Inner Child Work has never lost its popularity among the recovering community. Now it is mainstream for all those who have suffered childhood trauma that has interfered with the quality of their lives and relationships. This is why I am going to present a series of blogs related to Inner Child Work. I have been inundated with clients who are seeking to gain their lives back; restoring sanity to their interrupted lives and looking for resolution from their pasts. Many have read countless self-help books, invested in therapy, self-help groups, attended 12 step programs, all yearning for peace, tranquility and serenity. Many are still in quest for resolution, healing and transformation. In all my forty-four years as a psychotherapist, I have never known more intense work that effectuates positive change more than Inner Child Work.
This is Part One in a series of blogs that will be presented on my website over the next few months. I invite you to learn about this profound work that I had the good fortune of learning from one of the greatest therapists and inspirational speakers of our time—John Bradshaw. I am sharing my years of experience, knowledge and outcomes regarding Inner Child Work.
Read how people have transformed their lives to become who they were intended to be.
History of Inner Child Work
There seems to be a great interest in Inner Child Work, something I have specialized in since 1989 working with John Bradshaw and Kip Flock. Joan E. Childs and Associates was established after sponsoring John in South Florida. I built a team of skilled therapists who were trained by John and Kip. Six offices were opened in Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach counties. John’s Transformation Model healed the wounds of millions of recovering addicts across the nation and around the world. I had the good fortune to create and expand it to South Florida. I will always be grateful for the mentorship of both these men. Their contribution to healing our inner child has been profound in the field of psychology.
The need in the recovering community has been overwhelming. More than four thousand people flocked to both Inner Child Workshops that I sponsored in 1989 and 1990 in Miami Beach and Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. John had already presented three series on Public Television nationally. The first, BRADSHAW: On the Family followed by HEALING THE SHAME THAT BINDS YOU and last, HOMECOMING. All three are available on YouTube and in books. He was a celebrity for Inner Child Work. I don’t think that John ever thought that his contribution to Inner Child Work would become a global movement. Although not the first to innovate the work, John brought it to the masses. There were many who contributed to this concept. At first, the mental health community was skeptical, calling it “fringe” or pop psychology.
As the years wore on, and it was evident that change and healing took place, it became accepted as part of the mainstream, as did EMDR (eye movement, desensitization and reprocessing) and many other modalities that were challenged by mainstream psychologists and psychiatrists. This is part of the journey in most fields in the sciences. New ideas are often defied and unaccepted until proven worthy. On May 8, 2016, John Bradshaw died of heart failure at the age of 82.
John Bradshaw and the Inner Child Movement
Bradshaw suggested that dysfunctional family systems were the etiology of addiction. The pain and suffering of abuse, abandonment, and neglect carried forward into adulthood, too often created a need to self-medicate; hence, alcoholism, workaholism, gambling, drug addiction, sex addiction, love addiction, gaming addiction, eating disorders, pornography, and more. One could even be addicted to negative thoughts, feelings, and emotions. These are some of the ways the wounded inner child acted out their pain. By numbing out, they didn’t have to feel it anymore. Disassociation was a pathway to escape. The problem was that addiction only exacerbated the trauma of the wounded child leaving double trouble–the unresolved wounds of the past and now, addiction; almost too much for any human being to overcome. Our culture was infused with addiction. Those who escaped any of the above isms didn’t necessarily escape mood disorders and other serious mental and/or personality disorders. No one who was abused in childhood was spared from psychological impairment to a greater or lesser degree. Biology plays an important part in our development as do environmental factors. Nature vs. nurture depends on many mitigating circumstances. We are wired for connection. When connection is lost, we go into crisis.
The emotional cancer that grows over time, destroys our ability to make good choices. It steals our childhood innocence and contaminates our adult lives. The need for a secure attachment, love, and acceptance are vital parts of human needs. Not having a secure attachment in our childhood results in always looking for love in all the wrong places, never finding inner peace, a loss of self-worth, self-confidence, and self-esteem. The danger is we repeat the patterns that drove us to addiction and unhappiness. Freud called this “repetition compulsion”.
Alice Miller, the Polish-Swiss psychologist, psychoanalyst, and philosopher of Jewish origin, who is noted for her books on parental child abuse, calls it “the logic of absurdity.” In her book, The Drama of the Gifted Child, Miller describes the effects of abuse perpetrated on children when they are innocent, defenseless, and impressionable.
Hedy Schleifer, master relationship builder says, the crisis is, we choose partners who will give us the biggest nightmare to help us resolve our unfinished business and childhood wounds, only to fire them for the very reason we hired them. We just didn’t know better because our choices are dictated by the unconscious where our inner child resides. Not unlike nature, the child is attempting to make us whole. Inner Child Work, whether for individuals, couples or groups, strives to make us whole as nature intended us to be.
All families are dysfunctional to a greater or lesser degree. Parents don’t have eyes in the back of their heads. We only know what we know and doing what comes naturally, is too often unhealthy. Just because your pappy and grandpappy did it their way, doesn’t make it right. For our society to be civil, enlightened, and evolved, the family system must learn how to be supportive, nurturing, and conscious. It all starts there.
In her book, The Conscious Parent, by Shefali Tsabary, Ph.D., Tsabary illustrates the importance of consciousness in parenting and the importance of healing yourself so you can raise healthy children. Many parents are clueless about consciousness. It takes conscious parenting to raise emotionally healthy children. This means being mindful of everything we say and do. If not, there will be serious consequences. Children model what you do more than what you say. Shame-based parents will unwittingly produce shame-based children, thus perpetuating multi-generational toxic shame. This is not a blame game. As shame-based individuals, we need to know what happened to us.
“If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.”
– Gospel of Thomas
Four Steps to Recovery
John’s definition of addiction is a pathological relationship with a person, substance, or behavior that has mood-altering effects and life-threatening consequences. Simply stated, addiction is something you can’t stop. The unconscious, where the inner child dwells, dictates the behavior that dominates the conscious mind. So even if an addict wants to stop the addiction, common sense and desire can’t win over a will that has run riot. The only way out is to work through the original pain and learn how to re-parent the child that lives within us. An illustration of this can be seen in the movie ROCKETMAN: the true story of Elton John. AA and all the other 12-step programs are helpful, but therapy is paramount. The therapy is very specialized. It includes many combined modalities working together to resolve these wounds.
John felt that there were four steps to recovery.
Modify the Behavior
If you’re using and abusing alcohol or drugs, and acting out your repressed feelings, you must stop. This is first stage recovery. Acting out is simply taking a feeling and turning it into a behavior. An example would be a woman unfulfilled emotionally, having sex outside her marriage rather than confronting the issue directly or a man unfulfilled sexually, getting his needs met with other women. This perpetuates the dysfunction and is the cause of broken hearts, post-traumatic stress disorder, domestic violence, and too often divorce.
Original Pain and Family of origin work
This is second stage recovery. Essentially, this means healing the trauma, whether conscious or subconscious that interfered with your personal growth and development. The work includes NLP, (Neuro-Linguistic Programming), Gestalt Therapy, Chair Work, Parts Work, Hypnosis, EMDR, (Eye Movement, desensitization and reprocessing), Psychodrama and more. It’s a bag of psychological theories and modalities that make up the Transformation Model. Think of it as golf bag filled with different clubs to use for different situations. If you only have one club, you are not going to be a skilled golfer.
Some therapists employ their own specialties including breath-work, tapping, and many more. The work is highly experiential and abreactive, inducing repressed feelings of anger, sadness, fear, shame, and guilt. It is the expression of emotions associated with repressed material, usually of an anxiety-provoking or conflictual nature, which is brought into a person’s awareness and relived to achieve catharsis. The goal is to reclaim, heal and champion the child.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Much of cognitive behavior therapy comes from master clinicians like Alfred Adler, Aaron Beck, Albert Ellis, Virginia Satir, and many others. The therapist and patient/client work together, in a collaborative fashion, to develop an understanding of the problem and to develop a treatment strategy. Twelve-step meetings are adjuncts to the therapy. Support groups strengthen the outcome of the work.
CBT places an emphasis on helping individuals learn to be their own therapists. Through exercises in the session as well as “homework” outside of sessions, patients/clients are helped to develop coping skills, tools, and resources whereby they can learn to change their own thinking, problematic emotions, and behavior.
CBT therapists underscore what is going on in the person’s current life, rather than what has led up to their difficulties. A certain amount of information about one’s history is needed, but the focus is primarily on moving forward in time to develop more effective ways of coping with life. Source: APA Div. 12 (Society of Clinical Psychology)
Basically, several modalities are employed to gain optimum results. They often cross over from original pain work into the cognitive-behavioral work. The emphasis is based on the way you were raised in your family of origin. Original pain work is highly experiential while CBT leans more to changing your irrational thoughts that interfere with the quality of your life; both are necessary for optimum results.
This stage of the model cannot be achieved without the first three parts. You can’t skip Original Pain work and go directly to spirituality. That is like trying to steal second base with one foot on first.
What is meant by spirituality? It is having access to all your feelings, parts and accepting the belief there is something higher than yourself. It can be God as you know God, the Oaktree in your back yard, the universe, your guardian angel, something that represents your higher power. The dictionary defines “higher power” as a deity or another powerful but unknowable force, conceptualized variously as the Supreme Being, nature, the universe, invisible energy, etc., to which appeals or prayers may be directed, or in the context of which explanations of life and circumstances may be imagined. It is not about religion, although most religions imbibe the same meaning, however, directed to a deity of their belief. It holds the belief that there is a divine force that connects us as one. It is also embracing your shadow side; that part of us that we want to deny or disown, that comes from the wounded child and the unresolved conflicts. It’s the liar that lives in us, the repressed rage that pops out as if it had a life of its own, the frugal part, the parts that keep us from being whole. Nature wants us to be whole. We must recognize them, embrace them and learn to acknowledge and manage them. If we don’t, the shadow side will wage war with us until we recognize its intention and work out a solution.
This is where parts work is so effective. Not unlike the movie Star Wars, we all have a Darth Vader within us; a Luke Skywalker, a Hans Solo, an Obi-Wan Kenobi, a Sheev Palpatine, and a Yoda. Each part represents a different personality within us. Each has its own belief, intention, value, and behavior. These parts, especially the dark ones are very powerful. We don’t want to purge them. We need to embrace them and learn how to negotiate with them so we are their master, rather them being ours. They are powerful and useful if we learn how to guide them properly.
This is part of re-parenting. It’s imperative to know who we are, why we are here, what is our purpose in life and how we become the person we were intended to be. If we don’t embrace our shadow side, eventually it will bite us in the ass! It’s the gunny sack we unconsciously carried around through our lost childhood. This is another reason and need for 12 step programs. They provide 12 cognitive steps to recovery. Their motto is “It works if you work it.” The fourth and fifth steps in the program are geared toward not only owning your shadow side as well as your positive parts, but making amends to those you have hurt. This is part of spirituality and can be found in most religions. In Judaism during Yom Kippur the day of atonement, we ask God to forgive us for our sins. God will not forgive us unless we make our amends to those we have hurt. In his movie, Deconstructing Harry, Woody Allen takes us through the characters that live within him. He brilliantly exemplifies parts work.
“What I am is me; for that I came.” John often used this quote by Gerard Manley Hopkins. He would say, “To go to one’s death never knowing who you are, is the tragedy of tragedies.”
Part Two will illustrate the importance and practice of Parts Work and The Transformational Model by Kip Flock, the director of The John Bradshaw Center. Part Three will present case studies that I have witnessed transform lives by reclaiming, healing and championing the inner child.
Joan E Childs, LCSW is a renowned psychotherapist, inspirational speaker and author of I Hate The Man I Love: A Conscious Relationship is Your Key to Success. In private practice since 1978, she specializes in individual and couple’s therapy, grief therapy, EMDR, NLP, Inner Child Work and codependency. Learn more about her services at www.joanechilds.com.