By Maureen McKane, LCSW
When you don’t like your private negative thoughts, call on the Inner Child with this exercise. It can lead to contentment.
With a little imagination we all know what is meant by the Inner Child concept. It shows up in those moments when you find yourself emotionally acting like a kid again, but not in a good way. Many of us are good at acting mature outwardly while thinking inside like a child. We smile to the world while thinking, “He got a better present than I did!” If it is a thought you don’t want to admit to, chances are it comes from that part of you that is still back in the sand box.
The good news is that you can use this idea to grow up inside as well as outside. You can learn to stop self criticism, to stop fighting yourself and find out what contentment is like.
Here is how it works in my office.
Step 1. Recognize the difference between the two mind-states, Adult and Child.
I can handle my life.
I can plan.
I know what’s real, what’s not.
I don’t know what to do. Someone else has the answers.
Bad stuff happened. It will happen again.
Step 2. Picture the child in the room with you, but separate. Look at her/his face. See how it looked during a time that did not feel good to the child. See the child as young, small, vulnerable. You are experienced, of good sense. Be the adult.
Step 3. Looking at the child, be the adult and start a dialogue.
- Ask the child how she/he feels.
- Listen for the answer and respond.
- Ask if she/he believes what you have to say. If not, tell her/him that’s all right. She/he will know when you are trustworthy. (If you’ve spent a lot of time criticizing your own negative feelings, then the child is right to be skeptical.)
- Let her/him know you care about her/his welfare.
Step 4. Keep going. As the adult,
- Listen to the child and be separate.
- Comfort the child and be separate
- Protect the child and be separate.
- Be silent if that is what makes sense. Imagine a hug or other physical reassurance.
Step 5. Do this another day and another. Soon you will sense that your Inner Child and adult are coming together automatically. We call this integrating.
The adult must demonstrate that the child’s words and actions are valid. Don’t instruct or try to talk her/him into anything. Be honest at every turn. The essential point is to recognize how it feels to be this child given the circumstances of her/his life at that age. Some people have trouble liking the child. If that is you, keep challenging your adult self. With this exercise, you are learning the essential elements of compassion. Every kid deserves that.
Between that early experience and today, you have learned many helpful life lessons. That’s easy to forget when the child emotions take over. The exercise can help restore the balance. Then contentment can follow that moment when you feel the pleasure of comforting the other and the warmth of being comforted, both at once. How fine to be appreciated by the one person who knows you best.
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