes of a child. When we reach this state of clarity with our past we can begin to live fully in the present, and we can call this healed child who accompanies us now, our Magical Child.
One woman named Susan, who has done years of traditional therapy and Alchemy to work through many painful childhood issues puts it this way: If you really embrace that child, it will spring forth in you as a garden from which you can harvest happiness, joy and treasures that you would never expect. Carrying that child with you in your heart is a gift you can give yourself. To accept that child will keep you young at heart, because you can see with the eyes of a child. You can be happy when you see leaves change and snow fall, or see a thunderbolt, even though your adult self may be tainted, having seen them so many times before. It’s just like the reflection of that magical world we see when we look into the eyes of an infant.
The Adapted Child
So many people miss the wisdom they could receive from their Inner Child because just as people tend to ignore the ramblings of children, they similarly dismiss the messages coming from their Inner Child. They either have no clue that one exists or they don’t realize the gifts it could bring once they would tune in. Keisha came to me because she felt completely blocked from being able to take her real estate brokers license exam. She had even tried to trick herself by paying for it first, but she still could not get herself to study and actually lost her money instead of showing up for the test, due to her emotional shutdown over it.
When I began to dialogue with her parts in a session, her Ms. Independent was the one who was determined to pass it, to prove that she could do anything, like she always had to, growing up with five brothers. The fact that Keisha was simultaneously pursuing careers in three different fields and starting a non-profit foundation to help support cancer patients didn’t faze Ms. Independent. After all, she had told me her father never slept and never let the children rest. If he saw them doing nothing, he made their mother give them a chore to do. During the session Keisha saw that she was being just like her father and heard the inner guidance that to counteract that tendency, she needed to play more.
Even though her father had been dead for years (which is no obstacle for communication to take place on the inner plane), Keisha found him more than eager to have a chance to give her some post mortem fatherly advice. In her mind she heard her dad give her Inner Child a very clear message for Keisha to “go have fun!” He even apologized for giving her the message that became an ingrained belief system that it was irresponsible to rest.
That opened up a chance to dialogue with her child who began listing all the ways she knew how to play and have lots of fun. Then little Keisha told her that after playing they would be able to concentrate on studying. She actually gave her advice in a way only a child can by advising her to wear pink the day she goes to take her exam and to, “Give a little love to the test. Stop thinking of it like the big, bad grizzly bear.”
This is an example of how children intuitively learn what pleases their parents and what displeases them and how they learn to adapt. It is simply an instinctive matter of survival that kicks in at an unconscious level, just as surely as it would if we were drowning and fighting to breathe. By becoming conscious of these behaviors we can change them to become the person we want to be, rather than the one we needed to be in order to fit in growing up.
The Wounded Child
Metaphorically speaking, David Quigley, the creator of Alchemical Hypnotherapy, claims that there is a Wounded Inner Child present inside us for every developmental stage of our life that we did not get a chance to finish up during childhood. Those unhealed places inside are responsible for the fact that we have so many adults walking around acting like big spoiled children. It is as tempting to simply, “Say no” to that behavior, as it would be to say it to a pesky child who’s trying to get our attention.
However, we know that ignoring kids tends to induce even louder and more aggravated attempts to get us to listen. Similarly, the longer we put off listening to our wounded Inner Child, the more he and she will act out. That is why the “Just Say No” to drugs, alcohol or sex approach cannot be successful in and of itself, without addressing the underlying causes of the behaviors. By remaining oblivious we are actually hurting ourselves, by not seeing our inappropriate conduct as a symptom of deeper issues begging to be addressed.
Most people choose the path of least resistance and never decide to delve within to see what is there. Just as with a leaky faucet, or any other problem we choose to ignore, it does not go away. Instead, the human organism has myriad ways to spring a leak. Apart from addictive behaviors, it can manifest internally in psychological ways such as depression, anxiety, and even dementia, or physically as ulcers, tumors, allergies, cancer, migraines, chronic pain or degenerative diseases.
Many relaxation techniques such as bio-feedback, meditation, deep breathing and yoga have already been scientifically proven to be helpful for many of these symptoms. The approach utilized in Alchemy is to get to the root of the problem through a process of dialoguing with the Inner Child and asking what is wrong. Perhaps this journal entry a woman made which recounts and analyzes a dream she had will illustrate how the subconscious mind actually sees the Inner Child as a living, breathing entity inside us, and urges us toward reconciliation with ours.
I travel a long way, and then on the street I meet a child. It’s a girl. She appears as a stuck-up little snob. She’s answering back and she’s not behaving very nice. I am telling her off for being such a naughty, spoiled little brat, and somehow, instead of answering me back, she appears to be on the edge of tears, saying, “Just wait ’til my dad comes. He’ll tell you off for shouting at me.”
Then I feel sorry for her and say, “Let’s go to bed and sleep and be good girls,” and as we lay down I feel calm and I notice that there’s no little girl around; that it’s always been only me, my scared to death inner child, frightened by life, by being alone, by possibilities that something could go wrong. And I was shouting at her and have been so sharp to that poor little bird inside me!
All of a sudden, the grown-up me, finds myself at some familiar place. There are some marble pillars around and a fountain. In the fountain there’s a small half-broken wooden toy, the hedgehog, my toy from childhood, that now, after all these years looks more like a shabby brush for cleaning wooden floors. I am touched and delighted to see it, and somewhere from the background I can hear music. It’s a song, long forgotten, that I loved as a child.
I feel tears on my cheeks. I am stretching my arms toward the hedgehog, trying to get a hold of it, but it all disappears. I awake sobbing and cry loudly without any shame. I cry for my inner child I treated so harshly, not having understood that its naughtiness was just an answer to the enormous fear of being left alone.
That is an excellent and clear example of the healing that can take place through an understanding of how what happened to us long ago can still be so real and present in our lives. Reconciliation and transformation are possible in an instant once people choose to truly remember and make peace with their past.
Inner Voice Integration
We’ve learned that we grew up and survived childhood as best we could by adapting into various Sub-personalities, who could each be seen as an Adapted Child. [They’re all explored in depth in each chapter of Talking To My Selves: Learning to Love the Voices in Your Head.] The constellation of these adapted traits forms our adult personality. The goal of getting in touch with the voices of our Sub-Personalities, including our Inner Child, is to allow them to become integrated into a unified body/mind/spirit. From this sense of deep inner connectedness, we can expand that into a feeling of oneness with everyone and everything around us.
Lost in the crowd of our inner personas is the pain of our Wounded Inner Child, who must make its presence known in other ways. There has been so much research annotating the physiological impact of the mind/body connection that you could say they are one and the same system—sometimes called the bodymind. The powerful fabric that holds it all together is love. We have the power to seek out and listen to each part of us and begin the process of accepting, embracing, and loving ourself (and our selves) unconditionally.
The first step to achieve “Inner Voice Integration” with the many aspects of our Adapted Child is to heal the traumas of our Wounded Child through the techniques of Alchemy. He or she will otherwise stew inside of us, unloved and unheard, and can cause toxic symptoms in our body, mind, spirit or emotions. The resulting connection with our Magical Child will inspire us to new heights of creativity and joy because we are finally listening to what our heart truly desires.