Our inner child is a term which refers to the hurt “parts” of us, the neglected or abused parts that desire understanding and support. Because they’re scared and lonely, feel vulnerable and abandoned, they seek the nurturing they never received.
They are called “Exiles” in Internal Family Systems, a way of doing therapy developed by Dr. Dick Schwartz. We can learn to do this inner work for ourselves using a process called Self-therapy, to create healing for our inner child parts.
Our outer child parts are the parts of us that “act out” in in very controlling, critical ways or in hasty and irrational ways to try and protect us from danger. These parts are called “Managers” or “Firefighters” in Internal Family Systems. They are prompted by trying to protect us from overpowering and unexpressed feelings from our past.
We all have parts
When we have been hurt, humiliated, frightened, or shamed in the past, we will have “parts” that carry the emotions, memories, and sensations from those experiences. These are big burdens which our parts don’t know how to put down. So they keep behaving in repetitive, unskillful ways when they are triggered, often causing damage along the way.
Generally, all “acting out” behaviours are geared towards blocking fear or anger, tension or anxiety via uncontrolled venting of thoughts, feelings and desires.
Unfortunately, this venting is governed by the emotional part of our brain, not our thinking brain. These outer child parts who vent are the impulsive, unrestrained parts of us that act to protect us with no thought to consequences for us or our partner. They demand immediate gratification and cause us to indulge in what Dr. Terry Real calls “losing strategies”, or the six ways we get stuck. We do unskillful things like: insist on being right, control situations, explode into rages, lie, cheat, resentfully comply, self-medicate or withdraw – usually impacting those we care about most, like our partner.
Managers and Firefighters
Even though they believe they’re trying to protect us from hurt or shame, our protective Managers and Firefighters also cause us to break promises. They abandon tasks that we promised we’d do because tasks require self-discipline and perseverance to complete, attributes which our immature parts don’t have.
Our child parts literally hijack our adult parts, overriding our more considered preferences. They literally cause us to “flip our lid”, a term coined by child and family psychiatrist Dr. Dan Siegel. Even when we know what’s in our best interests, and in the best interests of our relationship, if we don’t learn how to heal these child parts and become Self-led, they can sabotage our life.
When we indulge in getting instant relief, we end up feeling worse about our self. For the sake of immediate gratification, we sacrifice what’s actually much more satisfying and meaningful to us, our self-respect and our relationships. By reacting from our child parts, or our wounds, we are allowing our impulsive emotional brain to run, and ruin, our life.
We all have inner child parts and outer child parts
It’s important that our inner child parts (Exiles), our outer child parts (Protectors – divided into Managers & Firefighters) with all their emotional reactions, be respected (not suppressed) by our more calm and centered mature adult Self. At core we all have a Self containing many crucial leadership qualities such as perspective, confidence, compassion, and acceptance.
Our inner child parts and outer child parts are our wounded parts. They need to be heard and attended to in caring and responsible ways. This is what being Self-led is about – and it involves learning to self-nurture and self-soothe. Our parts need to be understood before they can stop acting out. If we let our impulses run free, negative repercussions are inevitable. But we can learn to deal with these parts in caring ways by learning to take a responsible time-out and to self-soothe.
When we react strongly to something, that’s exactly the time to stop, step back and ask “Can I afford to act on this feeling?” Most probably we’ve been triggered, or our imagination’s running wild, or we’re feeling disrespected, angry, scared or depressed. These are all normal, human states governed by our emotional brain which hijacks our functional adult Self, making thinking, caring, and considered judgment impossible. Right here is when we need to do what’s counter-intuitive – turn within and learn to understand our child parts instead of trying to stop them acting out. Even though this is difficult, it’s incredibly important.
What you can do:
If turning within and being curious about what you’re feeling, thinking and needing seems too big a stretch, use distraction techniques as a way to calm down. Go for a fast walk or jog, do some push-ups, clean your house, have a cool shower or relaxing bath, write, paint, do some slow breathing, listen to soothing music or call a good friend. Do anything that works for you to self-soothe because it’s essential that you learn to quiet down your emotions.
What you must not do:
- Don’t relentlessly pursue your partner to get an immediate resolution to your anxiety
- Don’t obstinately withdraw from your partner to avoid the fear that you’re feeling
- Don’t use drugs, alcohol or engage in any impulsive, self-harming behaviour to block the feelings.
These are your feelings and only you can learn to manage them. When you feel calmer and your adult self, your thinking brain is back on board, that’s the time to approach your partner to arrange a conversation to repair any rupture to your relationship. Remember, the emotional reasoning of our inner and outer child may masquerade as rational, but from the perspective of the Self, our functional adult part, they’re anything but!
Having a successful relationship requires you to manage your own inner and outer child parts instead of expending your good energy in trying to change your partner. Doing this will give you an increased sense of personal power, self-esteem and integrity. You will be more differentiated and able to build a more secure relationship in which both of you can help each other heal from past wounds.
You deserve the best trained relationship coaches if you’re planning to invest time and money in your relationship. If you’re not ready to book an appointment, call us on 0421 961 687 to book a FREE 10 minute phone consultation to discuss how we may be able to assist you.