What is the inner child and how and why is it created?
Hardly a new concept, it has existed in one form or another for some two thousand years and has been variably designated the “divine child” by Karl Jung, the “wonder child” by Emmet Fox, the “true self” by psychoanalyst Alice Miller, and the “inner child” itself by Rokelle Lerner.
“The child within,” according to Dr. Charles L. Whitfield’s book, Healing the Child Within (Health Communications, 1987, p. 1), “refers to that part of each of us which is ultimately alive, energetic, creative, and fulfilled; it is our real self-who we truly are.”
“(However), with the help of parents, other authority figures, and institutions,” he later states (p. 9), “(such as education, organized religion, politics, the media, and even psychotherapy), most of us learn to stifle or deny our child within. When this vital part of each of us is not nurtured and allowed freedom of expression, a false or codependent self emerges.”
As the expression, reflection, and essence of God, a person’s soul, intrinsically endowed with love, separates from Him, often forgetting his true identity in the process, and assumes human form as the first phase of his ultimately eternal life journey, by disconnecting from the eternal dimension he comes from and temporarily becoming associated with physical characteristics, a name, a personality, an address, interests, strengths, abilities, and talents.
Born into a family and, as an extension of it, a society of wounded, unrecovered adult children, he himself becomes wounded, unable to have his healthy needs met.
Considering his parents perfect, God-equivalent representations, who nevertheless create a dysfunctional, alcoholic, and even abusive home-of-origin for him, he neither understands behavior other than that to which he may periodically be subjected nor questions the sometimes demeaning, berating, and painful aspects of it, reasoning that allegedly loving parents would never deliberately mistreat him. Therefore, he receives what he believes he deserves because of his own intrinsic inadequacies and flaws as a person.
Indeed, it is his very deficiencies, which he attempts to correct, that cause the withholding of his parents’ love of him, resulting in a shift of the burden from them to him.
If they are addicted to alcohol or other substances, he further believes that his sometimes annoying and intolerable presence causes it, leading him on a fruitless path of searching for and trying to rectify the reasons he created their need for them.
“Many of us thought that we caused our parents’ addictions,” according to the Adult Children of Alcoholics textbook (World Service Organization, 2006, p. 7). “We took responsibility for their drinking and drugging, thinking we could make them stop, slow down, and eventually love us. As children, we took responsibility for our parents’ anger, rage, blame, or pitifulness.”
Fearing parental abandonment, the child, now with a distorted view of the God they represent, internalizes their projected pain and deficiency, accepting and believing that they are his own.
Looking outside of themselves to feel whole, and often significantly charged to the point that they are unable to retain their negative emotions, these boundary-poor parents transfer their emotions to their vulnerable children.
Unable to understand the dynamic they are subjected to, and consciously unaware of this transfer, they deny their parents’ deficiencies, yet internalize them themselves because of their need to stabilize them and survive, becoming infected and wounded in the process.
“Children of alcoholics and from other troubled or dysfunctional families,” according to the Healing the Child Within book (pp. 59-60), “survive by dodging, hiding, negotiating, taking care of others, pretending, denying, and learning and adapting to stay alive, using any method that works… (Other) unhealthy ego defense mechanisms… include intellectualization, repression, dissociation… reaction formation… and projection… “
And, above all, they create the inner child!
Captive and caught in a dangerous, unstable environment for some two decades during their upbringings and unable to physically flee it without, they psychically flee it within, creating, without choice and usually little awareness, an inner cocooned sanctuary by tucking themselves into the deepest recesses of their bodies to which they can periodically escape during times of particularly elevated danger. By defensively submerging or splitting themselves off within the equally deeply unconscious part of their psyches, they attempt to avoid the quickly established pattern of repeated wounding created by the parents who should theoretically be protecting them from such damaging behavior.
“When our alive true self goes into hiding in order to please its parent figures and to survive,” according to another of Dr. Charles L. Whitfield’s books, Co-Dependence: Healing the Human Condition (Health Communications, 1991, p. 5), “a false, codependent self emerges to take its place. We thus lose our awareness of our true self to such an extent that we actually lose awareness of its existence. We lose contact with who we really are. Gradually, we begin to think we are the false self, so that it becomes a habit and, finally, an addiction.”
The Adult Children of Alcoholics textbook defines the inner child as “the original person, being, or force, which we truly are” (p. 298) and the false self as “the addicted or codependent self” (again p. 298).
Contrasted with the false self, the true self is accepting, loving, giving, authentic, and expanding, and enables a person to feel alive as he pursues his life’s path.
“Our real self accepts our feelings without judgment and fear,” according to Whitfield in Healing the Child Within (p. 10), “and allows them to exist as a valid way of assessing and appreciating life’s events.”
“We don’t have to do anything to be our true self,” he continues (p. 11). “It just is. If we simply let it be, it will express itself with no particular effort on our part.”
“(But) family dysfunction drives the inner child into hiding,” according to the Adult Children of Alcoholics textbook (p. 303), “leaving states of fear that wounded the adult’s soul. While the inner child or true self can be the spark of our creativity, we must also remember the child is a deeply hurt part of ourselves.”
The inner child dynamic, resulting in adaption of the false self, is a survival-necessitating sacrifice, which comes with a price.
“Our false self is a cover-up,” wrote Whitfield in Healing the Child Within (p. 11). “It is inhibited, contracting, and fearful. It is our egocentric ego or super-ego, forever planning and plotting, continually selfish and withholding. It is envious, critical, idealized, blaming, shaming, and perfectionistic.
“Alienated from the true self, our false self is other-oriented-that is, focuses on what it thinks others want it to be… It covers up, hides, or denies feelings.”
Although it can, at times, be considered strong and even powerful, its numerous negative attributes indicate that the opposite is true, including being distrustful, fearing, self-righteous, a nurturing inhibitor, numb, empty, and the origin and voice of a person’s critical inner parents.
Whereas the true self is integral to and flows from a Higher Power, the false one is disconnected, as if it were autonomously cast adrift within the otherwise anchoring sea of souls housed by humanity. Peripheral to them, it is all-too-often on the outside looking in.
The false self sacrifice is pervasive and far-reaching. Now hidden to protect itself from the overwhelming pain of mistreatment, a lack of healthy mirroring, negative messages, and out-an-out abuse from the toxic others who form his circle, the child absorbs whatever he is told, mostly storing it in his unconscious mind.
Major relationship mental representations, according to object relation theorists, can be characterized as “part-objects,” resulting in the dichotomous perception of people as either good or bad, such as smart child or dumb child, beautiful woman or ugly woman-that is, leading to all or nothing at all thinking.
Exacerbating this phenomenon is the fact that each childhood infraction or episode of abuse results in the automatic, but subconscious original re-creation of the inner child. Unable to defend or protect himself, confront or battle his parental abuser, physically escape, or even understand the forces he is subjected to, he stuffs and swallows, without choice, the detriment and danger, fleeing within by tucking everything into his inner child pocket, necessarily producing deeper and deeper layers.
All of this results in chronic codependence.
“The cause of codependence,” according to Whitfield in his Co-Dependence: Healing the Human Condition book (p. 22), “is a wounding of the true self to such an extent that to survive, it had to go into hiding most of the time, with the subsequent running of its life by the false or codependent self. It is thus a disease of lost selfhood.”
Internally conflicted as the true self attempts to triumph and evolve over the false one, the person most likely negotiates the world unaware of the battle raging within him, as his negative ego, or the most destructive aspects of his false self, attacks his true one, ensuring that it remains submerged and that his self-esteem remains low.
Unable to deal with his traumas and grieve his losses, the person remains split, ineffective, and mostly powerless, further sparking developmental delay, arrest, or altogether failure. His emotional state is anything but positive. Confused, sad, downright depressed, and empty, he is only temporarily and briefly able to connect with his true self when impulsive and compulsive self- and other-destructive episodes serve as the release of the tension that ensures that the lid on his personal pressure cooker otherwise remains tightly shut.
“(The) absence, which is actually only hiding, of the true self,” according to Whitefield in Co-Dependence: Healing the Human Condition book (p. 33), “usually brings about a feeling of emptiness, which we may then try to fill with things outside of ourselves. By doing so doesn’t fill us in a lasting way. Only after experiencing the repeated pain of the consequences of addictions, compulsions, or other disorders, combined with the ongoing feeling of the emptiness, we are forced to look within into our true self.”
“The child has all of the mental, physical, and historical memories of the family,” according to the Adult Children of Alcoholics textbook (p. 302). “One of the surest signs(that) the inner child exists is found in the definition of the term ‘adult child.’ An adult child is someone whose actions and decisions as an adult are guided by childhood experiences grounded in self-doubt or fear… Many adult children have said they feel like a child in a grown-up body.”
Another internal conflict between the inner child, which needs safety and protection, and the outer adult, which needs to function in the world and therefore interact with others, will almost certainly form, each vying for divergent needs.
Recovery from what has become a protective strategy of negotiating life is the discovery and then gentle unearthing of the true self-representing inner child, along with the restructuring of the ego into a more positive influence to aid this process.
Tantamount to this is slowly breaking the shackles of isolation.
“Isolation is both a prison and a sanctuary,” according to the Adult Children of Alcoholics textbook (p. 82). “Adult children, suspended between need and fear, (and) unable to choose between fight or flight, agonize in the middle and resolve the tension by explosive bursts of rebellion or by silently enduring the despair. Isolation is our retreat from the paralyzing pain of indecision.”
Part of the solution is overcoming what the problem caused-namely, trusting and connecting with others after a person’s very own parents caused his initial distrust by their betrayal of him. Authority figures, their representatives, periodically and progressively also retriggered his original wound on a subconscious basis.
Nevertheless, the gradual regain of his lost trust, along with the determination of who he considers to be safe, supportive, and compassionate people, results in a slow, but steady improvement.
Another integral part of this process is self-re-parenting.
“The need to re-parent ourselves comes from our efforts to feel safe as children,” according to the Adult Children of Alcoholics textbook (p. 83). “The violent nature of alcoholism darkened our emotional world and left us wounded, hurt, and unable to feel. This extreme alienation from our own internal direction kept us helplessly dependent on those we mistrusted and feared.”
“… (But) by re-parenting ourselves,” it later states (p. 326), “we can further remove the ‘buttons’ that have been pushed by others to manipulate us or to get a reaction out of us. Through a loving parent inside, we gain greater independence from codependence. We find the skills and support we need to become independent adults.”
Coming full cycle and regaining the connection he lost, he restores his soul and makes himself whole again.
“Connecting with our inner child,” the book concludes (p. 304), “brings greater integration and moves us closer to our Higher Power” – or back to the point in our physical journey where we lost it.