I wanted to develop a more concrete way to present the inner child to my students. So I developed this model combining Robin's work and her diagram with three circles, some material from an Australian Philosopher named Michael Brown, and some information from the Book Emotions Revealed by Paul Ekman.
Model for Understanding The Inner Child
- I draw the diagram on the board.
- I explain the three parts as follows:
- We all have an adult personality. This is the combination of our subpersonalities, the roles we play, the masks we wear - all the ways we show up in the world.
- We also have a Core self - this is the wise, strong, compassionate part of us. It is the essence of our humanity. We do our best when we use the wisdom and strength of our core self to inform our decisions.
- We all have an inner child - this is the part of our brain that is a pattern-recognizer. It stores memory of past traumatic experiences and situations that were uncomfortable or dangerous to us. It is constantly scanning the current situation, and when it finds a match between a current situation and something that was terrible in the past, it hijacks us by triggering emotions, and takes over our decision process. It is a survival mechanism intended to keep us safe, but it can cause us to react to the current situation based on past experience and vulnerability rather than making a decision based on wisdom and strength.
- I give a personal example. I find personal stories very helpful in taking an idea and making it concrete. I use the diagram and point to the different parts as I tell the story, so they can map the picture to real behavior. Here's the example I use:
"I've been married for 30 years, and some years ago, I noticed that whenever my husband went out of town on a business trip, I'd start feeling insecure and I'd end up picking a fight, or give into my anxiety and my behavior was out of line with the situation. Later, when I did some inner child work, I realized that this reaction was about my mom abandoning me. When I was a child, my mom was ill, and she'd be rushed to the hospital, leaving me with my grandparents for weeks at a time. I realized that this old experience was causing me to react out of proportion to what was actually happening when my husband was leaving for a few days. The "Inner child" pattern recognizer was triggered, and these feeling of abandonment would hijack me, and I'd respond in a way that wasn't helpful or appropriate. I did inner child work by writing letters to that abandoned little girl inside me. I'd work at recognizing the triggers when I'd start feeling abandoned by doing weather reports, and just increasing my own awareness of these feelings. I was able to reduce that reactivity. Now the feelings still come up, but I recognize them, like an old friend. I tell myself, "I know what that's about." Then I do something nice for myself. I go out to lunch with a friend, or buy a new book, or go to a movie. I don't let those feelings drive my behavior anymore."
- I talk about "How do we reparent ourselves"? How do we calm that reactive part of ourselves that responds to the present based on the past? I include letters to the inner child, using guided imagery meditations to heal the inner child, and using our triggers as an opportunity to understand oursevles, and using weather reports to increase awareness.
I ask students to write a letter to their inner child I ask them to pick a time from the past when they were scared, or lonely, or needed something that they didn't get. Then remember what it was like for them at that time, and write a letter to that child, and tell the child exactly what they would have wanted to hear. I give them some examples. "Don't worry." "I'm here now. I'll never abandon you again." " It wasn't your fault" whatever you think would make your child feel better.