The inner child is a concept that has been thoroughly explored by psychologists, psychotherapists, spiritual, and religious healers throughout time. Carl Jung called it the “Divine Child,” Sandor Ferenczi the “Wise Child,” Emmet Fox the “Wonder Child,” and Charles Whitefield the “Child Within.” Each discipline of thought has its own specific explanation for this aspect of the self. The inner child and adolescent is the part of our personality that represents those phases in our life, and are a part of the whole, integrated self, which also includes the real or “True” self, higher self and soul. Your True self is that part of you that’s “real”, or truly an adult. The True or Real Self has integrated all of its parts into a working whole. Jacquis Bishop, M.S. and Mary Grunte, R.N. in How To Love Yourself When You Don’t Know How: Healing All Your Inner Children (1992) explain the “Inner Family:” “‘Inner’ refers to what exists in the person’s internal awareness, as opposed to what exists outside the body and can be seen by others. ‘Family’ refers to patterns of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that resemble a family structure of personalities and interactions… When we listen carefully to [the] words and phrases [that run through our brains and tell us how we are or should be thinking, feeling, and acting], they begin to sound as if they are coming from particular personalities with distinctive characters. As we continue to observe, it becomes clear that some of these characters sound adult while others sound childlike… their patterns of internal communication… recall our own upbringing.”
To understand the inner child, it is necessary to have a basic understanding of personality. How the human personality is created is explained in a variety of ways from a variety of viewpoints. As any parent of multiple children knows, that while their children get essentially the same love and care, they each are unique, sometimes drastically different. Although our environment plays a large part in the development of the personality of a child, so do our genetics. Reunited twins, or the discovery of long lost parents often reveal amazing similarities in personality that can’t be accounted environmentally. The only other explanation is that our genes determine a great deal about our disposition. Our disposition could also be called our karma, for the way one approaches life has a great deal to do with the reality one creates in that life.
There are a variety of components to the personality, explained in a variety of ways within psychology and spirituality. According to Dr. George Boeree (1997), Carl Jung calls the personality the psyche and theorizes it has three components: the ego (the conscious mind), the personal unconscious (personal knowledge that is not currently conscious, but could be), and the collective unconscious (that which we are born knowing or the “psychic inheritance”). The universal archetypes, such as the Mother, Father, Anima and Animus, Hero, Maiden, Warrior, and so on, are in the collective unconscious. They also have an effect on the personal unconscious as we individually live the archetypes the way our culture defines them. The inner child and adolescent can be seen as one of these archetypes of the psyche.
The inner child and adolescent is the part of our personality that represents the needs of those phases in our life. The child, knowing nothing but self, is completely self‐centered, while the adolescent, who has figured out that other people have needs too, tends to be self‐important. In other words, the adolescent believes that their needs are more important than any one else’s. Although self‐centered, the child is generally happy to receive guidance and care from adults. The adolescent, on the other hand, thinks he or she “knows it all.” Bishop and Grunte (1992), explain, “Inner Children [includes Inner Teens] are the one or more young personalities we all have inside us. In many ways, these Inner Children are just like outer children—loving, curious, full of feeling and emotion, intelligent, and complete. They differ from outer children in that: (1) they share a physical body with an adult being—that is, you; (2) they are caught in a time warp: that is, even though the body they inhabit is fully grown, they still think they’re physically small and proportionately vulnerable, especially to people who resemble their original caretakers in some way; (3) when threatened, they revert to behaviors that are related to unhappy events early in their lives, and they recreate the sense of helplessness, pain, rage, and fear that those original events evoked in them.”
The problem arises when childhood abuse, neglect, or trauma stunts our spiritual and emotional growth. John Bradshaw, in his book Home Coming: Reclaiming And Championing Your Inner Child (1990), uses the tool of a mnemonic formula to describe the contamination a wounded inner child has on our lives:
- Offender Behaviors
- Narcissistic Disorders
- Trust Issues
- Acting Out/Acting In Behaviors
- Magical Beliefs
- Intimacy Dysfunctions
- Non-disciplined Behaviors
- Addiction/Compulsive Behaviors
- Thought Distortions
- Emptiness (Apathy, Depression)
A responsible, healed adult recognizes when he or she behaves immaturely. Honest self‐assessment, asking for forgiveness, making amends and changing behavior is the outcome. Before this can happen, however, the child and adolescent must be healed.
Most of us were born to parents who were immature in some way. Because our society doesn’t teach us how to grow up, our parents, at least to some extent, probably stagnated in immature ways of being and behaving. Being poor role models, they could not teach us what we needed to know to become more mature, happier, and loving individuals. Being immature, our parents often treated us in unloving and irresponsible ways. Bishop and Grunte (1992) state, “When a person’s Inner Grown‐up fully loves and properly cares for every one of the Inner Children, the person experiences a sense of wholeness, health, and joy, as well as love for self and others, regardless of our outer circumstances… However, because no parent is perfect in all areas, and parents can’t teach what they themselves don’t know, most of us lack the information that can allow us to change, as well as the role models that can teach us how. Many are poorly equipped for the job of taking care of their Inner Children… When ill‐equipped, we tend to resort to behaviors that aren’t suited to adult life because, in some respect, we disregard the connection between action and consequences.” This causes us to feel pain.
As children and adolescents, we were not yet mature enough to protect ourselves and also process this pain, so parts of our personality stagnated at their stages of development. Because most adolescents stop listening to authority figures (especially authority figures who are immature themselves), they become pioneering crusaders who are determined to make their own way in the world. Not seeing the bigger picture, their ways will fail just like their parents. Eventually, they too will learn the lessons evolution teaches everyone. Until the mature part of us processes the emotions from the painful childhood incidents, we will hold onto the grievances, reacting in the same way as adults that we did as children and adolescents.