In preparation to become a therapist and counselor, I became aware of a leader in the field of the inner child, John Bradshaw. I once watched a video in which he was teaching people how to work with their inner child. The large audience had gathered to learn from him about lingering childhood hurts and hopes. He invited the audience to get relaxed, to close their eyes and to take several deep breaths. In this relaxed state he invited them to return to that childhood era of their lives and to picture the little child who was still living within them. He then encouraged the participants to look into the eyes of that little child, to put their arms around that child and hold him or her close. He instructed them to make promises to that child. He suggested that they promise the child that they would always be its advocate and that they would never abandon him or her. As the camera panned the audience, I noticed tears flowing from the eyes of many of the participants. Others were leaning back in their chairs expressing sighs of relief. It was evident that this intervention was both powerful and meaningful to those who were encountering their inner child.
Working with the inner child has been useful in working with people who have struggled with old patterns that control their lives. I remember a supervisor, Gloria White, who guided me as I prepared for licensure as a mental health professional. Gloria often asked me, “How does little Robby feel about this or that?” She taught me the importance of being little Robby’s advocate.
Through the years I have worked with numerous people whose wounded child feared abandonment. I have worked with others whose inner child was terribly afraid of criticism, abuse and punishment. Therapeutically, it is crucial for the adult part of the self to make promises to the child within the self. The adult self makes promises to never abandon the child, to always be the child’s advocate.
I sometimes encourage clients to picture themselves as a strong adult holding the hand of their vulnerable little inner child. I ask them to visualize themselves crossing a very busy street where brakes squeal and horns blow; I encourage them to hold the child’s hand as they wade through the traffic. Life is often filled with clutter and confusion and dangerous moments when the child within needs a secure hand in order to cope. Often, little children have not learned to deal effectively with these experiences, and they need confidence and reassurance of the adult that lives beside them.
This inner child is the seat of our feelings. Too often when we are fearful, we are filled with anxiety that controls our functioning. This fear easily leads to self-defeating and destructive patterns of behavior. The process of advocating for, holding and protecting the vulnerable little child can help us to be more rational and healthy in our thinking. Encouraging the child within enables us to engage in life in a more productive and redemptive manner.