Healing our inner child

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In this article I am going to continue exploring the topic of self-love. In my previous articles I wrote about the importance of learning to love our selves and tried to explain the difference between self-love and selfishness. There I spoke quite a lot about parenting and how childhood experiences continue to affect us as adults. One may say though – and very legitimately – ok, I understand that these things have happened to me and had an impact on me, but what can I do about them now? Those events cannot be changed, so how can I possibly repair the past?

It’s true: we cannot change the past events. But we can change the way we feel about them by finding, befriending and healing our inner child. Here I want to share with you a personal story.

Almost as long as I can remember myself and well until my mid-twenties I lived with a terrible secret, which I dared not to share with any living soul. I can share it with you now. It was a horrible suspicion that the “real” “me” was an awful person. Why? Because of my younger sister. She is a year and a half younger than me, and when she was a child she had been ill a lot. So much of our parents’ attention was focused, naturally, on her. Besides that, she was a very bright, outgoing, extraverted and engaging child and knew how to attract attention. In this competition for our parents’ love I felt I could not win. So my anger and frustration would occasionally turn into the acts of aggression against her. Sometimes we would fight, and once, when I was about ten or eleven, I locked her in a shed with big mosquitoes, which we both dreaded as we believed that they carried malaria. A few years ago she told me that she still could not forgive me for that persecution. I wonder if she does now… But I am digressing.

Obviously, our parents would scold me for mistreating my sister. Especially my mother used to get upset and she would say: “She is the closest person for you! You must love your sister!”

This conflict between the imperative “you must love your sister” and the feelings of anger and jealousy that I actually experienced was too much for a small child to resolve. And this is the conflict that began in the very early years of my life. I had nobody to talk to about it, and even if I did I probably wouldn’t have known how to put it into words. So, unconsciously, I began to form an idea that something must have been wrong with me. That I was somehow perverse, abnormal, because I could not experience emotions that other people, supposedly, felt. This led to me doubting my ability to love and to be loved. Because who would love such a monster?

As I entered my teens and began to form friendships and romantic relationships, I continued to carry my “dark secret” within me. It kept me from opening fully to anyone because I was afraid that when they learned who I truly was they would be abhorred and would leave me. Of course, my relationships suffered because I was always “looking for signs” that would confirm my doubt about my being lovable, reacting strongly to any gesture, word or tone that would intensify my suspicion.

I began getting weary of restraining and containing those demons of mine, and some part of me was pushing harder and harder to disclose my secret…  The first person I have ever spoken to about my deep inner conflict was a friend I met during the year I spent in Amsterdam as an exchange student. To my surprise, she did not back off. On the contrary, she said that my contradictory feelings were absolutely normal and she gave me a book by John Bradshaw: Homecoming: Reclaiming and Championing Your Inner Child. From that book, which is still with me, began my journey of recovering and healing my inner child…

I will not be retelling the content of John Bradshaw’s book to you. You can find it and read it if you are interested. But I will tell you about one particular exercise that he suggests because it gave me an idea about the depth of my problem. Somewhere towards the middle of the book he encourages you to imagine that you are a kind magician who can adopt that miserable child and give her (or him) what the child needed and did not receive in her/his childhood. This is where I got stuck. Because my response was one of a profound, almost physical loathing towards that girl – me as a child. She was revolting, that little monster! Why would I want to adopt her?! I closed the book and – I must confess – have never finished all the exercises in it…

That was many years ago… Since then I have come a long way and am now quite a good friend with that girl – a child and later adolescent – within me. I have experimented with many techniques and approaches, some learned from others, some that I have intuited myself. Here I would like to share with you one technique, which is simple, gentle and effective.

Find a quiet place to sit. You can light a candle if you like. Ensure that nobody will distract you for 10-20 minutes. It is important to allocate for yourself space and time. You may want to put your telephone and mobile on mute. Take a few slow deep breaths in and out. Breathing slowly through your nose and exhaling through your mouth. Become aware of your body. Notice how your feet and hands are positioned, notice whether your back is tense or relaxed, and how the air feels against the skin of your face… Become aware of the sounds in the room. How many sounds can you detect? Just gently notice all these things. This simple exercise will help relax your mind and take it away from the daily fuss.

Now gently turn your mind inwards (you may want to close your eyes). And imagine yourself as a child. Any image that comes to your mind. It can be a memory of yourself at a particular time, or it can be a photo. Focus your attention on this image. How do you feel about that child? Ask yourself this question and notice your emotions. Allow them to flow and to change. Can you feel compassion, warmth and love for that little boy or girl? If you can (I hope you do!) – intensify it and allow yourself to feel it in your body. You may feel your heart or chest growing warm. Stay with this feeling for some time and let yourself experience it fully. And if you wish, if you feel the time is right, you can talk to the child and let him or her know that you are there and you love him (or her). How does the child respond? This is for you to discover! Repeat this exercise daily or as often as you can and notice the subtle change that will start occurring in the way you feel about yourself and life around you…

And if you, as I did at first, cannot feel any positive emotions towards yourself as a child – please don’t despair! Nothing is lost! It only means that more things need to be explored, and you can explore them on your own, with the help of a professional, or a trusted friend. The most important is the intention – to find and heal yourself, and the road there is through finding and healing your inner child. Or your inner children – but this is the theme for my next article…



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3 thoughts on “Healing our inner child”

    1. Alvira Boxer

      Dear Ludmila, thank you for sharing your problem and the story of it’s healing.

      I’d like to response at this article but first of all I have to beg your pardon for my poor English – it isn’t my native language.

      I thought about this article for a long time. There was my own reasons for that: it is my problem too. Yes, it is, though I am rather at your younger’s sister position. Your problem has two faces. This article pushed me to understand this fact and I am so sorry I made nothing to improve my brother’s life. It is a first time when I understood his feeling and my fault. I had to understand it many years ago and made something to help him. I guess I was (and I am) very selfish.

  1. Tanya Gishpling

    I found that I feel much more love and tenderness (and also a wish to protect — because of her frailty) for my little inner child than for the present-day ME. And I didn’t like it. I wish I were able to feel a little bit like this for myself today…

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