It is important to preface this section by stating that it is my true belief that who we are as adults today has a great deal to do with how we were raised and brought up. I believe that our past experiences greatly shape our personalities and that the way we behave today as an adult is due in part to do how we were reared. It is equally important to preface this section by stating that discussing past experiences does not have to do with blaming anyone; my clients sometimes feel guilt that they are talking about their parents and that they may be placing blame on them for who they are today. This is not the intent of inner child work or discussing past experiences. In fact, by doing so, one may adopt the victim role, which is also inappropriate.
Keep in mind that there are a great deal of counselors and therapists who do not subscribe to this theory; some for instance believe that by changing one's behaviors or thought patterns, the individual feels better and his/her symptoms (whatever they may be) will dissipate. These counselors give little credence to past experiences and in fact sometimes do not even discuss them in session. It is important to note that there are many avenues to achieving the goals of the individual in counseling and that no one way is superior to the other. In fact, not all of my clients buy into this theory and desire to approach their problems from a different angle.
So what exactly is this concept of inner child that therapists use. Probably the simplest explanation is that we all have a dichotomy inside of us. The first is the adult side of us who is logical, rational, confident and objective. The adult in us thinks before he/she does anything. Prior to saying or doing anything, the adult thinks about the consequences of his/her behaviors and then decides if they want to engage in that behavior (verbal or non-verbal). We can practically do anything (within reason, of course) if we were to use our heads and thought about the situation before we engaged in the task or behavior. The confidence one has in himself/herself comes from the adult state because the individual's way of thinking about himself/herself is positive. Furthermore, the adult tends to be accepting, non-judgmental and non-critical of themselves and others. A sense of calmness and inner peace can be achieved when one operates from the adult state because of the confidence and objectivity that is used.
The adult also tends to operate from a reality mode; in other words, the adult looks at what is reality and nothing else. Reality can tell a lot about the individual. Often times, I hear my clients talk about how they do not feel good as mothers, husbands, sons or daughters..... But when they look at reality, they realize that their beliefs in themselves are not reality based and strictly are perception based. They are taking their perceptions that they are bad or bad at what they do and make it into reality. Unfortunately, the perceptions that they have created are misperceptions and not at all true. They have therefore made those misperceptions into their reality. Thus, by looking at reality and operating from an adult mode can provide considerable relief to the individual.
The other side of the dichotomy is the emotional part that operates from what one feels. This part is the child within us. Growing up, we were taught certain values and beliefs by our environment (whether it was our parents, teachers, friends or others who taught us those values). The values that were taught to us will carry over into our adult life if one chooses not to challenge those values. These values do not necessarily have to be unhealthy ones. Growing up could have been a healthy experience and therefore the emotional part of that certain individual would be solid, healthy and appropriately functional. Unfortunately, most of the people seen in my office have experienced past experiences that have been unhealthy. This does not necessarily mean an abusive past. There is no question that an individual growing up in an environment where there was emotional, physical, or sexual abuse will have some traits that will carry into adulthood (i.e. do not ever talk about one's feelings, have walls around them so they do not feel vulnerable). Subtle experiences as a child also affect the emotional part to us. For instance, our parents may have had unrealistic expectations of us, or we were praised only when we did perform (not in a drama way) for them. These beliefs then get translated into adulthood and we start treating the world and the people we know as adults the same way we did when we were children. In other words, our reactions to the adult world as an adult is very similar to the way we behaved as a child in that child environment.
Reactions are also part of the inner child in us. As stated above, if we were to use our heads and think in a situation, more likely than not, the outcome would be positive. Reactions can often times get us in trouble because there is no thought behind the behavior. The outcome could end up negative. We engage in a behavior or say something without thinking about it strictly because we are being reactive to a situation. In real life, one can observe a child and recognize that they are indeed quite reactionary. If a parent was to take a toy from their child, the child will react without any thought. Temper tantrums that are seen in children can also be observed in adults when they do not think about the situation.
I often times hear that there is nothing we can do about our childhood issues and therefore bringing up the past will do no good whatsoever. It is agreed that the past can not be changed. Yet, I believe that by accessing the inner child (with the help of a trained professional), one can start nurturing and loving the child within and help that child grow up in an environment that is filled with love and unconditional acceptance. This is not done through hypnosis as one may think. In fact, I have not been an advocate of hypnosis. But rather, one can access the unconscious mind by not censuring the thoughts and allowing thoughts and feelings to flow without interruptions. This can be done through free association or other methods that are used by the therapist. The process is somewhat complicated to be discussed in this capacity but once the emotional part is cared for, the results can be astounding. A newly found sense of confidence and self-assuredness can arise in the individual. Furthermore, one will rely on himself/herself to cope with stressors of everyday life and not seek the approval and acceptance of others. In essence, it is the relationship that is created between the child and the adult that can help the child feel more confident in himself/herself and therefore the behaviors that are displayed are different than when there was no relationship between the two.
In sum, by taking care of the inner child through the relationship
that is created between the adult and the child, one is truly taking care
of himself/herself and providing the love that was missing from that child's
environment when they were growing up. Loving, unconditionally accepting,
and nurturing oneself can prove to have significant positive effects.