Working with your Inner Child
Working with your Inner Child
Many of our most deeply held beliefs about ourselves stem from the formative years of our childhood. Although there is some debate within developmental psychology about the age when our sense of self begins to form, the ages between 2 and 8 are generally thought to be particularly significant.
During this period our bodies and our nervous systems undergo dramatic transformation and growth as we gradually learn to develop some sense of our independence in the world. We begin to move away from the total dependency on our mothers to take care of our physical needs as we learn to feed, clothe and wash ourselves.
And yet that same sense of independence can also bring with it feelings of separation as that close physical contact and support from our parents becomes less frequent. As we start to grow further our parents return to full-time work and we are placed into the challenging environments of nursery and then school. For some children this process rapidly accelerates the growth of their personalities, others can find it difficult to thrive in a world where the parental affection that they are so used receiving slowly becomes less frequent.
It is at this stage when our emerging personalities are trying to make sense of the world and that our beliefs about identity…who we believe ourselves to be…start to crystallize. We start, in our minds, to develop our own logic…our unique way of seeing the world and our place in it. We begin to form an understanding of cause and effect, based on our experience….we learn the ‘family rules’ of good and bad behaviour…behaviour that results in reward and that which results in punishment. And we very quickly learn what we need to do to be a ‘good’ girl or boy.
Before long we link our behaviour and our identity together in our minds…’Mum shouts at me a lot, so I must be a naughty boy’,…’my Mum and Dad send me away to school so they no longer love me’, ‘ I’ve got a new toy to take to school…I must be a good girl’ etc. Of course, these are pretty crude examples, however, to the young and impressionable mind which is eager to learn they can assume great significance.
Perhaps the most frequent example of this that I encounter with clients is around food…particularly when food is withheld as punishment for unacceptable behaviour, or as a reward for good behaviour or even as an expression of affection or love.
These behaviours, because they have become part of our identity, continue to influence adult behaviour and can produce pronounced conflicts within the mind. The little boy rewarded with food can become the overweight adult desperately trying to lose weight but not understanding why he cannot stick to a weight loss regime. Until we come to terms with the underlying emotional drive behind the behaviour it remains very difficult to influence and change.
One therapeutic approach to take in dealing with these conflicts is to work with the Inner Child. This is the younger version of ourselves which is influencing our current selves by acting out the behaviour of its formative years. This may sound like nonsense to some ears, yet, if you have ever done this work, as a therapist or a client, you will know just how powerful an intervention this can be.
There are different approaches to Inner Child work so it’s helpful to do some research if you think this is something you want to explore. Personally, I use hypnosis to develop a deep state of relaxation first…this helps to access the subconscious mind more readily…and then be guided by the client’s experience.
There are different elements in the process and these may take place in a single session or be spread across several sessions. Some of the key activities include:
- Providing a safe environment in which the child can appear
- Allowing the child to approach in its own way
- Noticing the child’s age and appearance
- Offering support to the child
- Initiating a dialogue with the child
- Listening to the child’s needs
- Taking any actions on behalf of the child
- Offering unconditional love to the child
- Developing the relationship
It is usually helpful to guide the client through the first sessions to help provide support and reassurance if strong emotions surface. Frequently clients then go on to develop the relationship with the Inner Child themselves exploring its needs and taking any actions required on behalf of the child.
It is a fascinating approach to work with and a wonderful journey of discovery and reconciliation. If you wish to read further, there is a fascinating article here: Healing the Child Within – Mindful