I’ve long wanted to be more compassionate with others and while I can be quite judgy and critical, I usually feel more compassion for others than I often feel for myself. I have been so hypercritical of myself for so long that I wasn’t sure I could change such ingrained behavior patterns. I’m reminded of this at every yoga class, during the finishing minutes of every class, my teachers would speak of first having compassion for ourselves and then for others in discussing “right” feelings.
I rarely could find compassion for myself. If I did my best and I still guessed wrong, I spent far too long castigating myself about how I should know better. If I seemingly caused conflict, I went over and over how I could have phrased things better so as to engender understanding and acceptance on the other party’s side. Up and down. Right and left. If there was anything other than the smoothest of sailings in my life at any level, I went over how I could have done better, been better, spoken more clearly, been less angry, more angry, etc. On and on- always expecting better of myself.
The Inner Child
And then I learned about the concept of the inner child. I’d long heard of inner child work but never understood how it applied to me. In listening to Tosha Silver, she’s mentioned the inner child and has given me some great insights on how to be loving and kind to my inner child. Over the months that I’ve been working on this, I see the value and need for inner child work.
The way I see the inner child(ren) is that inside you there is a spin off version of you from your childhood from when you were deeply wounded by life, by your parents, or some situation. At some point of time, you abandoned yourself in order to emotionally or physically survive a situation. In other words, to survive, you abandoned yourself and now there is an internal version of you that continues to speak to you, mostly from an unconscious level, from the original wounding. And you can have more than one.
Like most everyone, we have situations that trigger us. These situations trigger us and in those initial moments after being triggered, if you learn to listen to your thoughts, you can likely hear the same recording from your inner child bringing up the wounding and trying to apply it this new situation. But often, the triggered reaction is so habitual that it’s now at the unconscious level and you’re likely no longer aware that the same thought pattern is rising up again and again from a childhood wounding.
Understanding the Inner Child
Once I became aware of my inner child, I’ve been able to hear her so much more clearly and been able to work with her. For a long time, I thought my core fear was not being good enough. But I’ve realized that the reason I fear not being good enough is that I fear I will be abandoned if I’m not. My past makes so much more sense for me, now that I understand my true core fear and past situations when I’ve been triggered and overreacted. Sometimes my reaction to a situation baffled me by its intensity.
As an example, one that is both trivial and perhaps understandable to everyone: Recently, I had some houseguests and I served a meal. After the meal, I asked what they thought of it and they were lovingly honest. They said, “it wasn’t my favorite”. The next day, as I mused on the meal and my guests’ reaction, I started to get angrier and angrier at the thought that they didn’t like the meal I served. After several hours of periodically thinking about the meal, I was pretty upset at a deep level. Now the conscious me was quite aware that my reaction was over the top and not rational or appropriate to the situation. But that’s how I felt. Now that I am aware of my inner child (and my core fear), I went inside to find out what was going on to provoke such a response.
And I came out again with my fear of abandonment. How did I jump from someone not loving a meal I prepared to fearing being abandoned? My inner child went from had the following sequence of thoughts and reactions:
- My guests didn’t like the meal
- I’m not as good a host as I thought because I should have known they wouldn’t like the meal
- They didn’t like the meal so I’m not good enough
- If my guest didn’t like the meal, they’ll never come back
- I’ll be abandoned
Again, it’s a silly situation but I truly got bent out of shape over my guests’ reaction. Because my core fear of being abandoned we triggered by this situation, I got very angry over it.
How To Be Compassionate With Yourself (And Your Inner Child)
I no longer care to spend much time understanding how I got here. The truth of this situation is that my inner child is deeply worried about being abandoned, as any child would be. With this perspective, I go inside and speak with my inner child. I comfort her and hold her and acknowledge her fears. As the adult here, I let her know that it’s ok and even if we were to be abandoned, I can take care of us. I no longer dismiss her feelings out, ignore her, or tell her she’s silly for feeling any particular way. I accept what is, act lovingly to my inner child, and heal a little bit more of the original wounding.
Through honest inquiry, even as I saw how strangely overblown my reaction was, I was able to find deep compassion for my inner child who feels she has to be perfect or she’ll be abandoned.
Being The Change
As I started to be more compassionate with the myself, through my inner child work, I am able to be more compassionate with the world. By allowing myself, at a conscious level, to be less than perfect, I have more compassion for others as we muddle through life.
Tosha Silver Tosha’s amazing at surrendering to the Divine and she has a lot of experience with the inner child.
Matt Licata Matt’s blog, as a psychotherapist, is so lyrical and so healing. I highly recommend his work in general.
Thich Nhat Hanh The renowned Buddhist monk has a book on healing the inner child through reconciliation. This is an excerpt from the book.
How about you? I’d love to hear about your experiences with your inner child (and how it’s changed you!).