Which comes first?
Understanding your Inner Child
or
Helping your inner child understand you?

   
 

Alan has never forgotten that Christmas morning, many years ago when he was an excited seven year old. The present he had been dreaming of was waiting for him under the tree.  He could tell from the size of the parcel that it had to be the remote controlled plane, exactly the one he had been wishing for.  Alan's excitement rose even higher, as he started to open the parcel.

And then disappointment! Instead of a ready to fly plane there was only a kit, just a box full of parts. It looked as though it would take ages for a seven-year old to put it all together.

But the thing that worried little Alan the most was the manual that explained how to build the plane. It was written in complex grown-up language that he could not understand.  And, as he glanced through the pages, he saw printed in large letters a number of "WARNINGS" about things that could go wrong during the construction.

Meanwhile, Alan's father was full of enthusiasm as he imagined spending hours with little Alan, as a father and son team, putting all the parts together and creating a plane that would actually fly.

Do you have memories like this? I do. Can you recall as a child, how you felt (or imagine what you would have felt) when you discovered that what was inside the box was not "ready to fly" as you had imagined.  And, not only was it going to take a lot of time and effort before you achieved success, but there could be lots of risks involved as well?

For many of us, as small children, the feelings were much the same, whether it was a model plane, learning to sew, play an instrument or mastering any other complex problem that required new skills.  One reaction would be just to "shut down", to pretend we never really wanted that magical present in the first place. And that is understandable if it all seemed just too much for a small child to deal with.

An additional part of this shutting down could be that the child never tells anyone of his or her deep disappointment.  Typically small children tend to blame themselves anyway and tell themselves that their inability to achieve their goals had something to do with their "not being good enough".  And if they start believing that, it's another reason for not telling anyone about how they felt about missing out on the magic present that they thought was going to be "ready to fly" as soon as they opened it.

So, what has this got to do with self awareness and dialoguing with inner protector characters or inner selves? For more than 10 years now, I have been puzzled about an all too common occurrence.  It's the way so many people start out experiencing tremendous enthusiasm after their first couple of sessions meeting and talking with their inner selves.  And then, the way that they (just as suddenly) appear to lose all interest, drop out, even reject the whole process and quite often cease all contact with the group.

Thinking about this recently reminded me very much what was going on inside little Alan at Christmas time.  At first, as he was opening his Christmas present, he was filled with excitement and enthusiasm.  He had promised himself that the magic gift that he longed for would be "ready to fly" and all he needed to do was take it out of the box and everything would work perfectly from the start.

Then came the disappointment.  For little Alan, the realisation that instead of his dream all he had was a box of bits and pieces and a book of instructions that he could not understand.  It is understandable if Little Alan decided that he never wanted a remote controlled plane anyway.

Because the dream did not come to reality in the way he expected, he rejected the dream.

So I started wondering whether this might be reflected in the situation where people start out dialoguing so enthusiastically and then just as suddenly drop the whole idea and go off somewhere to try out another process or some other kind of therapy.

Of course some, the most responsible and persistent minded children will keep on doing whatever they have to do, sometimes for years, to get that magic (whatever the gift they originally wished for) to finally work for them. Those of us who stay on doing self-awareness work appear to be the kind of people who have already accepted the reality that more often than not, what we promise ourselves in advance does not happen as easily as we had hoped for.

Getting into a discussion with a sub-personality inside us is so straightforward and easy that most people can grasp the process within a few minutes. And almost everyone finds that as a result of his or her initial dialogue that they feel a new kind of elation or enthusiasm. 

I think it's partly the joy that those wonderful characters inside us are feeling (whether you call them inner villagers or inner selves) as well as our own joy. Suddenly these hard-working characters living in our Inner Village discover that they have the ability to talk to us, to other people as well and to be listened to. Just imagine what that is like after all those years without conversation. And in particular I think it is the joy that our own inner child is feeling about this as well.  Because it means that our inner child can talk to us and we can talk to her or him.

It's understandable that, along with excitement about being able to enter into conversations about what they do and how they do it comes a major expectation. We can feel our self-awareness growing, and we know it's happening as a direct outcome of  these simple and easy discussions with the characters inside them.

Many of the inner villagers and the inner child are going jump to the conclusion that from here on things are quickly going to improve.  Because, inside us we now have a new power, a new ability and that with this we will soon be able to take off and fly, to grow and to fix all our problems.

It's just what we always dreamed about and it's very much like little Alan dreaming about his new present as he starts to open it.  It is a beautiful dream but it is a long way from reality.

As you and I know, the heady joy of discovering more about ourselves is one thing. But it's only the kit.  It's still needs to be assembled, and that the hard part.  Until we can connect all the parts and get them working properly we are not really very much further ahead.

Typically, even after just one of two initial inner dialogues, a newcomer develops tremendous enthusiasm, new hope and excitement about what is going to happen. In many ways they are very much like the child about to open the present on Christmas morning.

And this is understandable if the magic gift in the box that they have been wishing for includes the power, the ability, at long last, to be able to make significant, changes in their lives, changes that will translate into positive, long-lasting, joy-filled outcomes.  It's easy to dream that this will be like flying, as we start to make the changes we have always wanted to make, changes are that will result in a very different life from the one they are having now.

But as you and I know, all we get when we start out doing self-awareness work is a complicated ready-to-assemble kit, a weighty book of instructions on how to put it all together, and the realisation that it is going to take us a lot of time and a great deal of work.

Quite often we do have the support of a more experienced figure beside us who (like Alan's father) knows far more about the work when we do and who is looking forward to helping us put it all altogether.

As facilitators, (like Alan's father) we welcome these newcomers with open arms.  We assure them that the promise of self-awareness work is real, it's really going to happen for them. And then we set out to explain it all using language like that in an instruction manual!  But has that all-important manual been written in language that a seven-year old can understand? Or is the language written by adults for adults? 

Stop for a moment and imagine what is like for a small child suddenly hearing for the first time about sub-personalities, inner selves, operating egos, disowned selves, self-awareness, negative bonding patterns and the mysteries of the aware ego. Even words like facilitating, and voice dialogue will not be easy for the child a grasp.

Wouldn’t it be better talking to a small child to use words and phrases that have understandable meanings for that child, particularly if they are unhappy or in emotional pain.

Instead we might tell them a fairy story or a fable. We might tell them a story about another child who wanted something that was "ready to fly" but instead had to create it for themselves, and how as a result they learned much more about the nature of flying.

It may also be important just to let them know that we understand the way they feel, that it's okay to feel a bit sad and disappointed at times like this.  Above all we would be trying to maintain a close personal contact with the child.  And we would listen to the child as they talked about what was going on in the words that they use and understand.

And, perhaps this is exactly what we need to do with grown-ups after their first experience with inner self work, as they excitedly start to "unwrap" their own magical world inhabited by their Inner selves. We need to be ready for the moment when they discover that the magic gift in the box is not "ready to fly" as they had believed and when as a result, their excitement and enthusiasm diminishes rapidly.

But, often we do not get a chance to do this with a client. As anyone who has been trained as a facilitator can tell you, 70 to 90 percent of the people who started out doing inner self work with enthusiasm drop out just as quickly as they started. After we have spent a couple of sessions, explaining in psychological terms what is going on we notice that they just do not come back any more. Often we just lose contact, we never learn from them what went wrong.

The ones who stay on for years and years are usually very responsible people, very persistent, the kind of people who refuse to give up in the face of adversity.  Since those of us who are voice dialogue enthusiasts are also often that same kind of person, we all get on well with each other.  And when we get together we wonder why it is that all those other people were not prepared to stick around and do this amazing work.

We wonder why they did not even contact us to tell us why they dropped out? However, on a couple of occasions, recently I have managed to talk to a few very disappointed inner children and from these I have learned just how deeply the sense of disillusionment had affected them.  And how this disillusionment about not understanding the language we used was closely connected with the individual' s decision to drop out of self-awareness work.

Out of this has come a new understanding that set me on the road to searching for an alternative approach to self-awareness work and voice dialogue.  My search is based on the recognition of three very important principles:

1.      Inner children believe in wishes that come true and magic gifts that are ready to fly.  They do not fully understand that sometimes it is going to take quite a lot of magic before the present under the Christmas tree can turn into what they wished for.

2.      Inner children believe in promises, especially promises about magic.  And if a "magic" promise is broken they will react in powerful ways to protect themselves from being hurt again. Often, some of the most powerful of all the sub-personalities, or Inner selves are created out of just such events.  And once this happens, these are the same inner voices that will continue to say to the child for the rest of her or his life "If someone breaks a "magic" promise don't ever believe them again."

3.      Inner children do not understand logical, rational promises that are explained in grown-up psychological, abstract terms.  They understand and believe in fables, fairy stories, myths and legends.

4.      However, until the inner child has come to believe in the promise of self-awareness work (and believe in and trust the people who are explaining it to her or him) nothing very much is going to happen.

5.      On the other hand, the day that things start to change for the inner child is the day that a "magic" promise comes true.

 So, we have two different but equally important jobs to.  Explaining self-awareness and how it works, and at the same time winning the trust of the inner child.  The only course of action if we are going to win the trust of the inner child is to explain things to them in ways that they understand. At the same time we have to avoid making "magic" promises that cannot be quickly and realistically fulfilled.

6.      Then we have to demonstrate clearly (and quickly) how even though they are still unskilled and emotionally still not grown-ups they can already use the dialogue process to come up with some small but immediate results.

7.      They need to get the sense of self empowerment, the sense that they can make things happen, they can actually bring about changes in their lives that will work for them. The magic they believed in and they hoped for is happening. They know this because they are starting to grow and to make changes in their life that they have always wanted to make.  They are beginning to fly!  And that is the day that they truly begin to embrace self-awareness work.  Because it is the first day that they have come to believe that it will really work for them.

The alternative approach that I have been using now for just over a year, is to begin by working far more closely with the inner children and perhaps most important of all, talk to them in words and phrases that have meaning for a young child rather than an adult.  Apart from that not much else is different.

The inner selves are still there doing what they have always done but I introduce them as characters who live and work inside the individual's own personal "Inner Village". I describe how easy it is too meet and talk with (rather than dialogue with) these inner villagers.  I spend more time helping the individual visualise life in their inner village.

When we begin to meet and talk with the characters, the process (apart from the name) is identical with what you and I know as "voice dialogue".
But to the client it's much more like a fairy story coming to life. Once I am talking (dialoguing) with the inner villagers (inner selves) I talk to them in terms of life in their village as it is now (the operating ego).  I ask them about  what they do in the village, in the same way as I would normally ask any inner self.

I make a point of getting to know the busiest, the most active and the most easily observed people in the village.  (The primary selves) I discuss with them their own particular role, their position in the village hierarchy (four example: judge, teacher, peace-keeper, banker, sheriff, caretaker, beachcomber, clown, trouble-shooter, nurse, explorer, rescuer). I ask them about how they get on with other people who live in the village.

The discussion will even extend to their clothes, whether they wear a uniform, the kind of hat that they wear, the kind of the house they live in, whether they have a shop with a sign over the door and so on. I also stress how important is that each person's village is totally different to anyone else's.

Of course the inner child lives in the village is well and she or he is a very important part of village life.  Most of the inner villagers recognise that one of most important jobs is to help protect the inner child from vulnerability. So we talk about this as a key feature of village life.

But rather than talking about vulnerability we talk about the inner child’s fear, pain, sadness, shame, guilt and sometimes about the "Muddy Swamp" on the edge of the village. Everyone in the village including the inner child is afraid of falling into the Muddy Swamp.  Many villagers and particularly the inner child have been stuck in there from time to time and know that when they are feeling the worst kinds of depression, failure and vulnerability it is a sign that they have fallen into the Swamp.  We recognise that keeping people away from the Swamp and rescuing them if they do fall in, is a very important part of village life.

However, it is never too early in this work to introduce the concept of balancing between opposites.  So what is the positive opposite energy to the deep dark bog on one side of the village?  It is "Awareness Hill" on the opposite side of the village.  I have found that "climbing up the hill" is a wonderful metaphor for self-awareness.  But it is a concrete concept that is much easier for a child to understand.  Almost immediately after they start talking about the hill some of the inner villagers (and sometimes even the inner child) discover how easy it is to begin walking a little way at least up Awareness Hill.  And when they do they are surprised how it's becoming easier for them to see things more clearly than from down in the crooked streets of the village.

Nearby, outside the village is the Deep Dark Forest.  There are people out in the Forest who have been exiled from the village for all sorts of reasons. You and I know them as the "disowned selves".

But the analogy of being sent away out into the Forest is much easier for an inner child to follow than the abstract concept of "disowning".

So, that is the way that this alternative approach works.  Or should I say, appears to work? I have no doubt that there is still a great deal to be done to develop it and I would welcome your suggestions, your inputs, your comments and your criticism.

But already what I can tell you is that it has shown some amazing results in terms of the speed with which people are able to grasp the whole idea of the inner self work, self-awareness and the wonderful process that we call "voice dialogue".

And more significantly than just understanding is the observation that is coming from more and more people that they are now able to make significant changes in their life.  That is changes that really make a difference.  And that has been my own experience as well.  After more than 10 years using voice dialogue, learning about it, teaching others about it and practising it daily, something has happened over the last two years for me that had not happened for eight years previously.

Suddenly I am making powerful changes in my life, changes I have always wanted to make, changes that I just could not seem to make even after learning so much about voice dialogue. And changes that really make a positive difference. And what am I doing differently now that I did not do before?

The only difference is that I am in closer communication with my inner child, Little John. I understand him better and he understands me more. We talk we talk a lot more together about the characters who live in my inner village and what they are trying to do to help Little John.

When I talk with my inner villagers we talk a lot more about the same things, about Little John, about what he is feeling, about what they (and I as grown-up) need to do to protect him.

We talk about what is going on in our inner village, about going up on the hill when we want to get a better view or to think more clearly.  We talk about the Swamp and how easy it is to fall in.  We talk about the deep dark Forest and we recognise there are characters out there who may need to be brought back into the village again in order to create more balance.

Sometimes we even talk about setting up a new village high up on Awareness Hill.  This will become a different kind of village, where the villagers would cooperate more with each other and would work as an integrated team.  Where we could see more clearly what is going on around us.  Where there was more balance between opposite energies such as feelings on the one side and logical thinking on the other.  In time such a village might become a starting point for our connection to the elusive Aware Ego.  Who knows?

 

 

Feedback - please e-mail  me John Bligh Nutting -   at   bligh3@growingaware.com


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