Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Inner Child and Our Adult Relationships

Everyone wants to be happy and in love. So why after we meet that someone special does the drama set in? It seems as soon as the honeymoon phase is over, often romantic partnerships start to include the unpleasant qualities of drama and confusion. Even the most magical connections that start with instant recognition, fireworks and intoxicating joy, shift and evolve to also contain elements of hurt feelings, disillusionment and pain. In truth, pain is the most powerful gift of partnership. Relationships are not necessarily meant to have us live happily ever after, but to have the places inside that hurt be exposed for the opportunity for soul level healing. However, most people weren't taught this - or how to take advantage of the powerful gift of pain.

Anytime we are in a great deal of upset, there is a line of energy going back to an earlier time in our lives when we experienced hurt or disappointment. However, rather than addressing past hurts the tendency is to fight, argue, blame and defend our position in the present. The key to shift from drama and chaos to peace and happiness is the Inner Child.

As children we all have been hurt - even in the happiest of homes. Anytime we did not get our needs met, were not validated, felt abandoned, did not feel safe, supported or loved we experience an "emotional wounding." This wounding can stunt our growth and we start to collect our backpack of hurts. As adults, most have a significant collection of emotional trauma and are carrying around overstuffed, heavy backpacks of pain - even if they do not know it or cannot consciously recall the details of when, where or what caused it.

As a counselor I frequently work with couples that are experiencing challenges. Often couples in distress play the blame game, vie for power and fight to be right. They want to be heard but don't necessarily want to hear. My job is to support them in really listening to each other and then give them tools to bring peace, understanding and a sense of connection back to their relationship.

An example of the inner children affecting an adult relationship happened with my clients James and Linda. Linda often felt that James was not making her a priority. He would go golfing with his buddies but rarely had the desire or inclination to schedule time to do something special with her. This made Linda very angry. James in turn felt they spent a lot quality time together and wondered why Linda was making such a big deal about him having his guy time. He was confused, frustrated and hurt. Something I know to be true is underneath anger is hurt and underneath hurt is love. Since Linda was feeling the more intense emotion at this time I wanted her to speak first. As she explained what she was feeling, James started to defend himself. I told him for now his job was simply to bepresent and to listen.

I proceeded to ask Linda more questions: "Linda what does it bring up for you when James makes plans to spend the day with his friends." Linda responded: "I feel unimportant and disregarded." Then I asked Linda to remember an earlier time in her life when she felt this way. "Well, as a teenager I felt my boyfriend liked his guy friends better than me." I asked Linda to go back even further: "When is the very first time you remember feeling this way?" Linda was quiet for a moment, then her eyes began to fill with tears. "When my father told me he and my mother were getting a divorce. He promised he would come see me every week and that he still loved me. But he didn't come see me every week. Soon he remarried and had my half-brother. I never felt like my dad loved me as much as him." Tears were now streaming down her face. I asked how old she was when this happened, she told me she was seven. James heart opened in understanding and compassion.

Next I asked James to focus on his experience in this situation. What did he feel when Linda got upset about him hanging out with the guys. He said sad and frustrated. I asked him to follow that line of energy back to the first time he remembered feeling this way. He said he was probably eleven. James told us his mother would often make him include his younger sister when he wanted to hang out with his friends. He told us this made him feel embarrassed in front of his friends but also afraid because he did not want to disappoint his mother. We soon found out this dynamic had very little to do with golf and had everything to do with one another's wounds being touched and provoked. This situation reduced Linda to a hurt and abandoned seven year old and James to an ashamed and fearful eleven year old. As we explored these past hurts more deeply Linda and James started to have compassion and understanding for their inner children, for themselves and for each other. From this more aware place a great healing occurred and they were easily able to find ways to take responsibility for themselves and make plans to include each other.

Linda and James now have the awareness and tools to support themselves when hurt comes up. The first step is to "self sooth" which means to get in touch with the part of inside of themselves that needs attention. An easy way to do this is simply ask this question inwardly: "How old am I now" and "who inside of me needs my love and attention?" It is always a younger aspect of oneself. The second step is to listen to what the Inner Child has to say. What do they want? How you can take care of them and help them feel better right now. This simple two step process can support us in not only stabilizing mentally and healing emotionally but to evolve spiritually. When we unravel pain from the bottom up and from the inside out the natural byproduct is to see life, and our relationships, from a much clearer, cleaner and healthier perspective.

Once this simple exercise has been completed a more adult conscious conversation with ones partner can ensue. This conversation is best addressed as open ended questions and deep listening. Some examples might include "How are you feeling? What is coming up for you now? What is beneath this?" Remember beneath anger is hurt and beneath hurt is love. In order to go deeper and get down through the layers of anger and pain and back to love, it is important to be present, hold space, ask questions and listen. Learning to communicate through upset becomes a powerful healing opportunity and more about understanding, learning and listening than being right, being heard and winning.

Another simple technique I sometimes suggest is finding an object such as a stuffed animal, a crystal or a "talking stick." When one person is in possession of this symbol, they get to talk; the other can only listen, ask questions and/or be silent. Once that person feels heard, understood and are complete, the symbol can be handed off to the other and it is their turn to share their thoughts and feelings. This is a very different way of communicating and a powerful way of coming back to connection, understanding, respect and love.

Relationships can be hard, but they don't have to be. Once we cultivate a conscious relationship with our Inner Child, we no longer need another to be any different than they are or validate us in order for us to feel loved, because we know how to do it for ourselves. When we know how to take responsibility for ourselves, acknowledge ourselves, love ourselves and take care of our Inner Child we are on more solid ground within and we become more whole. This simple practice reduces the pressure and expectations we place on our partner, and renders us more capable of unconditional love, acceptance and peace. From this more healed and whole place heartfelt connections are more easily maintained, appreciation is more present, respect is natural and intimacy can flourish.

To learn more about the Inner Child listen to Dr. Tammi's interview with Cathryn Talor, best selling author of "The Inner Child Workbook" copy and paste this link to your browser


  1. It becomes so clear when one thinks in these terms. Thank you so much for the enlightenment.

  2. Thank you so much for your kind words. When we boil it all down the process is simple...but rarely easy!


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