Inside Our Inner Child
- March 7, 2017
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The concept of the inner child remains a popular one, having gone mainstream since the 1970s, along with various approaches to “inner child” work.
Though criticisms of such work abound (e.g., concerning the blaming of our parents for our current difficulties), it is here to stay, with approaches ranging from simplistic advice to just love your inner child to nuanced, transformative exploration of the conditioning that our inner child is but the presenting surface of.
So what is the inner child? First of all, it’s not an entity, an indwelling being, but rather an activity, a personified memory-saturated process, however much we might relate to it as though it is a discrete somebody, a literal child. Even so, the fact that the inner child is an internal process, an interior arising, does not make it any less real, nor any less childlike.
The inner child’s qualities include innocence, playfulness, curiosity, wonder, prerational knowing, and extreme openness, vulnerability, permeability — it holds both our essential purity and our original conditioning.
And it is not all love and light and sweetness; its openness allows in not just the good stuff but also the not-so-good stuff. After all, it has little or no capacity to protect itself, to screen what’s incoming — just like us in our early years.
No wonder fairy tales – a mainstay of children’s literature — are pervaded by so much dark or scary material, rich with themes of abandonment, rejection, and danger. Not that childhood is always like this — but plenty of it is, and plenty of the conditioning that then took hold of us follows us into our growing-up years, adulterating our adulthood. Furthermore, even the seemingly happiest childhoods cannot escape the reality and imprinting of conditioning.
The inner child is both pure and sullied, pure in the sense of primal innocence and openness, sullied in the sense of containing — and being branded by — our early woundedness and fear. That is, it is both unconditioned and conditioned.
Many talk of embracing their inner child, but to truly do so is to come in intimate contact with both the life-giving and the life-negating, the light and the dark, the untampered-with and the tampered-with from our early years.
Pushing away or denying the child within — as many are inclined to do, especially if they view their inner child as weak, needy, or an embarrassment — just strands us from our unresolved wounding and unmet needs, leaving our conditioning intact, thereby unknowingly letting it run us from behind the scenes, however free from it we may think we are.
Our inner child is basically the personification of our early conditioning in close conjunction with the intrinsically good qualities of early childhood.
Such personification provides us with the sense of having something tangible — and compellingly personal — with which to relate, as opposed to the more abstract concept of our conditioning.
Contacting and feeling — feeling into, feeling for, feeling with — our inner child brings us closer not only to who we were in our early years, but also to the conditioning that got implanted in us then.
The inner child exists in all of us, along with our relationship to it. We may identify with it, deny it, pamper it, blame it, abuse it, or think it’s just an idea, but it’s not going away. It’s an essential part of us.
To not know our inner child, and know it well, keeps us partial, emotionally anemic, cut off from our deeper vulnerability and openness, while our original woundedness continues to direct us.