Fair warning, I am about to preach a concept that cannot be scientifically proven. It’s an idea so counterintuitive to me, it took me years to grasp the healing work of re-parenting the Inner-Child. The concept of the Inner-Child isn’t new, but in our current cultural climate, it gets forgotten as we push ourselves to do more, be more, and climb some imaginary ladder of success. Inner-Child work requires presence, pause, and stepping into our darkness, and perhaps staying there for a bit. We can think of the Inner-Child as the part of Self that we have likely long ago forgotten. The difficulties we experience in adulthood are rooted in that part of our being.
Rather than introducing more theory and psychobabble, I am going to tell you a story about Kake, a little girl born in 1978. Now, I didn’t actually know Kake, but I do know that as a small child she was a mess! Her hair was tangled, her outfits did not match, she was a real-life Punky Brewster. In all of her Punky-ness, she was told that she was too much. And, because she was too much, she often went without. Without clothes, without warm meals, without supervision, without emotional safety, and without nurturing.
At times she experienced moments of love and warmth from her mother. But her mother worked in a candy shop and cared for 11 other children, and did not have enough time or love for Kake. All the neighborhood children loved Kake's mother, because she’d give them a wink and a bit of chocolate. But even the most charming winks, and perfect bites of chocolate cannot make a child believe they are inherently worthy of love and belonging.
As I said, I never knew Kake, as a child; but I have the pleasure of knowing her as an adult. I know her now as Alesa. As a clinician I watched Alesa bravely step into an Intensive, tearful from the very moment she sat down in the group room. Like an A+ student, she carried her notebook with her, full of all the “work” she needed to do. She held her notebook tightly, like a shield, protecting her from the pain that was to surely unfold. Grown-up Alesa still carried all the pain of little Kake. No one had ever held it for her.
Alesa held on tightly to that notebook, always offering to give up her own comforts for others, constantly apologizing for things that never needed an apology. Alesa had learned to lean OUT, because it was so much safer than leaning IN. Leaning in could mean being left, being made to be too much, being hungry, and going without. Make sense? We all do this…we create protection for the parts of us that need shielding. Kake had to excuse her own needs, never asking for much, because there was no room for her to have needs.
Sometimes, adults accidentally make children take care of them emotionally. Kake learned to be “good” so as to not further add stress and pressure to her mother. Eventually, our protection becomes our armor. And when our armor is too great, we cannot even feel so much as a hug. We marry people that are too avoidant, or too needy. We lose our ability to trust our gut. We might recreate the pattern of our children taking care of us. This is when we go into the darkness--we take a look at our wound, our protection, and we own it. We own why it hurt, how it hurt, and the “now what?” More to come on that.
Side note: Stepping into an Intensive is scary. In short, an intensive is about one year of therapy beautifully and messily packaged into several days. This is for those ready to take a big deep look into their own darkness in the hope of finding some light. Beginning by exploring childhood, looking for behavior patterns, old wounds, and themes that might just be popping up today. Our exploration is mostly experiential in nature (think show not tell). A facilitator moves each participant through the muck of childhood into the even muckier muck of adulthood. We “invite” our past into the room by asking group members to enroll as our family members, or important characters in our history. Through the direction of a therapist, the participant gets to address these people. The conversation can simply be a release, or the loved one can answer back; either way, the process is profound. The clinician is tapping into something so old and so sacred, that most participants feel a huge shift almost immediately. I HOPE that as I sit with you, as I hold space, as I just witness your wounds, you heal. If I can tolerate you, you have a much better shot at tolerating yourself.
But, back to Kake/Alesa. Our dear Alesa came ready to do the work. Alesa invited her mother, father, step-parents, and grandparents into the space - and also, Little Alesa (or Kake). With her protective armor, she chose to shield Kake by addressing the pain of her past. Alesa addressed the neglect, the hunger, the lack of a good birthday party as a kid, and the unfairness of it all. Isn’t it unfair? Shouldn’t children just naturally get to be kids? Be fed enough? Loved enough? By Alesa confronting her hurt, she taught the little girl inside her that there is, in fact, enough. Enough food. Enough hair ties. Enough cute clothes. Enough love. For 41 years her mantra had been “there isn’t enough for me.” But, that one day in February, she could acknowledge the scarcity, and engage in “enough-ness.” When she addressed Kake, she addressed her with empathy, love, compassion, and nurturing. She assured and reassured her that there is in fact enough for her.
This doesn’t mean our patterns go away. It means when they arise, we pat our own arm and say, “There, there, little one. I’ve got you. There is enough.” This, my dear ones, is the very first step in re-parenting our Inner-Child. This is resiliency! We see our wounds, and we let other humans see them (in this case, Alesa allowed me and seven other group members see her). Then we can truly begin our process of healing.
After Alesa had completed her piece of work, I knew I wanted her to experience something different--I wanted Kake to experience something different. Which was going to be a risk. I wanted Kake to experience the birthday party she never got to experience. Our team rallied, and while Alesa was finishing group, we decorated the kitchen and dining room with pink streamers, a giant birthday cake, a Minnie Mouse card that sang a song, and a birthday banner. Alesa and the other group members had no idea.
To “close” our session, I guided the participants in a meditation, inviting them to an 11-year-old’s birthday party in their minds. As they sat with their eyes closed, I gently placed Minnie Mouse birthday crowns on their laps. When they opened their eyes, they walked up the stairs to Kake’s 11th Birthday. Without asking for anything, this group started hugging Alesa and wishing her a Happy Birthday. They engaged their own Inner Children to laugh and to smile and to eat birthday cake before dinner! Because they could!
Human connection is how we heal. We don’t need masses of humans--we just need one. One “other” to see us, as we are. Our growth doesn’t end with a Minnie Mouse birthday party at age 41. But it continues on and on. I asked Alesa to share how she is currently re-parenting Kake. This is what she had to say:
I am such a visual person.
I keep a picture of little Kake on my desk now, on my phone, and really close to my heart. When she shows up, which it turns out she does quite often, I see her. Then, I try to really see her. I close my eyes. Imagine her bouncy, messy hair, her freckles, and how she would hide behind things when she was scared...and I actually miss her. So, I take a moment to breathe her in. Sit with her, and tell her everything she needs to hear. That I understand her, and her feelings make sense. Sometimes I laugh with her, sometimes I cry. Every time, it changes how grown up Kake is in that moment.
Thanks for changing me, Claire.
I hope you will take a look at Little You if you have not done so already. I hope you find an “other” to see you. Once you know those messages from your Inner Child that you have long ignored, I hope you do something fun. I hope you rewrite the messages.
Cheers to you in all of your mess, Minnie Mouse Ears and loveliness,
Keep scrolling for a tool for your toolbox and resources!
Tool for your toolbox:
While not necessarily a tangible tool, the conversation between Brene and Marie are a pair of mind-blowing women. I encourage you to watch and lean into braving.
I have attended as a participant on more than one occasion. Here are the two that I most highly recommend (and have personally attended). Step in, my friends. It is so worth it