Nurturing the child within
People who know me will attest that I am anal about self care. I am a big believer in looking after myself and listening to the little voice within. To this end, my intention was to finish this blog yesterday but I had spent the last two weeks holed up in my apartment finishing assignments. When I submitted the last one at 1 pm I also had a stack of papers to mark which I just got through.
By the end of that, there was a part of me that was getting agitated and uneasy. I had intended to continue working for another two hours at least. But having worked with inner child for so long I knew I could not ignore that little voice. You see, my inner child is that part of me that needs balance. Its that part of me that says “Enough of work, I need to get out into the sunshine and stretch my legs”. If I don’t listen to it and push on, I find that I either get stuck, or the quality of the work I produce is compromised in some way.
I was introduced to the concept of inner child nearly 10 years ago in a workshop I was doing with Shanti Mission. I learnt about the little child that exists within that required my attention, love, and care. I learnt that my inner child was neglected and therefore furious with me. Our first encounter was not pretty. I was very hard on myself and my inner dialogue was harsh and critical and I was always putting myself down. This was learnt behaviour that I continued for most of my life. Up until that point, I had no idea that this was going on. That initial inner child process was the beginning of changing that negative relationship with myself.
Psychologist, Dr Stephen Diamond says: ”The inner child is real. Not literally. Nor physically, but figuratively, metaphorically real. It is like a psychological or phenomenological reality, and an extraordinarily powerful one at that. We were all once children, and still have that child dwelling within us, but most adults are quite unaware of this. And this lack of conscious relatedness to our own inner child is precisely where so many behavioral, emotional and relationship difficulties stem from.”
How this plays out in relationships is that most of us have unspoken contracts with our friends, families and romantic partners that say something like this, “I don’t approve of myself so the deal is, I will give you what you need emotionally and in return, you must shower me with loads of approval so I can feel good”. As I said, this is not a conscious agreement and the other person doesn’t really know what they have agreed to. While you are meeting my needs, the relationship works but over time because neither of us really knows what is going on the relationship begins to crumble. I begin to feel your disapproval and start to believe that you don’t like/love me anymore, so I either push you away or do something that makes you reject me. Then I go off and find someone new that I can remake this contract with. Though this explanation is simplistic, and we can edit the emotional needs, the experience and how it plays out is very similar in most cases.
Dr Diamond continues: “The fact is that the majority of so-called adults are not truly adults at all. True adulthood hinges on acknowledging, accepting, and taking responsibility for loving and parenting our own inner child. For most adults, this never happens. Instead, their inner child has been denied, neglected, disparaged, abandoned or rejected. We are told by society to ‘grow up’, putting childish things aside. To become adults, we’ve been taught that our inner child–representing our child-like capacity for innocence, wonder, awe, joy, sensitivity and playfulness must be stifled, quarantined or even killed. The inner child comprises and holds these positive qualities. But it also holds our accumulated childhood hurts, traumas, fears and angers. ‘Grown-ups’ are convinced they have successfully outgrown, jettisoned, and left this child and its emotional baggage long behind. But this is far from the truth.”
Famous personal development author Louise Hay says “It doesn’t matter how old you are, there is a little child within who needs love and acceptance. If you’re a woman, no matter how self-reliant you are, you have a little girl who’s very tender and needs help. If you’re a man, no matter how macho you are, you still have a little boy inside who craves warmth and affection”.
She continues: “As children, when something went wrong, we tended to believe that there was something wrong with us. Children develop the idea that if they could only do it right, then parents and caregivers would love them, and they wouldn’t punish them. In time, the child believes, 'there is something wrong with me. I’m not good enough.' As we grow older, we carry these false beliefs with us. We learn to reject ourselves.”
Louise Hay concludes by reminding us that as there is an inner child within us, there is also an inner parent who can be critical and judgemental. However, the good news is this that the inner parent can also be loving, caring and nurturing. It’s never too late to undo the negative experiences of the past and recreate the relationship between our inner child and inner parent/s to bring more peace and harmony into our lives.
Join me in my next workshop Self Care and the Inner Child. I will introduce you to your inner child, find out what her needs are -- and if necessary, evict the critical or negative inner parent and replace it with a loving and nurturing counterpart.