Years ago, when the ACA– Adult Children of Alcoholics– movement was in full swing, a number of people “in recovery” for various things made an effort to get to know their “inner child.” The paradigm of inner child, critical parent, loving parent had already been postulated by Transactional Analysis therapy and other schools of psychology. The idea of an inner child has been helpful to me at various points along the crooked journey of recovery from alcoholism and trauma. It is a convenient way to look at my immaturity in various areas.
At one point I bought the idea that my inner child needed to be reparented by an “expert.” I bravely opened up to “reparenting”– as opposed to “rebirthing”, only to realize that giving other people the power and authority to act as my parents was precisely the wrong solution for me: I needed the adult me strengthened and that she exists, validated.
Validation and growth have come piecemeal for me. It is up to those burdened with diagnoses and those compassionate bright people in the foreground of research into trauma and mental illness to come up with strategies for our parenting/living with “the inner child”. She isn’t going to go away. How then, do we take control of our lives, affirm our strengths, convince ourselves that we can live in the real world, forgive those who diss us and abandon us, keep from shutting down and hiding away in despair.
These are very real problems for someone with a hyperactive, lonely, often depressed inner child.
A deeper problem, an imperative with respect to healing at every level, is how we become the same person. How do we integrate the parent and the child? Helpful people can give us tools, but we have to use them.
Writing in Psychology Today, Stephen Diamond, Ph.D., a practicing pyschotherapist, puts this eloquent solution forward:
“First, one becomes conscious of his or her own inner child. Remaining unconscious is what empowers the dissociated inner child to take possession of the personality at times, to overpower the will of the adult. Next, we learn to take our inner child seriously, and to consciously communicate with that little girl or boy within: to listen to how he or she feels and what he or she needs from us here and now. The often frustrated primal needs of that perennial inner child–for love, acceptance, protection, nurturance, understanding–remain the same today as when we were children. As pseudo-adults, we futilely attempt to force others into fulfilling these infantile needs for us. But this is doomed to failure. What we didn’t sufficiently receive in the past from our parents as children must be confronted in the present, painful though it may be. The past traumas, sadness, disappointments and depression cannot be changed and must be accepted. Becoming an adult means swallowing this “bitter pill,” as I call it: that, unfortunately for most of us, certain infantile needs were, maliciously or not, unmet by our imperfect parents or caretakers. And they never will be, no matter how good or smart or attractive or spiritual or loving we become. Those days are over. What was done cannot be undone. We should not as adults now expect others to meet all of these unfulfilled childhood needs. They cannot. Authentic adulthood requires both accepting the painful past and the primary responsibility for taking care of that inner child’s needs, for being a “good enough” parent to him or her now–and in the future.”
Food for thought, yes? Dr. Diamond proposes that there are many adult children wandering around in the world who have not been labeled with a diangosis, but who operate from varying levels of dysfunction.
In any event, we have more psychological laundry to do. In the meantime my best shot as a “mother” is to take us out for a latte and to tell her that we are not helpless, that we matter.