It’s not easy being a child – and it’s even harder when the child is inside a reasonably sane adult.
When the child inside me finally gets a chance to speak after decades of neglect – and after I have been through a session of guided meditation and honest self-introspection – she says with dismissive scorn: “I don’t think much of you.” To my great shock, she says this to me in writing. I have proof.
Sounds like something straight out of a psychological thriller, doesn’t it? Except it’s not. This is science. And not only does it have decades of research and the biggest names in psychotherapy and neuroscience behind it, it is also making huge inroads into the psychology, substance rehabilitation and wellness scene in India.
The technique involved is called ‘inner child healing’. The idea is to venture into the deepest recesses of the mind to uncover the roots of what become negative adult behaviours, and then go into one’s memory bank with various tools used by modern mental health professionals – from neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) to hypnotherapy, automatic writing, visualisation, expression of emotion, support groups, and the repetition of positive affirmations – to fix and heal it at its very origin.
Very sci-fi, yes, but also very difficult and real. It’s certainly not for the fainthearted – for who knows what you will uncover if you go deep enough?
THE CORE OF THE ISSUE
One of the organisations in India offering inner-child healing is LifeSkills, a de-addiction and counseling service based in Gurgaon and Nasik. Co-founded by Meena Iyer, a psychologist, hypnotherapist and motivational trainer, and Sonal Datt Verma, a de-addiction counsellor, artist and martial-arts expert, the group has developed a four-day residential ‘My Inner Child’ workshop to help you hear and heal the child in you.
The sessions are conducted by Meena and Sonal along with Sanhita Kargupta, a reputed Kolkata-based psychotherapist and transactional analyst. The schedule includes meditation, assignments, role plays, one-on-one sessions, fitness and light-hearted socialisation.
It is easy to dismiss the very need for healing one’s inner child, for most of us assume we are sorted most of the time. But a ‘wounded child questionnaire’ soon lays such an assumption to rest.
Are you a people-pleaser? Are you a hoarder who has trouble letting go of anything? Are you addicted to substances? Do you continually criticise yourself? Are you driven to be a super-achiever? Are you depressed a lot of the time? Are you confused about your sexual identity? Do you have trouble starting or finishing things? Are you a perfectionist?
These are just a few of the traits that indicate a part of you may have been ‘wounded’ in childhood or adolescence. Sixty such questions later, you realise most people in the world are wounded one way or another.
As long as the ‘yes’ answers are limited and do not lead to harmful or compulsive behaviours in your daily life, it’s alright; you will survive and thrive. If, however, you have too many ‘ticks’ on the questionnaire, it’s time to reflect.
CHILD & ADULT
The science behind inner-child healing goes back to the early 20th century, when Carl Jung, the Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst who founded analytical psychology, propounded the ‘child archetype’.
Later, Canadian-born psychiatrist Eric Berne’s Transactional Analysis became the next psychological movement to bring the idea of a ‘child inside’ to attention. He proposed that the way we act comes from one of three ‘ego states’ namely child-like, parent-like, or adult-like.
In the mid-20th century, John Bradshaw an American alcoholic from a dysfunctional family sobered up and went on to revolutionise the self-help world with his ideas of the ‘wounded inner child’.
In the later half of the 20th century, Erik Erikson, the legendary German-American developmental psychologist and psychoanalyst, along with his wife Joan Erikson came up with ‘Erikson’s stages of psychosocial development’. It identifies a series of eight stages that a healthy developing individual should pass through from infancy to late adulthood.
At any stage of growing up, if the child faces any sort of abuse, neglect or trauma, it manifests later in life as co-dependency, trust or self-esteem issues, acting-out behaviour, intimacy dysfunction, addictive or compulsive behaviours, thought distortions or emptiness. Or worse.
THE WOUNDED PARENT
Confoundingly, most issues created in the earliest months and years of childhood are to do with the mother. Despite good intentions, certain events may create an indelible mark in her child’s mind.
Lack of affection, physical abuse, even a casual remark, an insensitive scolding or her absence can scar her child in unknown ways for life. As the child grows, the father’s role becomes just as critical as the mother’s.
That is not to say it’s all the parents’ fault. Indeed, they themselves may be acting out their own ‘wounded child’ in adulthood. (For instance, adult bullies, violent parents and sexual predators are more often than not physically, mentally or sexually abused in childhood.)
Parents simply do not realise the long-term implications of their actions, and end up scolding, hitting, berating, ignoring and hurting the child out of impulse or ignorance.
The LifeSkills workshop takes you to different stages of your child development, starting from infancy to toddlerhood, early school years and adolescence, right up to the late 20s.
Soon after the facilitators have explained the theory behind the practice of inner-child healing, you begin to feel rather uncomfortable – not only do you realise how ‘spiritually wounded’ your own inner child is, you also begin to understand, with horror, how much you may have inadvertently ‘wounded’ your own children in their formative years.
“That’s right, lay on the mother’s guilt thicker!” my inner adult screams. Of course, the facilitators are cautiously optimistic that good therapy can heal anything.
STEP INTO MY PARLOUR
I venture into their therapy sessions with a slight bit of trepidation. There are several landmarks in my mind’s psychological landscape that I must revisit and address, even those I have shut away for years.
Each of the facilitators contributes to my mental rehabilitation: Sonal with his ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’ approach reassures me I don’t have an eating disorder, I merely have food cravings that a bit of NLP can easily fix. Phew.
Meena takes me into a moving hypnotherapy session where I let go of grievous wounds of my adolescence; I purge my anger at those I believe are the perpetrators of the broken parts of me, and end the session with a weight off my shoulders.
Finally, Sanhita, with her “feelings are meant to be felt, not suppressed” refrain, makes me stare in the face of my hatred, fear and loathing – which had been tucked away in the depths of my subconscious, only allowing me a glimpse now and then by plunging me into bottomless, inexplicable sadness – and forces me to vent it out.
I exit the group session, lock myself in the conference-room bathroom, and punch and kick the air with all my strength, screaming, “Fuck you! Fuck you! Fuck you! I am not your property! You cannot decide my fate! Fuck you all!” at the villains in my mind until I am spent and exhausted. It is a shuddering, exploding catharsis.
In the final visualisation session, I open my arms invitingly towards my inner child, drawing her in with a longing, tremulous gaze. I hold my breath as she sizes me up. Finally, she accepts me, walks into my arms and becomes one with the adult me.
I exhale after what feels like 40 years. Welcome home little one.
First published in eShe’s July 2019 issue
LifeSkills ‘My Inner Child’ workshops schedule:
Mumbai: 23 to 25 August
Kasauli: 27 to 29 September
Delhi: 15 to 17 November
Nasik: 27 to 29 December
Write to firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.