Learning to love the “inner child”. A professional task

Christoph Hueck

Childhood patterns

A young teacher, not yet long at the school, had agreed to take responsibility for organising a school event and invested a considerable amount of time in doing so. At the last teachers’ meeting before the event he was absent due to illness. His fellow teachers went through the programme and noticed that no moderator had been named. Since there were other urgent items on the agenda, the problem was quickly dealt with and a volunteer was found.

Unfortunately, no one thought of telling their ill colleague. When he finally learned about it, he was disappointed as he had prepared to take on that role. In a part of his soul he had envisioned himself standing on the stage and receiving recognition for his commitment. This prospect had motivated him to work particularly hard.

Let us further assume that this touched on a theme that related to the whole of his life. In childhood, his father had paid little attention to him, hardly praised him but criticised him a lot. For the soul of the small boy that was a recurring hurt. The need of the child to be seen, recognised and lovingly supported kept being disappointed. And the soul took the only way out it had in that it gradually desensitised itself to this childhood pain, repressing it into a dark corner. Although such repression was a reasonable thing for the child to do, perhaps even essential for his survival, the inner hurt remained unconsciously alive in the adult and was “remembered” in similar situations in the present and reactivated.

Repression, protection and projection

Many people carry such repressed childhood hurt within themselves. It was unbearable at the time – and still feels like that. The difference is that the outer cause no longer exists and we would have quite different possibilities as adults to deal with it. In anthroposophical terms, such experiences continue to live as a disposition in the etheric body.

The problem starts where we do not want to experience such feelings and moods. We repress them and seek to protect ourselves against them through compensatory action. The great commitment of our teacher is a defence mechanism to escape the latent feeling of his worthlessness.

There are many different behaviours by means of which we seek to escape the bad feelings of the past: brooding a lot, talking a lot, distracting ourselves, always wanting to help others, wanting everything to be perfect, blaming others, constantly making plans, seeing problems everywhere, functioning, always being in a good mood, being distanced, being superficial, being very judgemental, creating false harmony, withdrawing, rationalising, always complaining … All these things take us away from our centre. We lose contact with ourselves.

Repression may protect us but it also consumes a huge amount of life energy which would otherwise be freely and positively available. But for as long as the unconscious fear of our feelings is greater than the impairment of our joy and strength in life through such repression, many will hold on to this protective mechanism.

After all, allowing these feelings to come to the surface means exposing ourselves once more to the often life-threatening impotence, the pain and shame which the child experienced. The knowledge that our parents caused us suffering can also be difficult to bear. Maintaining a positive image of our parents is a protective mechanism.

The final step in this cascade of inner need is the projection on to others. For our teacher it is easy to place the blame for his hurt on to his colleagues. Had they not been so inattentive and allowed him to be the moderator, then everything would have been wonderful. Or would it …?

A way to the “shadow child”

In the psychotherapeutic literature these latent negative childhood patterns are described as the “hurt inner child” or the “shadow child”. It is a neglected and repressed part of our own personality. If we want to help it, we first of all have to become acquainted with it. I will briefly outline a simple way – described in greater detail by Stefanie Stahl.

Take a sheet of paper and draw a child in the middle: that is yourself. Now write at the top on the one side Mum and on the other Dad (or whoever were your attachment figures) and below that the way in which these adults behaved in situations which were difficult for you. For example, Mum “was stressed, sad, irritated”; Dad “was absent, was not interested in me, criticised me”. The purpose is not to criticise the parents, who might have been unable to act differently at the time, but to learn to feel the hurt inner child.

Then write into the shape of the child how you yourself felt in such a situation. Try here too to be honest and empathetic. Pay particular attention to the physical reactions which arise in you when you recall such situations; for example, a weight on your shoulders, constriction in the throat, shortage of breath, a feeling of contraction in the stomach, rising anger, sadness …

The recall of these feelings should be alive but not overwhelming. It is important to be present with your adult I. This is possible, for example, by creating an image of you yourself as an adult placing yourself next to the hurt child which you where at the time and taking loving care of them.

Such pictorial consideration also helps to let go of the negative feelings again. You can carry out this method for yourself and achieve a great deal with it. If, however, certain problems can still not be resolved, proper therapy can also be helpful.

Awakening the “sun child”

When you have reached this stage, there are two further steps which round off the process at this point.

Most people have certain, not fully conscious convictions about themselves which can be expressed in short sentences, so called “beliefs” which were formed out of their childhood experiences. For example: “I’m not worth anything”, “No one wants me”, “I can’t do anything”, “It’s my fault” …

It might also be rules of behaviour: “I can endure that”, “I’d better be quiet”, “I have to manage it on my own”, “I’m responsible for your mood”, “If I’m not in control everything will go wrong” …

The task now is to find the three most important beliefs which were formed out of your childhood experience. Not what the adults said to you but the conviction you reached yourself. Formulate these sentences in writing in brief I-form. What feelings do you have when you consciously say such a sentence to yourself? Where in your body do you feel anything, what does this sentence do to you? Create space for such feelings – because in this way you are creating space for the repressed child in you.

When you have undertaken and concluded this step for yourself, for example by consciously letting go of the negative feelings again, turn the belief round into a positive, for example: “I am worth something”, “I am wanted”, “I am allowed to express my opinion”, “I can let go”, “I am not responsible for your mood”.

Now sense inside yourself again to experience what this positive sentence physically feels like. Imagine your parents had said these words to you. Give a lot of space to this feeling as well, inhale it deeply, as it were. It is the way that the healthy, the free and happy sun child in you feels or would feel if it lived in you to a greater extent.

Many people cast doubt on such positive affirmation; they are fixated on their negative beliefs because they originate in their real childhood experiences. But we do not diminish our own experiences in any way, we do not deny them, but to begin with fetch the hurt child out of their shadow existence and then add an adult, positive perspective. The latter mostly corresponds much more to present reality.

For as long as we, as teachers and pre-school teachers, repress our own hurt, the inner child with its shadow existence will keep driving us towards problematic feelings and actions. If we awaken the sun child in us we do not deny anything, do not deceive ourselves, do not do an injustice to anyone and do not neglect our tasks. The only thing that changes is that we change, become contented, and thus transform our life and the world. For teachers and pre-school teachers embracing the hurt inner child and awakening the sun child is a professional task.

About the author: Dr. Christoph Hueck is a scientist and lecturer in anthroposophy and Waldorf education.