When dealing with trauma, there has been a push since before i was a therapist to get in touch with one’s inner child. From encounter groups, to depth work within psychotherapy, trauma survivors are encouraged to connect to their inner child as a way to heal. This work has always felt hollow to me. In fact, it pisses me off when I myself (as a client) am invited in sessions to imagine how old my inner child is around a particular issue, and imagine holding her, playing with her, interacting with her as I would. I’m an only child. I literally don’t know what that means…to interact with a child as I would. Left to my own devices, even my 31-year-old self is hopelessly overwhelmed when this enactment is invited. For me, this particular overwhelm switches quickly to frustration and resentment, and a really strong “I DON’T KNOW STOP ASKING ME!” rebellious voice crops up.
In my reading a few weeks ago, I finally formed the first round of an answer around my resistance. I had been missing a polarity that had been present all along…that I’m sure my colleagues were more in touch with, but one that is mostly new to me. I wanted to take some time today to share what I’ve learned, and what I’ve created myself.
The healer. The child within is lost without the healer within.
Adapted from A Gentle Path Through the 12 steps by Patrick Carnes, the following is a working explanation of how the healer and the child within complement and interact metaphorically.
What healers do: Healers mobilize belief. They tap those sources of energy that have not been available to individuals by themselves.
What your healer within does: It teaches you to trust your intuition and to believe in yourself.
What your child within does: It preserves your sense of childlike innocence.
What healers do: Healers release energy. With enthusiasm or charisma, they are a catalyst and motivating force.
What your healer within does: It gathers energy that allows you to mobilize.
What your child within does: It releases the energy in play.
What healers do: They make sense out of chaos.
What your healer within does: It protects you from the chaos by creating boundaries.
What your child within does: It allows you to live in safety.
What healers do: Healers provide wisdom.
What your healer within does: It accesses your own wisdom. Common ways I’ve seen this wisdom accessed are through journaling, meditation, imagining solutions, and in session within an enactment.
What your child within does: It allows you to seek guidance and consultation.
What healers do: They convene community. They bind others in community by uniting people with a feeling of belonging.
What your healer within does: It gives you confidence to build community by organizing, participating, or reaching out.
What your child within does: It affirms your need to belong in communities.
What healers do: healers use symbols and metaphors to teach and help others understand.
What your healer within does: It raises awareness of symbols and metaphors and helps you make the connections and understand the analogies.
What your child within does: It frees you to inherit the metaphors, symbols, and understanding.
What healers do: Healers are the storytellers. By preserving traditions, they anchor individuals in their community and place in history.
What your healer within does: It acknowledges your story, your epoch, and your place in history.
What your child within does: It gets to be the hero of the story.
What healers do: Healers provide care.
What your healer within does: It nurtures the self.
What your child within does: It accepts the nurturing.
What healers do: Healers channel the spiritual.
What your healer within does: It provides you access to the spiritual – the presence of something larger than you.
What your child within does: It grounds you to be present to the world and to emotions. being present is a spiritual act, as it connects you to the larger whole…now.
What healers do: Healers lead the collective process.
What the healer within does: It becomes a partner, a participant, in the process.
What the child within does: It allows you to be vulnerable and to surrender to the process.
What healers do: Often (always…all humans living in this universe have wounds) healers are wounded themselves. Healing their own brokenness gave them the wisdom to heal others.
What the healer within does: It attends and heals your wounds and brokenness.
What the child within does: It opens you to acknowledge your own suffering and admit your own pain.
What healers do: Healers witness the truth.
What your healer within does: It discerns truth and recognizes falsehood for what it is.
What your child within does: It speaks and lives the truth.
When I started cultivating my own healer within, a new working theory and tool for my work with for complex trauma arose. In the many cases where neglect, abandonment, and households that were less than nurturing disrupted attachment to a trusted other, complex trauma can develop. In the room, I can invite all the inner child work, but if I’m not also pushing my clients to cultivate their own healer archetype, their inner children get left behind: abandoned again, left to fend for themselves in a world that overwhelms their capacity to respond with agency and inclusive compassion. In cases where the primary wound is being too responsible too early for adults health, safety, and/or emotional state (i.e. for a mentally ill parent, experiences of sibling molest, or living with a narcissist/codependent pairing or attachment figures), the wise old woman, the crone the healer, the conjured, the maker of magic, the wolf woman who pours over the bones, the healer is essential because the inner child doesn’t trust the mother archetype. She needs magic, she needs a 3rd eye view that matches what she needed to survive her childhood…she needs to tap into the field of vision that sees beyond the circumstances at hand to the possibility that other options exist, and allow that child to hold on for dear life. While the child holds on, the healer looks fondly with grandparent eyes, her presence and flow of non-attached love allowing the child to receive the complete acceptance and trust that has been missing.
The healer is strong enough for this work. The internal mother often is not if abuse and neglect happened around the primary attachment figures, and the child will fall into resentment around needing to hold up the world again. Give your clients someone worthy of otherworldly trust by inviting them to flesh out their healer. One resource that I’ve found particularly resonant is Women Who Run With the Wolves by mythologist Clarissa Pinkola Estes. Trust the healer and child archetypes will find each other in each client, providing a gentle nudge of direction if it feels right to you. Tap into your own healer archetype to start the journey. Watch as your inner healer pours over your own bones, which contain all the elements of new life. Enjoy!
A word of note: I chose to use (mostly) feminine pronouns here. The healer and child are not attached to either gender or sex, and the pronouns used here were the ones that arose out of my own experience. I invite you to create your own from your own imagination, and see what images and identities form.