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The Inner Child

Jump to the following topics:

  1. What is the inner child?
  2. The inner child influences us.
  3. Techniques for resolving the issues of the inner child.

What is the inner child? It can be defined in many ways:

  1. It is "who we were" at various stages of our childhood. As we grew into adulthood, this part of the psyche remained unchanged; the inner child is still the same "person" that we were.
  2. It is the assortment of elements which have remained in our archetypal fields since childhood. In all of our experiences, at any age, we leave a deposit of the elements (i.e., thoughts, images, energy tones, and habits) which we created during our encounters with archetypes. The inner child is not an archetype itself (and so it does not have an archetypal field of its own); instead, it is the elements which linger within various archetypal fields; for example, if we had a fear of water when we were a child, that fear lingers within the corresponding archetypal field. Because of the common association among these a-field elements, they are united across the various archetypal fields, creating a "constellation" (i.e., a group of related elements within, or between, archetypal fields) which we call the inner child. We have more than one inner child; at different ages, we had different attributes and experiences, and so we have different constellations of thoughts, images, energy tones, and habits. Each of these "inner children" has different qualities and needs, reflecting the changes and development which we were undergoing at that time.
  3. It is a subpersonality. In the theory of archetypal fields, a subpersonality is merely a personification of a constellation (which is somewhat analogous to a complex).
  4. It can be viewed as a part of a "family" in the psyche. For example, Eric Berne described three parts of the psyche -- the Parent, Adult, and Child. These constellations can be in conflict; for example, the "Parent" might insist that we work more hours in order to perfect a project, but the "Child" wants us to go home to relax.
    • The "Child" is the part of us which retains -- from our real childhood -- the childlike qualities of creativity, playfulness, and spontaneous feelings. (Berne's description of The Child is similar to other authors' descriptions of the inner child.)
    • The "Parent" is the part of us which dictates rules by which it wants us to live. Many of these rules are the same ones which our actual parents imposed on us during childhood. (The Parent resembles Freud's "superego".)
    • The "Adult" is the part of us which is the decision-maker, the problem-solver, and the mediator between the Parent and Child. (The Adult is similar to the ego.)

The inner child influences us. This is the same dynamic by which all a-field elements influence us: When we encounter an archetype, we generate thoughts, images, energy tones, and actions, to respond to that archetype. If we are guided by intuition, those elements are appropriate in dealing with the dynamics, and so they discharge all of their charge (and all that remains are a record of the elements, as a reference for our next encounter with that archetype); if we are not guided by intuition, the elements are not appropriate, and so they do not discharge all of their charge (and, thus, we have not only a record but also an unresolved charge which is the force that compels us to recreate the archetypal situation for the specific purpose of releasing that charge). By this process, the inner child strives to re-create our childhood environment -- but it cannot re-create that literal environment (with our parents, siblings, etc.), so it projects those roles (e.g., parents, etc.) onto the people in our adult life; for example, we might try to resolve an issue with our father by projecting "father" onto our boss, or we might try to resolve an issue with our mother by projecting "mother" onto our wife. The inner child's re-creations are not always for the purpose of resolving childhood issues; in some cases, it re-creates our childhood world simply because the re-creations grants familiarity, security, predictability, and hominess -- even though the predictability, for example, might mean that we re-create the unpleasant aspects of our childhood, e.g., a cruel woman (who is our wife, instead of our mother).

  1. The inner child influences our thoughts and perceptions and imagery. The inner child interprets our present world through the understanding that it had then -- an understanding which, unfortunately, was circumscribed by the limitations of its experience, power, and ego-development. The inner child adds its childhood viewpoints into our adult outlook -- particularly our ideas regarding relationships, love, and self-esteem.
  2. The inner child influences our emotions and other energy tones. For example, if we were hurt by excessive criticism by our parents, the inner child still fears the same type of criticism; in adulthood, this fear might be re-generated when we are confronted by an employer who is belittling, and so we overreact to the employer's abusive actions. When we resolve our childhood issues, we tend to acquire the naturally child-like qualities of the inner child: playfulness, enthusiasm, creativity, spontaneity, physical and emotional resilience, imagination, love of life, curiosity, innocence, humor, physical vitality, optimism, youthfulness and freshness, and the free expression of feelings and emotions.
  3. The inner child influences our actions. The discharged elements remain merely as habits and references; the charged elements remain as active forces which compel us to re-generate archetypal situations so that we can resolve the charge.

Techniques for resolving the issues of the inner child.

  1. Archetypal field-work.
    • Self-talk. For example: "I enjoy my childlike exuberance." "I love to play." "I appreciate my childhood experiences."
    • Directed imagination. We can visualize ourselves engaging in adult activities with the vigor and glee of a happy child. And we can visualize scenes from our childhood:
      • We can re-create pleasant scenes, to revive the qualities which we possessed then.
      • We can re-create unpleasant scenes, to "re-frame" them. Perhaps we can resolve those memories (and some of their charge) by explaining them to ourselves with the mature perspective which is now possible for us.
    • Energy toning. We can cultivate the tones which are characteristic of a happy child: playfulness, enthusiasm, humor, physical vitality, etc.
    • The "as if" principle. We can act as if we have the traits of a happy child. Adulthood allows us be childlike in many situations: games, sports, parties, joke-telling, etc.
  2. Intuition. Our intuition can guide us in the resolution of childhood issues as we re-encounter each archetypal situation. Intuition is our means of perceiving all of the dynamic factors in a circumstance; those factors include the unresolved charges from the archetypal encounters which occurred during our childhood.
  3. We can engage in activities which are associated with childhood (or with our childhood in particular). These activities will help us to reclaim our childlike traits, and they will also evoke issues which need to be resolved. The activities might include sports (e.g., soccer), games (e.g., jacks), hobbies (e.g., woodworking), foods (e.g., peanut-butter sandwiches), clothing (e.g., fuzzy sweaters), arts (e.g., crayons), emotional responses (e.g., pouting), objects (e.g., a teddy bear), etc.
  4. We can be "parents" to our inner child. It tries to project "father" and "mother" and "sibling" onto the people in our lives, but we can divert those projections onto own adult self, so that we can give to the inner child the attention it requires (and we avoid projecting onto other people). We are "re-parenting" ourselves, giving the child-we-were another opportunity to fulfill the developmental needs which our real parents failed to give to us; these unmet needs might include unconditional love, guidance from a wise adult, acknowledgment of the right to be who we really are, emotional support, freedom to grieve at our previous frustration and disappointment -- and a sense of trust, dignity, will, safety, and personal boundaries and limits. (Instead of playing the role of parent to the inner child, we might feel more comfortable in a different role, perhaps that of an insightful old teacher; I relate to my inner child as my younger brother rather than as my son.) In re-parenting, we also gain another benefit: we explore the mistakes which were made by our parents, so that we will not make those same mistakes with our inner child or with our actual children.

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