The Inner Child: How we cope day to day, and when we fall to pieces
One of the impacts of child hood abuse is that the child will often need to disassociate from the experiences he, or she, has faced.
This can result in being unable to remember specific instances of the abuse or, as In my case, a more general inability to remember much of the childhood at all. These memories are locked away an frozen in time. They are never processed, never integrated and put into a proper context.
But it is not just memories that get frozen. In a way, it is the child, memories, experiences his whole being that is frozen in time. For the IT literate among you it is like taking a snapshot of a running system, or perhaps taking a 3D hologram snapshot of the child. One that not only captures the whole image of the child but also captures his thoughts, feelings and fears and freezes it in place.
Over time around that frozen core the adult forms. New experiences and memories overlay the inner child and these memories, skills and experiences often suffice to allow the adult to operate in what appears to be a ‘normal’ way.
The adult part of the person can accept adult experiences and problems and react in an ‘adult’ way. The day to day life of the adult survivor doesn’t seem to need to access the inner child, the adult crust built up over the years processes the experiences its self.
This also seems to be the case when operating in stressful situations, for example getting off to work only to find the car won’t start.
The logical, problem solving, mind kicks in,
- Check the obvious things
- Contact the office, tell them the problem
- Ring Breakdown service
- Rearrange what you can that will be impacted.
All the time during this often the survivor will be managing the situation rather well, sometimes will even be surprised that he, she, hasn’t triggered or had a meltdown! This is often expresses as
‘Well I was too busy to have a meltdown! I just had to get it sorted out’
And it is just the same in most day to day situations. Work, looking after family, organising your life even interacting with others all these generally require that adult shell you have built up, the knowledge, skills and experience to manage these situation lives within that shell and life doesn’t seem to need to interact with, call upon, that inner core child.
So why then do we seem to trigger, have meltdowns, feel extremely anxious and scared sometime after the event? Sometimes with no obvious trigger at all?
Well it is after the events of the day that our minds need to process the things that have happened, put them into context. They need to be given not just an historical context, what I did and what worked, but an emotional one as well. How did I feel about it? How did what I did impact the feeling and emotions of those around me? Am I safe now, has the situation been fully resolved, or should I be concerned about things?
It is these bits of processing that the outer adult shell simply an not process, it has to had them off to the inner child as there lies the emotional and learnt behaviours. It is there that events can be put into an emotional context and filed away correctly adding to our automatic responses and cognitive map or our world.
It is then that the triggers hit. Our emotional responses kick in.
Having successfully dealt with the non-starting car, arrived at work to find that nobody is shouting at you or giving your grief for being late and not having a huge repair bill to finance you should be feeling rather positive. A problem successfully resolved, everybody happy!
But no. You sit there feeling scared, somebody somewhere is going to shout at you, blame you get you into trouble for being late, and feeling guilty. You should have known the car needed a new whatever it was, you remember all the small tell tail signs over the last few weeks, small insignificant things, but you should have spotted them. You should have taken the car in for a service before the break rather than wait until it was more convenient.
That inner core, the inner child, responds to the input of something not going with in the only way it knows, in the way its abuser has taught it, to feel scared, to feel guilty. To feel that he will be punished and that he deserves to be punished or rejected.
The outer, adult, conscious mind will scream,
but that’s not true! You did well in sorting it all out, its all OK, PULL YOUR SELF TOGETHER!
But the inner core, the child frozen in time, will not listen, cannot listen. He is spinning in a never-ending cycle of fear and guilt.
There are many I suspect, and I am no psychologist or councillor. And I find it rather difficult to follow my own advice. But when you find your self triggering for no reason you can see, or hours after the event:
Think about that inner child. If you saw a child sitting crying, scared and guilt racked how would you approach him?
Would you say “Don’t be silly, Pull yourself together!”
Or would you reach out a reassuring presence and say don’t worry, it’s going to be OK. You haven’t done anything wrong, you are a good boy, Nobody is going to hurt you!
Just a though for next time I, you or somebody we know, triggers.