Everyone has an inner child. Do those diagnosed with BPD have the loneliest inner children? Often those with BPD abandon and re-abandon their aching and terrified inner child (or children – meaning the inner child in various phases of its life – infancy, toddler, adolescent etc) over and over again which in large part is the reason for so much of what is dubbed “borderline behaviour”. I urge those who have BPD to make the choice to get to know and to free their inner child or inner children. It is a vital part of healing and recovery.
“But sometimes I am like the tree that stands over a grave, a leafy tree full grown who has lived out that particular dream which the dead boy around whom its roots are pressing lost through his sad moods and poems.” — Rainer Maria Rilke
“The child wants simple things. It wants to be listened to. It wants to be loved… It may not even know the words, but it wants its rights protected and its self-respect unviolated. It needs you to be there.” — Ron Kutrz
We all have an inner-child. In fact some people feel as if they have many inner-children (this is not to say that one has multiple personality disorder at all by the way) Each of these inner children, according to Cathryn L. Taylor, M.A., M.F.C.C, in her book, “The Inner Child Workbook: “What to do with your past when it just won’t go away”, we have many inner children, one child for each developmental stage. An inner child for infancy, one for toddlerhood, one for middle childhood, and so on.
Taylor writes in her book; “Who are the children within? They are the voices inside you that carry the feelings you were unable to express as a child. They carry your fear, anger, shame, and despair. They also carry your excitement, joy, happiness, and love, but many of us have had to deny those feelings as well. Whether you were ignored, belittled, or abused, you learned very early that it was not SAFE to FEEL. You learned that to FEEL meant to be vulnerable and to be vulnerable meant that you might not survive. Because you wanted to survive, you learned not to FEEL.”
The Inner Child Explained
Taylor writes in her book, “The Inner Child Workbook”, “Change often begins with the child because a child embodies the process of change. In his anthology “Reclaiming the Inner Child”, editor Jeremiah Abrams says that the ‘inner child is the carrier of our personal stories, the vehicle for our memories of both the actual child and an idealized child from the past. It is the truly alive quality of being within us. It is the soul, the continuous core of our experience throughout the cycles of life. It is the sufferer. And it is the bearer of renewal through rebirth, appearing in our lives whenever we detach and open to change.”
“It is no wonder that we return to the child to find the solution to the reduction of emotional pain. … now, as you seek change in yourselves, you once again return to the child. But this time you return to the child within.”
According to Charles Whitfield, author of “healing the Child Within”, the concept of the inner child has been around for over two thousand years. Carl Jung called it the divine child, Emmett Fox called it the wonder child. Psychotherapists Alice Miller and Donald Winnicott refer to the inner child as the true self
In borderline personality disorder, (BPD) we see evidenced through common behaviour associated with this personality disorder much of the inner child coming through the adult. There is often a painful dissociation between the two. Those with BPD also have a very difficult time even contemplating being vulnerable and the result is that they end up denying their inner child over and over again to the point where they actually take on the role of their past abusers or a caretaker who could not meet their developmental needs and continually re-abuse themselves. Much of this self-abuse is aimed at avoidance of the actual pain – pain that has been abandoned and that sits under (often subconsciously) their experienced symptomology or pathology, the disordered reality of BPD itself. Continuing to ignore this little aspect of you and all the pain and terror that sits inside of him/her will make change and healing virtually impossible.
I cannot remember a more threatening thing, in therapy, then when I was confronted by a therapist who decided that I’d better learn about the reality of this child within. It was in private therapy, one on one, this therapist would not even let me talk, at all! She would hush me every time I tried to talk, and that was often. She would insist instead that I draw pictures. I was not amused, to say the least. Try as I might to not go there, I ended up going there. The results were very powerful and looking back those extremely frustrating (at the time) therapy sessions were pivotal in my healing journey because it was in and through those pictures that my inner child finally began to feel safe enough to emerge, to make herself “known” to me.
It was also through inner child work that I was able, over 15 years ago to stop cutting and self-abusing myself in other ways as well. There is such power in welcoming in this little girl or boy that so needs you to parent and re-parent him/her now. Believe, me, I know it can be scary, but the rewards far outweigh staying stuck with the terror of resistance and what amounts to the protection of what really is the shame of abandonment. An abandonment that needs to be addressed, worked through and resolved. This process, in and of recovery, that is the re-connection to the dissociated from inner-child of the person with BPD is the journey From False Self to Authentic Self
Anyone who was not able, for whatever reason, to have their developmental needs met in each stage of personal development will benefit from inner child work. However, I believe that borderlines specifically can benefit even more than the average because there is so much about BPD that is so self-abusive, self-punishing, re-shaming and so forth. Finding your way to your inner child and acknowledging that vulnerability is the way to truly begin to heal. This very same feared vulnerability, by the way, does become a cherished strength down the road. It does not remain this terrifying place in which one just continues to berate oneself for daring to feel something.
If you have not yet tapped in to your inner child or inner children you may be aware on some level of very young screaming pain that there are no words for. This is your inner child trying to get your attention. Until I recognized and began to work with my inner child I was not able to feel safe at all anywhere, ever. Welcoming in your inner child will, over time, teach you ways through which you can learn to feel safe. You will come to better understand why you haven’t felt safe for so many years. Just imagine a 3 year old, let loose on one side of an 8 lane highway, as he/she starts to cross you have to feel utter terror. You would know if you saw this that you would need to RUN to the aid of this lost little one. You would know that this 3 year old does not have the ability to keep him/herself safe around all of this traffic blowing by. The same can be said of your inner child, at any age, and if you have BPD, you are emotionally standing at the side of an 8 lane highway, which essentially represents your young and Dysregulated Emotions and your need to cross this highway is your need to emotionally mature, to establish your identity, to know who you are and to grow up. Run to your own aid here, just as you would to the 3 year old standing at the edge of the 8 lane highway and about to wonder out into traffic.
The Innocent Self
Taylor writes in her book, “The Inner Child Workbook”, “The inner child embodies the characteristics of the innocent part of the self. But as you continue your internal work, you soon discover that there is more than one voice crying out for help. These voices represent different sets of needs that require unique and age-appropriate responses. Some emerge at a particular age, others appear carrying certain feelings. But distinct differences between them do become apparent. That is why I use the plural — inner children. What you do not master in childhood reappears in your lives as inappropriate responses to people, places, or things. It is these inappropriate responses that cause you discomfort. They are outgrowths of the pain and fear experienced in childhood when basic needs were not filled. Learning what you need to learn in each childhood stage [of development] is contingent upon your needs being met. You need to feel safe with your caretakers and receive the support necessary to accomplish the other tasks that accompany each stage of development … life does not stop because you are unable to master these tasks. It continues, and you survive by developing faulty ways of responding to others and to the events that take place in your lives.
When you are a child the “faulty” or maladapative behaviours serve the purpose of keeping you safe (in some measure of what that means to each of us) and ensure that you continue to survive albeit without the needs being met that you need to have met to be healthy. When you get older, as an adult, you are locked into these behaviours (until you learn to make new choices and changes). These behaviours then express your fear of love, your inability to say no, your shame, your critical thinking in a patterned way that interferes with your ability to perform (at work or in your career) and drastically affects your ability to form and to keep any measure of stable, consistent and congruent relating.
So much of the behaviour that borderlines continue to cycle through, over and over again, is NOT age-appropriate or situationally-appropriate. This is one of the key things about borderline behaviour that often escapes both the borderline and those around him/her. Whether or not you yet realize or want to admit this, the behaviour that you continue to perpetuate that continues to hurt you and cause you to lose job after job and relationship after relationship (intimate or friendships) and keeps you effectively alienated from any sense of your authentic self, wants, likes, dislikes, beliefs, and so forth, is a choice. It is a choice that is at the heart of your continuing to experience the patterned, painful, and polarized negativity of BPD instead of being able to have, feel, and hold onto hope. You chose it years ago in the void that was a lack of what you needed in the first place. It will take an active decision on your part, now, in order to you to open up to the kind of change and new choices that will make healing from BPD possible. Just by beginning to explore this, if you have Borderline Personality Disorder you can begin the process of preparing for recovery from BPD
Just as the title of John Bradshaw’s book, “Home Coming: Reclaming an Championing Your Inner Child” suggests it is primarily through this inner child work that you can indeed welcome yourself home to who you really are.
Bradshaw’s book begins with the following quote:
“I know what I really want for Christmas. I want my childhood back. Nobody is going to give me that … I know it doesn’t make sense, but since when is Christmas about sense anyway? It is about a child of long ago and far away, and it is about the child of now. In you and me. Waiting behind the door of our hearts for something wonderful to happen.” — Robert Fulghum (In Bradshaw’s book)
In his book, Bradshaw gives an example of a man who did some letter writing to and from his inner child, here is one such letter:
“Dear Big Richard
Please come and get me
I’ve been in a closet for forty years,
I’m terrified, I need you.
Getting in touch with your inner child happens in many different ways for many different people. However, common ways to do this include writing in a journal. You write to your inner child with your dominate hand and have your inner child write back to you with your non-dominate hand. Drawing pictures can also be a very powerful way to get in touch with your inner child. For anyone who wants to begin this journey I would highly recommend starting with John Bradshaw’s book and later on ending up with Cathryn Taylor’s book which has wonderful examples of ways to get closure with your inner child at each developmental stage/age when you have done the work and are ready to then let go.
You can make that something wonderful happen for yourself when you muster up the courage, and it does take courage, and the strength to face those inner children inside or yourself who so need your love, attention and patience. Do you really want to leave that child or those children in their isolated pain anymore? I don’t think you do. I think you know that you deserve and want more out of life than that. Make a choice to help free your inner child and you will make a decision to free yourself.
“And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
— T.S. Eliot
“The ‘child’ is all that is abandoned and exposed and at the same time divinely powerful; the insignificantly dubious beginning, and the triumphal end. The ‘eternal child’ in [humankind] man is an indescribable experience, an incongruity, a handicap, and a divine prerogative; an imponderable that determines the ultimate worth or worthlessness of a personality.”
— C. G. Jung
© Ms. A.J. Mahari – November 18, 2001