"Compassionate, clear-eyed, and insightful . . . The Child in You is like your own personal therapist that you can carry around with you." Lori Gottlieb, New York Times bestselling author of Maybe You Should Talk to Someone
Nominated for Malcolm Gladwell, Susan Cain, Adam Grant, and Daniel H. Pink’s Next Big Idea Club
We all want to be loved and to feel safe to express who we really are. But over time we grow estranged from what brings us our purest happinessbecause everyday traumas, unyielding societal expectations, and the judgment of our parents and peers submerge our true self beneath layers of behaviors rooted in fear and shame and mistrust. In The Child in You, psychologist Stefanie Stahl guides you, step-by-step, through her therapeutic method that has helped millions to peel away these layers and reconnect with their inner childboth the shadow child, representing our deepest insecurities and the part of our self-esteem that is injured and unstable, and the sun child, representing our greatest joys and the part of our self-esteem that remains positive and intact.
The many examples and exercises in this book will help you discover your shadow child and sun child, identify which of the shadow child's dozen self-protection strategies are at work in you, and put into practice the array of proven self-reflection strategies to overcome negative influences and beliefs. Because it's never too late to have a happy childhood, or to bring your authentic self out from the shadows so you can embody your radiant individuality.
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The Child in You Wants to Find a Home
Everybody needs a place where they feel protected, secure, and welcome. Everybody yearns for a place where they can relax and be fully themselves. Ideally, the childhood home was one such place. For those of us who felt accepted and loved by our parents, our home provided this warmth. It was a heartwarming place-the very thing that everybody yearns for. And we internalize this feeling from childhood-that of being accepted and welcome-as a fundamental, positive attitude toward life that accompanies us through adulthood: we feel secure in the world and in our own life. We're self-confident and trusting of others. There's the notion of basic trust, which is like a home within ourselves, providing us with internal support and protection.
Many people, however, associate their childhood with largely negative experiences, some even traumatic. Others had an unhappy childhood, but have repressed those memories. They can barely recall what happened. Then there are those who believe their childhood was "normal" or even "happy," only to discover, upon closer examination, that they have been deluding themselves. And though people may attempt to repress or, as an adult, downplay childhood experiences of insecurity or rejection, there are moments in everyday life that will reveal how underdeveloped their basic trust remains. They have self-esteem issues and frequently doubt that they are welcome and that their coworkers, romantic partner, boss, or new friend truly likes them. They don't really like themselves all that much, they have a range of insecurities, and they often struggle in relationships. Unable to develop basic trust, they therefore lack a sense of internal support. Instead, they hope that others will provide them with these feelings of security, protection, stability, and home. They search for home with their partner, their colleagues, in their softball league, or online, only to be disappointed: other people can provide this feeling of home sporadically at best. Those who lack a home on the inside will never find one on the outside. They can't tell that they're caught in a trap.
When we talk about these childhood influences-which, along with our genetic makeup, largely define our character and self-esteem-we are discussing a part of our personality referred to in psychology as the "inner child." In other words, the inner child represents the sum of impressions made on us as children-the good and the bad, experienced through our parents and other important figures. We don't consciously remember most of these experiences. They are, however, permanently etched on our unconscious mind. It's safe to say that the inner child is a significant part of the unconscious. It's the fears, concerns, and adversities we have experienced from the cradle onward. On the other hand, it also represents all the positive influences from our youth.
The negative influences are what primarily plague us as adults. After all, the child within us works hard not to relive the humiliations and injuries it suffered during childhood. At the same time, this child still yearns for the feelings of security and approval that came up short back then. These fears and desires are active in the recesses of our consciousness. On the conscious level, we are independent adults living our lives. On the unconscious level, however, our inner child exercises significant sway over our perception, behavior, and ways of feeling and thinking. It's far stronger than our intellect, in fact. It has been scientifically proven that the unconscious is an incredibly powerful mental force that steers upward of 80 to 90 percent of our experiences and actions.
An example to illustrate: Michael loses his temper every time his partner, Sarah, forgets something that's important to him. She recently forgot to buy his favorite kind of chips while grocery shopping, and he completely flipped out. Sarah was stunned-to her, it was just a bag of chips. To Michael, meanwhile, it was as if the world were ending. What was going on?
Michael doesn't realize that it's his inner child that feels disregarded and disrespected when Sarah forgets something important to him, even if that's just a bag of chips. He doesn't know that the reason for his rage isn't Sarah and the forgotten snack, but rather a deep wound from the past: namely the fact that his mother did not take his wishes seriously when he was a child. With her shopping mistake, Sarah unwittingly poured salt in this old wound. Since Michael doesn't see the connection between his reaction toward Sarah and his experiences with his mother, however, his own influence over his feelings and behavior is limited. The fight about chips isn't an isolated event. Michael and Sarah fight frequently about mundane things, because neither is aware of what their disagreements are truly about, and because-like Michael-Sarah is governed by her inner child. Her inner child is sensitive to criticism, because when she was young, she could rarely do anything right for her parents. As a result, Michael's outbursts trigger old childhood feelings in Sarah, making her feel small and worthless, irritated and offended. Sometimes Michael and Sarah even think it would be better to split up, because they bicker so frequently and hurt each other so deeply.
If each were attuned to what their inner child desired and the pain it felt, though, Michael and Sarah could share these insights rather than fighting superficially about a forgotten bag of chips or an overly critical remark. They would certainly get along much better, growing closer instead of attacking one another.
That said, ignorance of the inner child doesn't cause conflict only in romantic relationships. Whenever we're aware of the backstory, it's plain that most disagreements aren't two self-possessed adults collaborating to solve a problem; instead, it's two inner children duking it out. For example, when an employee responds to the boss's criticism by quitting. Or when one government reacts with military force to another state's border violation. Ignorance of the inner child causes many people great unhappiness with themselves and their lives, and allows interpersonal conflicts to arise and often escalate uncontrollably.
This is not to say that people who had a happy childhood and gained basic trust are just strolling through life without a care or problem in the world. Their inner child has also sustained certain injuries, because there is no such thing as perfect parents or a perfect childhood. In addition to the positive influences gained from their parents, these people have also inherited difficult traits that can cause problems later in life. These issues may not be as obvious as Michael's outbursts. Perhaps they struggle to trust people outside the family, or dislike making big decisions. Maybe they would rather play it safe than go out on a limb. Whatever the case may be, negative influences from childhood limit us, hindering both our personal development and our relationships.
Ultimately, this applies to most people: only once we have met and befriended our inner child will we come to recognize the deep desires and scars we carry within ourselves. Only then can we accept this part of our soul, and even begin to heal to a certain degree. As a result, our self-esteem can grow, and the child within us will finally find a home. This is the prerequisite for forming friendlier, happier, and more tranquil relationships. It is also the prerequisite for leaving relationships that are bad for us or even make us sick.
This book aims to help you meet your inner child and become friends with it. It will help you shed the old patterns that always lead to dead ends and hard times. It will show you how to acquire helpful new attitudes and behaviors instead, which you can then use to build a much happier life and relationships.
Models of Our Personality
On the surface of our consciousness, our problems often appear complicated and difficult to solve. It can also be hard for us to understand other people's behaviors and feelings. We lack the proper perspective, whether on ourselves or others. The human psyche, however, isn't actually that complicated a structure. Simply stated, it is possible to divide the psyche into various parts: there are the childish parts and the adult parts, the conscious levels and the unconscious levels. When you become familiar with this personality structure, it becomes possible to work with it and solve many of the issues that once appeared insurmountable. In this book, I intend to explain how this is done.
As I wrote earlier, the inner child is a metaphor for the unconscious parts of our personality that were defined in our childhood. Our emotional life is attributed to the inner child: our fear, pain, grief, and anger, but also our joy, happiness, and love. Parts of the inner child are thus positive and happy, together with those parts that are negative and sad. We aim to become better acquainted and work with both in this book.
Then there's the adult-self, which can also be called the "inner adult." This mental entity encompasses our rational and reasonable mind-in other words, our thinking. Operating as our adult-self, we may assume responsibility, plan, act in anticipation of eventualities, recognize and understand connections, weigh risks, and also regulate the child-self, or inner child. The adult-self behaves consciously and intentionally.
As it happens, Sigmund Freud was the first to divide the personality into different parts. What is referred to in modern psychology as the inner child or child-self, Freud termed the "id." Freud named the adult-self the "ego." He went on to describe the "super-ego," which serves as a sort of moral entity within us and is known in modern psychology as the parental-self or inner critic. When our inner critic is active, we might say to ourselves, "Don't be so stupid! You're worthless and can't do anything right. There's no way you can pull this off."
Modern therapy approaches, such as schema therapy, divide the three main selves-child, adult, and parent-into further submodes, such as the hurt, happy, or angry inner child, or the punitive or sympathetic inner parent. Famous German psychologist Friedemann Schulz von Thun (1944-) has gone so far as to coin the term "inner team" to describe the wide range of subpersonalities found within any given person.
I, on the other hand, would like to keep things as simple and pragmatic as possible. Things quickly become unwieldy and stressful when attempting to manage too many inner modes at once. I will therefore limit myself in this book to the happy inner child, the hurt inner child, and the inner adult. In my experience, these three modes are more than sufficient for solving our problems. I am, however, replacing the terms "happy inner child" and "hurt inner child" with "sun child" and fishadow child," which are much catchier and nicer-sounding.
The sun child and the shadow child are both expressions of the part of our personality referred to as the inner child, which stands for our unconscious. Strictly speaking, only one unconscious-that is, one inner child-exists. What's more, it isn't always an unconscious feeling. As soon as we start working with the inner child, the feeling becomes conscious. On the other hand, the sun child and the shadow child also represent different states of consciousness. This differentiation is largely pragmatic rather than scientific. In my many years working as a psychotherapist, I have developed a system for solving problems that draws upon the metaphors of the sun child and the shadow child, and that you can use to resolve almost any issue. The qualifier "almost" refers to those problems that lie outside your control. Among these are illness, the death of a loved one, war, natural disasters, violent crimes, and sexual abuse. It's worth noting, however, that a person's personality will inform their ability to overcome these awful twists of fate. Those who were already at odds with their shadow child will naturally struggle more than those with a sun child's disposition. In this sense, people whose main problem stems from a tragic incident also have something to gain from this book. Those who will profit most, however, are people whose problems are "homemade." These problems are found largely within the realm of personal responsibility and include relationship issues, depressed moods, stress, fear of the future, apathy, panic attacks, compulsive behaviors, and so on. These are the problems, after all, that can ultimately be traced back to the impact of our shadow child-or, in other words, back to our sense of self-worth.
The Shadow Child
and the Sun Child
How we feel and the feelings we are able to perceive (or rather, those that come up short) all hinge on our innate temperament and childhood experiences. Our unconscious beliefs play an important role here. In psychology, a belief is a deeply held conviction that expresses an attitude toward ourselves or our interpersonal relationships. Many beliefs emerge from interactions between the child and its caretakers in the first years of the child's life. For instance, an inner belief could be "I'm okay" or "I'm not okay." Over the course of our childhood and throughout our life, we will internalize both positive and negative beliefs. Positive beliefs such as "I'm okay" developed in situations in which we felt accepted and loved by the people we were closest to. They strengthen us. Negative beliefs such as "I'm not okay," on the other hand, grew out of situations in which we felt out of place and rejected. They weaken us.
The shadow child encompasses our negative beliefs and the associated oppressive feelings of grief, fear, helplessness, or anger. These give rise to defense mechanisms, or self-protection strategies, which we develop to deal with these feelings-or better yet, to avoid feeling them at all. Common self-protection strategies include withdrawal, keeping the peace, perfectionism, aggression and attack, or vying for power or control. I'll be going into much greater detail about beliefs, feelings, and self-protection strategies. At this point, all you need to understand is that the shadow child stands for that part of our self-esteem that is injured and unstable.
The sun child, on the other hand, embodies our positive influences and feelings. It epitomizes the happy child in its spontaneity, adventurousness, curiosity, abandon, vitality, drive, and zest for life. The sun child is a metaphor for the part of our self-esteem that remains intact. Even people carrying a lot of childhood baggage have healthy parts of their personality and experience situations in which they don't overreact. They also feel happy, curious, and playful at times-that is to say, times when the sun child is present. Nevertheless, the sun child appears far too seldom in people who had a dark childhood. In this book, we will therefore work especially hard at encouraging the sun child, while comforting the shadow child so that it can relax, knowing it has been seen and allowing it to make room for its sunny counterpart.