They say that abandonment is a wound that never heals.
I say an abandoned child never forgets
– Mario Balotelli
Two things this month. First of all, there are many of us, professionals and others, whose inner children have suffered. Be it at the hands of parental figures, our culture and our peers, or an abuser, as children the traumas of growing up may have left us over-subscribed to watch out for the tell tale signs of an approaching storm of hatred in the form of a future relationship. As like many of you I have fallen into destructive relationships which have cost me a lot. Yet, there are still lessons to be learnt from the pains experienced. Like many of you, I am in therapy, and much of my work during these periods has been in understanding the wounds of my own inner child, and has involved hearing the cries and echoes from a timeless unconscious.
My explorations thought has led me to a kind of unconscious reconciliation. The adult within me, which ignored said inner child and internalised the neglect and abandonment of childhood and carried within me through to adulthood, was still alive within me and needed facing down. This month’s blog is therefore an exploration of these two aspects, the adult and the inner child and how in their meeting, in their (re)tension of the opposites, a third force emerges to mediate between them, if we let that force in, or if we actually hear it.
I believe that this neglected, wounded, Inner Child of the past is the source of human misery
There is an adult within us. This is the part which goes to work, which is successful in whatever means befits us. It is focused, it gets on with life, it does the commute, it pays the bills, it cares for the kids, it cleans, cooks, rises in the morning and goes to bed at a sensible time so as to be able to do the same the next day and the next. Although it is part of a world where we all do so much the same thing, it can often feel alone in a crowded room, left out, side lined, as if something is missing. There is life, but no living, there is contentment but no passion. There is a type of spiritual loneliness. There is no inner child part to have fun with (Storr, 1988).
We all also have an inner child. If we are lucky, this is the part which got to create at school, which learnt to play an instrument, to dance, to act, to be free to experiment in making up stories or lost in reading them as well. This is the part which when we took it into our adult life meant we felt complete. We were able to brandish the brilliance of our 6-year-old Briony or 8-year-old Brixham whilst writing a hit record or drafting a stunning piece of architecture (McMenamin, 2016).
For most of us though our inner child is wounded. Maybe it has been abused physically, sexually or emotionally. Or it has been abandoned by a caregiver. We often have an inner child which carries the wounds of the past and projects them into the relationships of the present. It is as if our trauma is alive, and is trying to repair the wounds bequeathed to us by our parents, passed down to us through the generations (Fellin et al., n.d.; van der Kolk, 2015).
When it comes to relationships though, for most of us it is the inner child which believes in the projected sanctity of relationships. Yet, in this idealisation of the relational other although it saw the flaws, although it saw how their chosen partner treated others, they often chose to believe that their beloved would not treat them the same way. Their love for the other was unconditional; they trusted them as well, placing in the relationship the hope that this time, finally, at last, that this person, this job, this group, would be the one to heal the deep unhealed wounds of their own childhood.
Yet, it is this individual and collective projected ideal which in its homage towards the idealised other also simultaneously fractures the new relationship. One is too much, too needy, too over the top, too false, and that partner, that family, that organisation responds with rejection, with a re-wounding that the inner child feels down deep in the abyss, deep to its core.
The loneliest moment in someone’s life is when they are watching their whole world fall apart, and all they can do is stare blankly
– F. Scott Fitzgerald
In order for this deep-seated wound to be repaired though, there needs to be more than just a reconciliation between our inner adult and inner child. There also needs to be an understanding of the dance both unconscious aspects have engaged within in their avoidance of one another, an avoidance which has often meant partners and many others are confused when they meet us; we present one contained sensible face, but then our inner child comes in and ruins the evening by revealing our anxiety, fear, anger, hatred, or whatever else we’ve hidden away so we are not rejected
For me, the idea of complexes sits well here. For example, Freud’s view of a complex, with his work on the Oedipal Complex being an example, involved the repeated pattern of relationships being a means for the ego to reconnect with the past rejection and abandonment so that it could be processed and released over time (Freud & Strachey, 1924). The idea of Complexes though actually originated with his then colleague, Carl Jung. For Jung (1990), the pain of the complex held a different meaning, and was actually an unconscious doorway towards accessing the deeper unconscious experience of said rejection held in the shadow. Through this, I believe, one would then have access to the intuitive part of the Self which held all of the wisdom denied the adult, whilst also being less idealistic and more realistic than the wounded Inner Child.
Accessing the intuitive part of the Self is painful, but this pain opens the doorway to a type of knowledge unknown previously. This painful excavation opens the door to an intuitive part that can help the adult to read the situations within a relationship. It helps us to avoid the deeper ravages of a co-dependent engagement where two inner children vie for prominence and wrestle with rejection simultaneously. It helps the other, our partner our friends our colleagues, meet most of the adult within us (me). It allows the adult to therefore be more present for my partner, whilst our (my) inner child(ren) runs safe and free to play and to just be.
There is a voice that doesn’t use words.
Fellin, L. C., Callaghan, J. E., Alexander, J. H., Harrison-Breed, C., Mavrou, S., & Papathanasiou, M. (n.d.). Empowering young people who experienced domestic violence and abuse: The development of a group therapy intervention. https://doi.org/10.1177/1359104518794783
Jung, C. G. (1990). The Undiscovered Self. Princeton University Press.
McMenamin, J. F. (2016). The Poet’s Inner Child: Early Childhood and Spiritual Growth in Dante’s” Commedia”. Italica, 93(2), 225–250. https://www.jstor.org/stable/44504561%0Ahttps://www.academia.edu/download/49482628/The_Poets_Inner_Child_-_James_F._McMenamin.pdf
van der Kolk, B. (2015). The Body Keeps The Score: Mind, brain and body in the transformation of trauma (1st ed.). Penguin Books Limited.