Bringing home baby
In each one of us resides a lost child who was denied its right to unconditional love when it was vulnerable and dependent. Sharmila Bhosale invites you to acknowledge and fulfil the unmet needs of this child in order to heal your emotional wounds and grow into empowered adulthood
Unaware to each of us, hiding in the deep recesses of our psyche is someone who is known to us, yet lost. Someone who is a part of us, yet marooned in time. Wounded, betrayed, and isolated, this being calls out to us, but we choose not to listen, choose to smother this entity instead. But when the pain gets too much for the one who is inside of us, it comes to the fore, breaking the barriers of time, shattering the walls of our self, laying siege to our present moment, and taking us hostage. It wants to be heard, craves to belong, needs acceptance, and yearns for love.
This being escapes to the surface in different ways, under various circumstances, and in a manner that is quite sudden and often, shocking.
Are you familiar with any of the following scenarios or characters?
Neeraj is a highly successful surgeon. He is feted the world over, and his appointment book is blocked months in advance. He is known to be caring, compassionate, and empathetic, and his patients often treat him like God. He has the magical healing touch. Few have encountered his wrath. Maybe only his immediate family and staff. However, he has little control over his eating habits and can devour fattening foods and sweetmeats like there is no tomorrow. Impatient, irritable, and claiming instant gratification in the form of food and shopping, Neeraj’s favourite pastime is slinking into the sofa in front of the television and staring at the screen in a stupefied slump.
Reshma’s paintings are often described as meditative. Her ideas, style, and technique evoke sighs of admiration and envy in the art world. She is largely self-taught, her creativity extending to her writing and sculpting skills. She is soft-spoken, her voice floating like her brush stroke over her creation. There is gentleness in her art, and those who meet her could swear she would not even hurt a fly. She smiles often, her demeanour as calm as the effect that her paintings have on those who view and buy them. But a chance encounter with her children and her domestic help reveals another side. They would term her dominating. She takes decisions for her children, not allowing them to express themselves freely, thereby stunting their growth. Her children are diffident and docile, and the younger one’s lack of self-esteem is evident in the slouch of his shoulders and his general distraction. She rules the staff with an iron hand, thinking of them as her property. She often gets her way with tantrums and sulks, and is often mean and critical.
Vinay and Radhika have been married for 15 years and have two children. An unfailing feature of their marriage are the fights that occur every week. Mostly, they start with one of them accusing the other of not doing something. The other will bring up a host of other incidents from the past that show that the one accusing has not met their part of the bargain either. They trade insults, do name calling, and bring up family upbringing in their arguments. One of them will walk away in a huff and both will sulk for a couple of days afterwards, before they need to speak again for some work.
The dynamic of the inner child
Inside each of us, there’s an inner child. The child that was born to be nurtured, loved, and accepted for who it innately is. But due to parental inability to fulfil those needs, or due to suppression, it had to go into hiding. This child is wounded and alone. And though the body holding this inner child may belong to an adult, this inner child often runs the show, as the pain it is carrying screams to be attended to.
This is why seemingly mature adults give in to temper tantrums, addictions, face trust issues, turn abusive, run away from responsibility, and slide out of control. We may try to silence these deeper longings with alcohol or drugs, promiscuity, gambling, overspending, overeating, workaholism, self-harming, and other ways of avoiding the real and deeper needs we have. Needs which we haven’t allowed ourselves to become fully aware of, or found a way to fulfil in a positive, loving manner. The inner child is a composite of our child-like capacity for innocence, wonder, awe, joy, sensitivity, and playfulness—that has been stifled—and also holds our accumulated childhood hurts, traumas, fears, and anger.
To avoid the pain of our unmet needs, we’ve tried to ignore that child, but it never goes away. Our inner child lives in our unconscious mind and influences how we make choices, respond to challenges, and live our lives. It is the impact of those childhood memories that fuel our life today.
In his book Reconciliation, Thich Nhat Hanh says that inside each of us is a young, suffering child; and to protect ourselves from future suffering, we all try to forget the pain. Most often, when we feel pain from a deep place within, it’s our inner wounded child who’s calling. And trying to suppress this pain results in more pain.
As Dr Preeti Kohli—a homoeopath and transformational coach trained in various modalities including inner child healing, past life regression, and rebirthing breathwork—defines it, “The inner child is a part of our unconscious. The conscious mind is our adult self. All that happens in childhood, all the unmet needs, particularly till the age of seven, go directly into the unconscious. Inner child healing helps us to reconnect to those unmet needs and see how those are still impacting our life. We learn to take charge and fulfil those needs rather than projecting those out to other people.”
Your inner child is essentially an echo of the child you once were. We each have our own history, and we have all been influenced by our environment, events, and the significant people around us. Our inner child has stored those memories and their impact on us.
Dr Trupti Jayin, a clinical psychologist and past life regressionist, explains, “All of us are wounded between the ages zero to six. Our birth trauma (forceps, vacuum, C-section, and other birth patterns), bright light, hitting the child on the back, putting eye or ear drops and other such actions at birth, along with prenatal parental stressors creates an environment which scars the newborn child. After this, till the age of six, the helpless child may be traumatised by parental barbs, societal expectations, and family conditioning. During these early years, the happy, joyful, and free child part of us could withdraw into a shell and stay there as it becomes fearful and anxious to face the world. This is the inner child.”
Even before we were born, the sounds that permeated to us through our mother’s womb (was there shouting or distress?), our mother’s stress levels, the abundance or deficit of the ‘feel-good’ hormones and neuropeptides, our nourishment or lack of it, complications, twin pregnancies, drugs, alcohol, and infections have all played their part in how secure we felt. The birth experience and early infant care as well as the emotional availability of our mother either reinforces or soothes the effect of these first prenatal influences.
Up to the age of six, our brain functions at a relatively slow pace—the theta brainwave of a frequency of 4–7 cycles per second. This is a very ‘receptive’ brainwave state. Hence our experiences at that stage affect us in profound ways. We have created the blueprint at a subconscious level of how we should behave in order to survive in our families. Our later experiences bolster this belief system and form our own script of how our life should be. Then we take this infantile script into our adult life, where we are the star of our own movie, and these decisions and thoughts run our lives almost 90 per cent of the time. And all this happens beyond our conscious awareness, making us live at a mechanical level, with our inner child dictating our day-to-day life. All aspects of our life—relationships, work, parenting, recreation, health—have the inner child programme running in the background.
Wounds that scar
How do you know how strong or persistent your wounds are?
Here are a few questions you may have asked yourself: Why do I feel suffocated? Why do I feel down when I have no reason to be? Why do I feel afraid of the world and of dealing with people and situations? Why do I lose my temper even after resolving to never do it again? Why do I feel ignored and unloved?
You need to know that it isn’t you who feels this way. It’s your inner child who is crying out for attention, love, and for all those childhood needs that went unfulfilled. Your psyche, your inner self, is full of emotional wounds that were left untreated. Until you recognise, accept, and heal them, the wounds will stay on and infect your present life.
It doesn’t matter that you were not abused like others or faced any major violence or trauma. In your mind, you may have only endured occasional shouting from your father or neglect by your mother. You might not relate these with your feelings of low self-worth or feeling down that take you in their spell sometimes.
Others may have had a rougher childhood but that doesn’t diminish the hurt and pain that you have faced, which is still lurking within in the form of your inner child. As a child, your parents or guardians were your only source of security, love, and protection. When they could not meet your needs, it left a deep-seated wound within you which continues to hurt you till today.
Our parents and the environment that we grew up in shaped our attitudes and belief system in such a way that now we see the world and its people with a jaundiced eye. Our perspective has been conditioned. We even view our self, our abilities, and our capabilities through this prism. How often have we heard discouraging or demeaning comments while growing up: “How can you be so stupid.” “Look at what you’ve done.” “Don’t expect anything, because people will only let you down.” “How dare you! I will have to punish you for it.” “Keep quiet and listen.” “Stop crying! Be a man!”
Fact is, more often than not, we internalise these words uttered by our caregivers, which are then absorbed over time by our inner child. Whatever there was, is still there. Over time, more wounds accumulate as a result of these old hurts. In this mass of memories (mostly subconscious) reside our self-esteem, body image, family trauma, shame, and secrets—they all reflect the quality of care that our parents were able to give us. And when we are overwhelmed by our negative thoughts or emotions, we sink into this pool, on autopilot.
Since we don’t visit these places and address our wounds by ignoring our emotional hygiene, the wounds fester, jostle for space, not finding any respite inside, and spill out into our conscious world.
How wounds show up
Inner child wounds surface in various forms: from subtle self-sabotage and self-defeating patterns to passive hostility to severe self-destructive symptoms, violent aggression and, sometimes, evil deeds.
“The wounded inner child rises by emotional outbursts which are seen in crying, shouting, anger, and body spasms. The inner child may speak up through childlike words, tone, and pitch. It needs affection and care, and the therapist will have to be empathetic and compassionate during this time,” explains Dr Jayin. Commonly, destructive behaviour in adults bears the impetuous, impulsive quality of childish petulance or narcissistic temper tantrums. Or an infantile neediness, dependency, and a dread of abandonment. Or an irresponsibility and angry refusal to be an adult: the ‘Peter Pan syndrome.’
“There is no perfect childhood,” says Leena Jacob, an inner child healer. “Common signs of a wounded inner child include aggressive adults who appear confident but whose aggression is a shell. They have been hurt, so they build an armour of aggression around themselves. Their self-worth is derived from achievement. On the other hand, wounds also manifest as timidity and projecting oneself as a victim. Or these adults regress into childhood, appear lazy, irresponsible, flitting around jobs, either having scattered energy, or low energy. There is a lack of balance.
“Wounds also manifest as ranting, complaining, and dumping of problems on others. Some people keep talking about their illness in order to gain sympathy or attention. A child gets attention when it falls ill; such people like to dwell on their illness. Or they turn into bullies—any kind of attention is fine. A narcissist is a bully.”
All of us know the narcissistic person. He or she can go on talking about themselves, unable to listen to another. They are so busy beautifying their own body or house or car that they have little attention for anyone else. They often dress up their child as an image of what they themselves wanted to become. They exhaust us with their selfishness. We think that the narcissist is full of themself, but actually, they are just an empty shell trying desperately to fill a void within. In childhood, when they were supposed to be loved and accepted for who they were, they did not get the unconditional love for the wonderfulness they innately possessed. Throughout their lives, they now seek this affirmation and validation from outside, for they have no positive self-regard internally. “Relationships with such people are based on wounding—a lack which is being filled,” says Jacob. “A healthy relationship is one where no one controls the other—both relate to each other as adults. Sometimes, in a relationship, one person functions from the child stage and the other from an adult stage. The worse scenario is when both are functioning from the child stage.”
It is essential to remember that while some, or even many, of our problems stem from childhood neglect, blaming our parents or holding a grudge way into our adulthood is neither helpful nor mature. In fact, it may serve to perpetuate the same problem across generations. Parents are also human beings and victims of victims, which means that the reason why our parents or guardians behaved the way they did was because of their own neglected upbringing. As J K Rowling puts it, “There is an expiry date on blaming your parents for steering you in the wrong direction; the moment you are old enough to take the wheel, responsibility lies with you.”
‘Self-awareness and self-study start the process of accessing and accepting the inner child.” says Jacobs.
It took an autoimmune disorder and a challenging marriage for Shweta Baboo to realise that some patterns kept repeating in her life, and unless she learnt to break free of those cycles of self-sabotaging thoughts and behaviour, she would be trapped. “Past life regression and meditation helped me reach my inner child and understand how I was functioning as an adult. It helped me embark on a completely transformative journey in my life. I could see myself from a different lens and from within, without requiring any validation from the outside world. I recognised the patterns of behaviour and incidents occurring due to the wounds of my inner child, and now I am able to tackle them with grace and ease.”
Dr Jayin recommends an inner child healing for everyone. “Some part of all of us at some time has been wounded, manipulated, or excluded. The person who feels a lack of belonging, unloved, and has fears has been wounded severely and should go for inner child healing. I would call it Inner Child Release. There are a few who say that they don’t have any memory before age six; they would definitely benefit from inner child work. Those who have parental issues or loss of a parent by death or divorce, or suffered from gender bias, early incest, sexual abuse, or adoption will benefit from inner child healing.”
Our parents or guardians may have not fulfilled all our needs or any of our needs, but we can. The concept is strange, even foreign to us, but we can be our own parents. Not only that, but we can actually reparent ourselves if we put in enough time and effort.
What does reparenting involve?
One of the best things we can do is to learn how to meet, rescue, and ‘adopt’ this wounded child who still lives deep inside us. After all, you are the only person who can guarantee never to leave you! We can then emotionally contain and soothe our inner child and allow the competent adult inside us to attend to businesses out in the world.
Dr Jayin, who is well known for her inner child healing workshops, elucidates that ‘inner child’ as a concept comes from a component of Psychological Training module known as Transactional Analysis, which was founded by Eric Berne. He spoke about the three-ego-state model of Parent-Adult-Child and within it spoke about the Second and Third order structural model which includes the inner child.
“I use Transactional Analysis to explore the prenatal stage of development. Primal therapy, Rebirthing, Womb Regression, Soul Retrieval, Age Regression, and Emotional Release processes are used to help the inner child surface in a loving environment. There are permissions given to counter the injunctions. Anger- and resentment-release exercises and closure processes are done.
Inner Child is a dynamic retreat where much is released and integrated. Forgiveness work is done by Art, Clay, and Psychodrama with Movement Therapy.”
Dr Preeti Kohli says, “Inner child healing is something that everyone needs, though the main thing is your readiness for it. You should want to delve into the unconscious. We all function day-to-day but are not aware of things in the unconscious and how they can sabotage us. Readiness means thinking about why we fall into certain patterns—why we keep getting angry or having intimacy issues. Maybe someone was sexually abused, so they get angry or uncomfortable when anyone tries and gets too close. You should be ready to be open to the wound. Like you would go to a doctor for a dressing when you get a physical wound; you know it will pain, but you still want to get it treated.”
Dr Preeti feels that traditional counselling might help, but it is typically more about behaviour modification, whereas inner child healing really needs to dig deep into the subconscious and get to the root of the wound.
“90 per cent of the issues that we face with our partner have their roots in our parents or caretakers. There are unmet needs, and how much logic can you apply to fulfil these? Therapy tries to change behaviour consciously, but there comes a point where you act out of unawareness.” She cites the example of addictions. “If a child is crying and the mother, instead of soothing and comforting the child, gives him a chocolate or sweet to pacify him, over time, a wiring takes place in the brain—that if there is pain, eat food. Thereby, an unconscious programming occurs.”
Typically, inner child healing takes you through a process of guided meditation and journaling to the different stages of childhood and explores the needs at these stages. “After finding out what happened, we do reparenting: you are the parent now and you try to be there for the child inside you. One of the techniques we employ is working with a teddy bear—making it your inner child and investing it with its needs.” After meditation-based processes are completed, things start coming up for you, maybe as feelings, awareness, dreams, insights, intuition, or physical pain; you start remembering. In the days that follow, your conscious is now more attuned to be aware of these things. In workshops, stuff from the unconscious comes up faster because we do processes that are also playful in nature, which serve to bring out the inner child. For more painful stuff, it is better to follow up with individual sessions.”
As Stephen Diamond says in Psychology Today, “Authentic adulthood requires both accepting the painful past and the primary responsibility for taking care of that inner child’s needs, for being a “good enough” parent to him or her now— and in the future.”
When emotionally overwhelmed, many of us tend to regress and revert to childhood strategies to get our needs met: demanding, manipulating, and controlling those around us. When the mind is overloaded, it is natural to look for immediate gratification. It’s at those times that the inner child might wreak havoc on our relationships and professional life. People who are chronically overloaded with stress, life transitions, medical conditions, or chronic relationship conflict may rely on childhood strategies to get their needs met. For those whose needs weren’t met, these strategies wreak havoc. However, even without childhood trauma, everyone has an inner child that needs to be kept in check.
Allowing your inner child too much leverage means you are constantly indulging your immediate needs, never understanding the value of delayed gratification or the fact that things may not go your way every time. The ‘little self’ becomes an adult who feels weak and terrified from within but projects strength by using rage as ammunition.
Undergoing inner child healing means that you can now integrate the child that you were with the adult you now are. You will experience yourself more fully, feel lighter and more at peace with yourself, be in harmony with others, and be able to stand up for yourself in an assertive yet calmer way. You are a work in progress and you are steering your growth. As you see yourself tolerate distress and improve your relationships without these tactics, you will no longer need the ‘little you’ to handle your adult issues. Your inner child will be loved and free at last.
Signs that your inner child is wounded
Typical signs include low self-esteem, poor body image, mood and emotional imbalances; problems with boundaries being too rigid or too weak; problems with eating; harming yourself; psycho-sexual difficulties; being ‘false’ and wearing ‘masks’; identity problems; being a rebel, a hoarder, a bully, a perennial victim, or a super-achiever; intimacy problems; commitment problems; a general lack of trust in yourself and others; criminal behaviour; excessive lying; being ‘overly-responsible’ for others; being fiercely competitive and a poor loser; dependencies and addictions; a lack of genuine friends; obsessive and needy behaviour; fear of authority figures; being manipulative, passive, or aggressive.
Reparenting your inner child
• Remind yourself how special and wonderful you were as a child.
• Have a safe place that you can bring to mind where you and your inner child can meet and play together When you speak kindly to your inner child each day, have a loving and soothing inner voice—one that is supportive, soft, nurturing, patient, and comforting.
Tell her she is now loved, valued, and appreciated by you.
• Be sure to tell your inner little girl that she doesn’t have to prove herself to anyone.
• She has nothing to feel guilty or ashamed about. None of what happened to her was ever her fault. She didn’t deserve to be treated badly.
• She was just in the wrong place and had no means of escape—but she is now free at last!
• She needs to feel respected. Don’t tolerate disrespect ever again.
• Tell her that you will be her guardian, champion, and protector from now on. Things will be OK and you will never let her come to any more harm.
• She need never again fear being alone because you are always there for her now.
• Apologise for not being aware of her pain and needs in the past, and of pushing her too hard sometimes to try and impress others.
• Assure her that you will only allow safe, trustworthy, and respectful people into her world now. Notice loving mothers who are caring for their babies and absorb that loving energy between a mother and child.
• Reassure her that you will be alongside her either to speak up on her behalf or to support her when she speaks up.
• Agree upon a symbol of her freedom–something for her to summon up whenever she feels the need to escape and be alone with her thoughts. This might be a ladder, a floating bubble, a sci-fi teleporter, a hot air balloon–anything that comes to mind that she can associate with release and freedom.
• Regularly ask her how she’s feeling and what she wants. Imagine sitting alongside that little girl, putting your arm around her shoulders and gently pulling her close to your heart.
• She has a home in your heart that she will never have to leave. She is safe with you now.
• If she wants to cry, let her cry, and be there as her new mother to wipe her tears and soothe her pain or fear. Accept all her feelings and don’t react negatively to what comes up. Be patient with her.
• Remember that healing happens in different ways and time frames. Promise to do your best to bring her the joy that has been missing from her life—and this will be profoundly healing for you both.
• Show respect to your body—the home of your inner child. Keep it clean and toxin-free. Keep it safe and happy–like a good caring home should be.
• Think of her emotional healing as being like the physical healing of a wound— one step at a time. Keep the wound free of further contamination. Avoid toxic people and environments. Don’t ever let her swallow any more poison—particularly if you still keep in touch with toxic or unhealed family members.
• Get back those things that brought you joy as a child—no matter how fleeting. Be sure to make a big thing of her birthdays and Christmas, holidays and achievements.
• Set up creative activities for your playful inner child to enjoy! Bouncing, dancing, crafts, finger painting and anything else that takes her fancy. Drawing —from the right brain—is a great way to express your inner child’s feelings. Allow doodling and unstructured drawing and see what emerges when you’re in the ‘zone’ of childlike creativity. Don’t judge her efforts–just as you wouldn’t judge a child bringing her artwork home from school to show you. Be proud and show it!
• Sing songs from childhood (whether you could sing well back then or not). Release any shame dumped on you for your singing ability. Instead, enjoy stretching your vocal cords and making your own sounds that come from your heart and reach out into the world.
• Encourage her to loosen up and allow physical and emotional intimacy (this will enhance your own sexual intimacy too). She must feel safe and unconditionally accepted to be able to do this. Show her that she can trust her own instincts and be guided by her own ‘antennae’ as to who is safe. She may doubt her ability based upon her mistakes in the past. You are healing now, and as you grow in love for yourself and your life, you won’t want or allow anyone close to your inner child if they don’t align with that self-love and a conscious caring relationship.
• Whenever you have to leave your deliberate connection with her, always imagine placing her back inside the warmth and safety of your loving heart.
• Please remember that your inner child is a real part of your subconscious mind—a wounded child who needs your love, care and compassion–because no one else can heal her pain and help her to make peace with the past.
Mindfulness and the Inner Child—Thich Nhat Hanh
The first function of mindfulness is to recognise and not to fight. We can stop at any time and become aware of the child within us. When we recognise the wounded child for the first time, all we need to do is be aware of him or her and say hello. That’s all. Perhaps this child is sad. If we notice this, we can just breathe in and say to ourselves, “Breathing in, I know that sorrow has manifested in me. Hello, my sorrow. Breathing out, I will take good care of you.”
Once we have recognised our inner child, the second function of mindfulness is to embrace him or her. This is a very pleasant practice. Instead of fighting our emotions, we are taking good care of ourselves. Mindfulness brings with her an ally—concentration. The first few minutes of recognising and embracing our inner child with tenderness will bring some relief. The difficult emotions will still be there, but we won’t suffer as much anymore.
After recognising and embracing our inner child, the third function of mindfulness is to soothe and relieve our difficult emotions. Just by holding this child gently, we are soothing our difficult emotions, and we can begin to feel at ease. When we embrace our strong emotions with mindfulness and concentration, we’ll be able to see the roots of these mental formations. We’ll know where our suffering has come from. When we see the roots of things, our suffering will lessen. So mindfulness recognises, embraces, and relieves.
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