Yikes! While I was away in Germany has there ever been a lot happening on the site, especially on this great thread! Can I add a bit more on this Inner Child business?
Therapists haven't invented the idea of the Inner Child, and in fact it seems to have originated in 1943 with a French pilot, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, who was living in the USA at the time. He wrote a famous book called Le petit prince
, which was translated as The Little Prince
that same year. It's an absolute classic and has often been used in French classes in American high schools and universities. Although it's ostensibly about a child, the ideas and arguments are adult-oriented. It's a fantastic read and there's a good but not perfect English translation here
. The book has wonderful drawings, some by the author, and the prince is believed to have been inspired by his own childhood memories and physical appearance. This is how he remembers himself in Chapter 2
How cool is THAT!!??
For me, the most important point that emerges from the book can be summed up in this passage (my translation ... to catch what the author means to say, as opposed to being elegant in English): "Here is my secret - a very simple one: it is only with the heart that one can really see. Things that genuinely matter are invisible to the eye." What he means is that the real significance of an event doesn't lie in the event itself; what counts is how we feel about it.
In psychology and psychiatry the notion of the Inner Child was then used by Eric Berne in his work on what he called "transactional analysis", the idea of which is that people relate to each other depending on where they are emotionally at that moment: parent, adult or child. (What he called "transactions" I like to call "negotiating".) He worked on this in the 50s, and he became famous for his book Games People Play
(1964), a hugely successful popular version of his theories.
The idea was taken up from this background in a 1963 book entitled Your Inner Child of the Past
, by W.H. Missildine, which is still a great read and can be had for a buck from Amazon! (not in our bookstore yet).
Discussions of the Inner Child aren't just attempts to blow roses around or make people feel good. There are a couple of important psychological/biological realities behind all this. One is that we are all fundamentally affected by things that happen in our childhood, which I think no one would doubt anyway.
But the other, less well known but very important for us, is that traumatic memories don't go into our brains in the same way or even to the same place as other regular memories do. Usually a memory is stored as a complete idea: thing that happened/time tag (when it happened)/meaning/our feelings about it. We have processed it, and even if it was something negative (death of a relative, getting told off, a fight that we lost) we will remember it perhaps with some twinge of regret, but it won't be able to clobber or harm us.
A traumatic memory, on the other hand, goes into a different part of the brain and tumbles in place in bits and pieces. It isn't processed or put all together and we haven't worked out what it means or how we feel about it. Our feelings are still as they were back when the event happened. In many cases there's not even a "time tag" on it, so we don't have it in our heads as belonging to the past. And these memories often can't be recalled on command; instead they are "triggered". For example, the abuser used a certain famous sweet aftershave; for a long time when I smelled that it would "trigger" me and I would feel this sense of terrible danger. For a time that could trigger me into a flashback: I would be 10 again, and there stands the abuser in front of me, as real as real can be (so far as I am concerned) - I can see him, hear his voice, everything. That's the vivid unprocessed memories surging back to me without any "tag" assuring me that this belongs to my past - to me it feels like it's happening right now
So when we work on our Inner Child that's a way of thinking about all this that makes it easier for us to do the work. What we're doing is processing old traumatic memories, learning to assign them to the past, and figuring out how to cope with them now.
When we talk about "loving and caring for our Inner Child" we are really talking about learning to love and appreciate ourselves back when the abuse was happening - learning that it really wasn't our fault and accepting how innocence and defenseless we were. What a cool idea. I think we all deserve that.