Center for Creative Growth
Growing Towards Wholeness Through Grief:  The Journey of the Wounded Child Within
 

Note: The following article was originally written by Teresa Kaplan as part of her Master's-level graduate work in psychology. It is a moving blend of valuable information about what inner child therapy is -- and how it is conducted with therapy clients -- interwoven with her heartfelt account of her own personal journey of growth and healing. When she shared this written work with us, we asked if we could post it on our Center's website, knowing that it was an informative and inspiring piece. We are very happy to share her most excellent article with you, in the hopes that you, too, will find it useful in your own path of growth and healing. (The names of her therapy clients, referred to later in the article, have, of course, been changed to preserve confidentiality.)

Growing Towards Wholeness Through Grief:
The Journey of the Wounded Child Within
by Teresa M. Kaplan

“We shall not cease from exploration
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

I am six years old. It is sunny outside, it must be spring or summer. We are just getting home from our day. My father, my nine year old brother and I are walking up the steps to our rented house on Regency Drive. As my brother walks inside, my father turns to me and says, “Mom and I got a divorce, and she is living in New York now.” I tell him it is okay. Both my brother and I state that we are not sad, and in fact, I truly remember not feeling sad in that moment. And that was that. Never again in my 18 years of living at home did my family discuss my mother. We simply went on and “forgot” that she existed.

Twenty one years later, I am in my studio apartment, living on my own for the first time. The phone rings and I expectantly pick it up, imagining it might be my older brother. “Holli just gave birth to a baby girl,” he says, with the pride of a husband and new father. I begin to tear as I congratulate him, moved by this emotional moment. Yet as we hang up the telephone, I realize that my tears are not that of an excited and touched new Aunt, but are tears of immense pain. My tears turn to sobs, my heart experiencing a depth of pain that I have never known before. I don’t know why I feel this, I just know it hurts. The pain is unbearable. It feels intolerable. I feel as if I am experiencing the pain of the entire world in my one little body. There are no words, no thoughts. I am only feeling, feeling so much I can’t stand it. I question if I can make it through the night like this.

I did make it through that night, and have survived other nights of almost similar intensity. I even welcome them now. I sometimes encourage them. This notion may sound strange, as our culture, our families, even our own natural protective instincts encourage us to avoid our painful feelings. The goal of life is to feel good and be happy! Thus we find ways to avoid, deny, distract, repress, dissociate, forget. And yet ultimately these defenses are not helpful, bringing us pain anyway. I truly believe then that we must go through the darkness, not around it, in order to get to the light. And thus, I present here the grief work that I so strongly understand as a path to healing. I will take you on my own journey last year as my child self began to mourn the loss of my mother, I will share the works of authors in the field of the “inner child” and grief work, and I will present the beginning journey’s of my clients and case examples of clinical interventions and the framework I hold in therapy. With my personal experience, witnessing my clients, and reading outside materials, I feel strongly at this point that one of the most powerful ways of healing is through tapping into the grief of our child self. This is how we reconnect with who we really are. This is how we grow towards Wholeness.

It wasn’t until over one year later that I began to understand the deep pain that was triggered in me on the night that my beautiful niece was born. The pain is still difficult to name with words. Her birth, the first birth of the next generation in my family, the birth of a baby girl, brought with it a glimpse of the reality that I had always denied; the disconnection of the mother-daughter relationship, and the emotional understanding that my baby self was essentially born and raised “motherless,” that even before her physical departure when I was six, she had departed mentally through “schizophrenia” when I was an infant. One year later, after over 27 years of repressing my child pain, I was finally ready to accept and to feel that at a very early age my child self was abandoned and wounded deeply. I was determined now to know this in my body, my mind, my heart. Thus I decided to take an inward journey, to heal my past in the present.

The journey I took last year began with a strong desire to know, to feel, to heal. Soon after this intention was declared, my “journey” took on a life of it’s own. The next several months included extreme hard work through individual therapy, Mendell’s Process work, dreamwork, expressive arts modalities, psychodrama, journaling, poetry, energy work, and a written integration of it all through a 65 page personal process paper. Before this, beginning since I was 11 years old, poetry had been the one tool I used in order to express myself and my feelings in relation to my mother. I begin that paper with a poem I wrote after speaking with family and learning more about my infancy. It seems fitting for this paper as well, and so I share it here:

She left, before I even came out of her.
And when I lay in my crib, new born and vulnerable
voices screamed at her
“Kill your child” they said.
And I had left, an exhausted mother
fighting to keep us both alive.
I did survive that childhood
where brothers teased and fathers were always right.
I put on my happy face
and with love and light inside to anchor me,
I hid myself from the pain that always comes with truth.
Oh sure, it came out in poems,
and once a year visits to a coughing woman
but that memory of fear sat deep inside
covered, with layers. . . so that I might not feel a thing.
Now here I am at 27, with a flood of emotion at my feet.
More vulnerable, more fragile than my child self.
You don’t go backwards silly.
I want to shake me and scream,
“Listen up and remember, you are a woman and you are strong.”
But can a child, that has needs and no mother,
become a woman, whole and strong?
I am too tired now, to ponder that question.
I just want to find some peace.

I then write in the introduction of that paper, “In some ways, this deep inner work has felt like an awakening. I have experienced pain, fear, excitement, pleasure, loss, anger, power, sadness, clarity, understanding, love. I have felt young, fragile, wounded, wise, brave, strong, proud. I have tapped into buried emotions and connections, years of denial and confusion now leading into insight and clarity.”

I go on to write, “I continued to flow with the process, inquiring inside, reflecting, digging, searching, feeling, writing, reading, expressing, allowing. I gave myself permission to explore and be in it, to push myself to the growing edge while giving myself assurance that I am safe and able to hold what was to come up. I have thus been able to feel my young child’s pain and loss, while my woman self has held her hand with comfort and soothing knowledge of healing. I have learned I am big enough now, to dive into the darkness. The work I have been doing - the young trauma - includes mother loss, emotional caretaking, sacrifice of self, unmet needs, double messages, confusion, emotional repression, denial, disempowerment, . . . all weaving together to encompass the core of my wounding. The ‘factual’ puzzle pieces I may never ‘know,’ but through the process of opening up to my core issues, the puzzle pieces of my self and my psyche have begun to fit together to present glimpses of the Whole.”

Jung understood my desire to journey and the significance of our inner child. “In the adult there lurks a child--an eternal child, something that is always becoming, is never completed, and that calls for increasing care, attention, education. This is the part of the human personality that wishes to develop and become whole” (cited in Abrams, 1990, p. 203). And I am drawn to the healing powers of grief work, especially grieving the losses of our childhood and our child selves, because I have personally experienced the immense transformation that occurs when we open up to it. During this time, I cried and screamed and went mad. But I believe the permission I gave to myself to do this, to dive to the depths of places that I had never allowed myself to go before, allowed for a strength and fullness to emerge. Through our grief, we can feel the incredible bittersweet beauty that comes with life lived in depth. Through my own grief, I experienced this profoundly. Ironically, through tapping into my loss, I now experience a fuller sense of completeness inside of me. I have always been fortunate to experience self-love, but through my deep pain an even deeper more expansive self-love and self-compassion were tapped into. Connection to the Divine became more solid than I have ever known. And in grieving my child wounds, my authentic voice became louder, clearer, more solid, unafraid of the whole Teresa Kaplan who is here on this earth to be who she is.

Although my own experience involves actual loss of my mother through mental illness, I believe we all experience the trauma of loss in some form during childhood, and I have seen that my experience includes childhood wounds that are similar to many other’s experiences. I remember sharing my experience of loss during an in-depth presentation in class one time, and was surprised to see tears on so many faces that could relate to my story in their own way. But most of us do experience loss and “abandonment” as a child, whether it be more subtle or more dramatic. Often our adult selves are not aware or conscious of these losses, as they may be less tangible and more invisible because they are gradual, partial, or even symbolic (Whitfield, 1987,p. 89). Most of us experience a loss of the part of our beautiful innocent selves that was unacceptable to our particular family. Even when we were loved, we were not fully seen or acknowledged or appreciated as our whole selves. Or worse yet, we were judged or criticized for it. All of us at one point felt hurt, rejection, neglect, unfairness. And especially, all of us had unmet needs. “People seek psychotherapeutic help largely because of the pain, despair, rage and unfulfilled needs of the neglected inner child” (Stein cited in Abrams, 1990, p.264). Thus all of us can benefit from grieving these experiences.

When we are young, we are at our greatest time of need. This time is crucial for the development of our sense of self. Our needs are simple, yet essential. Charles Whitfield (1987) describes many of the needs that when left unmet, may stifle the child self. They include a sense of safety, physical touching, attention, mirroring, guidance, listening, acceptance, freedom to be our self, tolerance of our feelings, validation, respect, support, trust, nurturing, and unconditional love (pp.17-22). And in order to become our true self, we actually require most of these needs. And yet this is often not possible. Whitfield (1987) points out that rarely does one have a mother or other figure who is even capable of providing or helping us to meet all of our needs. “There is usually no such person available. . . Thus, in our recovery, we grieve over not having had all our needs met as infants. . .” (p. 22).

It seems the greatest and most crucial need a child has in order to develop fully is to receive “mirroring.” When we are young we need to have our true feelings--our true self-- mirrored, in order to help us develop trust in our own experiences. I have witnessed the wounds and pain and “holes” in myself, as well as my clients, due to this lack of mirroring. It is clear this is an essential aspect in facilitating the continuation of our authentic development. In Winnicott’s terms, when we receive empathic attunement (mirroring), this nurturing environment allows the blossoming of the “true self” of the child (cited in Firman & Russell, 1994, p.10). In Psychosyntheses, this true self can be called “authentic personality.” It is seen in a similar way, with the understanding of mirroring being a crucial factor. “If at each stage of life we receive this mirroring, we are able to recognize, accept, and include the unfolding aspects of ourselves at that stage . . . Through this mirroring we can actualize all the richness of our unfolding human potential . . . ” (Firman & Russell, 1994, p.11). And thus when we are young, instances of major failures in mirroring can cause deep wounding to our sense of identity.

I agree with John Bradshaw (1990) in the belief that we are all born with a sense of wholeness and completeness, even though we are not fully developed yet. We are valuable and special as no one is exactly like us. “The story of every man’s and every woman’s fall is how a wonderful, valuable, special, precious child lost its sense of ‘I am who I am’” (p. 39). As most of us are not completely accepted or unconditionally loved exactly for who we are, we may disconnect from our full sense of self. During the time of our infant and child development, this connection to our Self appears--and essentially is--less important than the real or imagined emotional abandonment that may occur if we retain the parts of our selves that are unacceptable. “To the child, abandonment by its parents is the equivalent of death” (Peck cited in Abrams, 1990, p. 106). Thus the choice we have then appears, and often is, conflicting. This means choosing to identify with the “false” self in order for survival. (Abrams, 1990, p.118).

Our false self is the part of us that emerges for our protection. When our parents have not worked through their own childhood wounds, they continue to have unconscious needs. Our child selves then intuitively sacrifice our own self-realization in order to gratify them and thus maintain connection. Often, rather than the adult parents meeting unconditionally the needs of their children, it is the children who unconditionally meet the needs of their parents. It is understandable then that a pattern thus unfolds throughout the generations . . . until courageous members begin to face their grief and thus begin to break the cycle. Until then, we see the tragedy of the loss of our beautiful complete authentic Selves.

As Jung says, “If parents because of their own insecurity cannot accept sufficiently the basic nature of the child, then its personality becomes damaged. If it is beyond the normal bruising of life the child becomes estranged from his center of being and feels forced to abandon his natural pattern of unfoldment” (cited in Abrams, 1990, p. 202). Thus the goal of our adult selves is to reclaim that natural path of unfoldment, to travel to and remain in the “center” of our being. It is possible to reconnect with who we really are--the complete authentic self we were born as that may still be hidden underground. And this is the transformation that occurs through our child’s grief. Alice Miller strongly affirms this when she says, "The true self has been in 'a state of noncommunication,' as Winnicott said, because it had to be protected. The patient never needs to hide anything else so thoroughly, so deeply, and for so long a time as he has hidden his true self. Thus it is like a miracle each time to see how much individuality has survived behind such dissimulation, denial, and self-alienation, and can reappear as soon as the work of mourning brings freedom from the introjects." (cited in Abrams, 1990, p.136) The painful difficult work this entails is worth it. I can validate the experience.

Thus, I feel fortunate that when my dam broke I had the courage to continue swimming in the waters of darkness. For many of us, including myself for 27 years, the fear of drowning, of the currents, of the imagined engulfing never-ending river of our emotions is too great to allow us to do more than splash with our toe and run back to the “safety” of land to dry off. Others of us, are still unaware of the water. We remain disconnected or dismiss our childhood experiences through minimizing their impact. This is how I lived for many years. This is how many live, denying their inner child’s wounded experience and thus continuing, maybe unknowingly, to suffer. We do this because most of us believe what we intuitively knew in childhood--that we cannot handle our pain. Although now as adults we can learn to efficiently hold our pain, we still imagine, “. . .that we will die, or go crazy, or that the pain or discomfort will be unending, or that we are wrong or weak for having those feelings. So we try to protect ourselves. We ignore, deny, or discount our feelings; and in so doing, we abandon our Inner Child” (Paul, 1992, p. 56). And we unconsciously imagine that somehow by continuing to disconnect from the pain of our child self, we will not experience pain.

And yet as Carl Jung says, “Whatever is denied conscious access continues to influence the individual anyhow--but via unconscious processes” (cited in Walker, 1995, p.19). When we do not explore our feelings, these “unconscious processes” can have a significant impact on our sense of self, our adult relationships, and our lives. Although we can deny or discount our emotions, this does not make them magically disappear. They remain hidden, or turn against the self, or project outwards effecting others with whom we are in relationship. Some of the difficulties that I have witnessed when we remain unconscious of our child’s pain, are; co-dependence, feelings of emptiness, trust issues, difficulties with intimacy, depression, hostile self-criticism, low self-esteem, irritability (due to holding in anger), anxiety, fear, and excessive need of approval or attention. I imagine this list describes just a few of the possible consequences that may occur when we do not really listen to our child inside and work through our inner pain. “...The pressure from such hidden wounds can and does eventually wreak havoc in our lives and in the world” (Firman & Russell, 1994, p.19).

Much of our unnecessary emotional pain is due to the pressure that comes from not releasing stored up energy that has accumulated throughout our lives. I believe, further, that without the release that comes through our grief work, we may be holding so much deep inside that it can effect us emotionally, physically, mentally and spiritually. As our bodies, hearts, minds, and spirit are interconnected, when we experience wounding, it is a wounding to our entire being. And as I myself have physically experienced, our emotional trauma is stored up as energy in our bodies. When not processed, this can have a great effect on us. As Whitfield (1987) says, “When we are not allowed to remember, to express our feelings and to grieve or mourn our losses or trauma, whether real or threatened, through the free expression of our Child Within, we become ill” (p. 58). I believe this “illness” can and does take on many forms.

And not only do we possibly suffer when we do not allow our grief, we also simply may not experience the full depth of our experiences. By repressing or ignoring our childhood experiences and our still living inner child, “we are limiting our consciousness and our ability to experience life” (Short cited in Abrams, 1990, p .203). Through our grief work we can begin to live in a more full, rich, deep way. It has been claimed that when we repress one emotional aspect of ourselves, we then dim all of the others. If we are afraid to dive into our pain, we may not be allowing ourselves to experience the full intensity of our joy. As Walker (1995) shares,

Along with love and peace and beauty, God made pain and loss and suffering. Our ability to fully appreciate life depends on our willingness to sometimes feel sad and angry about our own and others’ misfortunes and difficulties. The tools of grieving are gifts from God that enable us to integrate and grow from life’s inexorable hardships, and then to return to gratitude for its wonders. (p. 203) Thus it is clear that the ungrieved pain of our child self can effect our adult lives in deep ways. I believe that much of our adult suffering stems from our ungrieved past. Many of our issues stem from the core of our inner child’s wounding and the still neglected pain that silently, somewhere, yearns to be felt.

Before my journey last year, I myself was stuck in denial for many years, minimizing the effects of the difficulties of my childhood, completely disconnected from my inner child’s pain. I remember a few years ago an acquaintance asked me over dinner one night about my mother. I said in an almost amused tone, “She is schizophrenic, she thinks she works for the CIA, has won the Nobel Peace Prize, and talks to me about the special powers she has. It is interesting.” He looked at me with shock and almost disdain, “That is one of the saddest things I’ve ever heard.” I felt a little embarrassed, but his words did not penetrate into my heart. And yet I did not imagine I was in denial, for I was aware and acknowledging of the situation. But although I knew the information, I did not “know” the feelings of it. It appears this is a common phenomena. “Minimization is a subset of denial; it is acknowledging, but making light of, childhood losses. Many survivors minimize hurtful childhood memories by transmuting their pain into jocularity. . .” (Walker, 1995, p. 71). For years I could tell my story to anyone who inquired, yet it never felt real to me. And yet my unconscious wounds came through in my adult life. I see now how these behaviors and emotions were my traumatized child self screaming out, crying gently, angry and sad and attempting to be nurtured.

So how do we get from this place of minimization and denial to a place of acceptance and feeling and then healing. As John Bradshaw (1990) says, “In order for grief to be resolved several factors must be present. The first factor is validation. Our childhood abandonment trauma must be validated as real or it cannot be resolved” (p. 228). I know this was very true for me. As I sat in lost silence, I felt my childhood a puzzle in which many of the pieces were missing. And then last year I realized I needed to build that puzzle, filling in the pieces in whatever way I could. My desire for growth and health outweighed any fear or defense. So I read the book, “Motherless Daughters; the legacy of loss” by Hope Edelman, which by validating my experience for the first time, began to finally help lift my protections. Rather than numbly thinking about it feeling as if it were the life story of someone else, I finally began to realize--to feel--that this was in fact, sadly, my life story. Now I was ready to meet her, my vulnerable hurt little girl.

The experience of validation allowed me to begin to do this. I write about the significance of this in my process paper. “Edelman’s book is the first mirror I have had to validate that in fact mother loss is a significant event. Reading letters and studies of woman who have lost their mothers (due to death or mental illness) shows me that I can be allowed to feel. This may sound strange but the message I have received in my life is to minimize my loss--it is not significant, nothing to mourn. Thus I have never felt the permission to really feel, for fear that I am simply being overly dramatic. Finding my own truth in this book--not just in the significance of loss but also the ways of my family’s denial and dynamics--I am beginning to trust myself. I want to fight now for what I am entitled to, embracing the reality of my experience with eyes and heart open. Wow, a mother is the most significant figure that a child has in her life, throughout her life. I never knew this.”

Once we begin to understand that our experiences and emotions are important and valid , we then seem to allow ourselves the permission to acknowledge and feel them. I have seen with my clients that as I mirror their experience and continue to validate them, and especially take their experience seriously on a feeling level, their true emotions begin to awaken. Once the tragedy of my situation was named and acknowledged from outside sources, I began to open up to the reality of the experience of my child within. And for me I noticed that once I made this conscious choice to accept her, she began to come to me. After feeling the validation that I needed through reading as well as finally speaking with family members, my pain awakened for the first time through a dream.

I wrote the experience in my journal. “I am at my old elementary school, the school in which I now work. It is a beautiful sunny day. I look down the steps, and I see my mother. She is young, and so incredibly beautiful. She is happy and light and radiant. She is real. I walk over to her and she looks into my eyes. We connect deeply. I am overwhelmed with love and joy to be with this amazing woman, to have a mother whom I admire in so many ways. I can’t believe how beautiful she is. . .how lucky I am. . . I awake alone in my studio apartment. My unconscious has just given me the gift this night of tapping into the connection--and thus the loss of connection--that I have experienced in my life in relation to my mother. As I shift from dream state to waking life, my emotions do not leave me. I awake with intense sadness, and release tears that I really have access to for maybe the first time. A flood of tears emerge, coming from a deep, deep place inside...the core of my being. I do not feel like 27 year old Teresa Kaplan in this room, I feel transported to another time/place . . . I feel like an infant, helpless and small. My heart feels broken, as if I have lost a part of myself, or the closest thing to me. It hurts . . . I feel sad defeat . . . very deep and alone . . . The denial has lifted--I lost my mother. And this is very, very sad. On this night I am now feeling the emotions of this sadness.”

Intuitively, I knew the healing power that feeling my feelings could bring me. I thus called to my little girl self, encouraging my wounded child to come out from hiding after these many years. I needed to remind her of her experience in order to help her into her feelings. I write in my journal to myself: “Oh my incredible strong and beautiful Teresa. You are amazing. . . and you have such young wounds. Imagine neglected baby T. Helpless. Needy. Uncomfortable. In pain. Scared. Hungry for attention and nourishment. And you had to sit with that. Your motherwas not present. She wasn’t able to care for you, fulfill your needs. She was self absorbed. She was in her own world. You were abandoned at your most time of need. And your father was no help. He was in denial. He was away, working three jobs and writing his dissertation. Now in intimate relationship in adult life you have feared abandonment. You have been hurt when you were not paid attention to. You experienced narcissistic rage when your needs couldn’t be fulfilled. You have felt devastated. This is your helpless infant crying out. These are your baby wounds hurting, wishing to heal. It is time now to express them to and from their real source. Let the abused infant be seen and felt. Let it be clear. Then let her be taken care of. Take care of her! Let her know she deserved attention and nourishment. And remind her that she probably did not receive it. Let her be angry, devastated--this will not drown her. Gently and sadly remind her that she will never get what she lost out on then. No one can be there for her now the way a mother is there for her infant. You can not expect that sweety. Mourn this loss. Accept it. Know that pain. And then you will begin to heal. Slowly, it will take time. You may still get hurt. You may still feel disappointed and get angry. But it will be cleaner. And the wound won’t go so deep. It will not be so big. You will not be so small. You will continue into health. I love you amazing T.”

My child within listened to these words, and trusted enough to come out from hiding. Her pain continued to come up through my dreams, during experiential exercises with my psychodrama groups, in therapy, in my journal writings, when I called to her as I lay alone in my studio at night, in the safety of the arms of my partner in bed, and spontaneously and uncontrollably in various situations that triggered the old pain of abandonment and loss. I became aware of every mother daughter pair walking together down the street. Situations, interactions and words that at one time went unnoticed, now became painful reminders of the immense wounded child whose painful feelings were now so accessible inside. I was integrating her, and her grief was a part of my common experience now. I write to myself in my journal at this time, “You are integrating . . . able to hold the deep connection and love of mother and daughter, and at the same time the tremendous painful loss and absence. Both are true. Both are real. Both can give you power.”

During this work, most of my grief was experienced as painful sadness and expressed through tears. This is an extremely important aspect of grief work. Our emotional pain is stored up energetically in our bodies. Through the act of crying we can finally begin to release this stored up energy. When we are able to let go and open up to our pain and cry--not just silent tears but deep bodily sobs--we are naturally healing ourselves. When we give ourselves the space to sit in the pain and allow it to move through us physically via unrestrained tears, we are being there for our child self (Walker, 1995, p.79). We can surrender to our bodies and allow them to do the work, shaking and releasing “primal” sounds from deep down, carrying the hurt out of our body. We can let ourselves sob and shake, knowing this is the body’s way of letting go of the pain it has been holding for many years. ”. . .it is extremely therapeutic to surrender to thistrembling as it marks the release of the deepest levels of pain” (Walker, 1995, p. 80). And yet most of us are not familiar with this deep core crying. Most of us are afraid to let go of “control” and trust enough to allow our bodies to experience deeply. But when we open ourselves to the experience, the healing that takes place through this grieving process is truly transformational.

This of course takes much strength and courage. Sometimes during a “grief session” I am amazed that I--that one person--could be holding so much pain. The reservoir that I tap into has seemed bottomless at times, yet I dive in anyway, certain in the healing aspects that come with the experience. A few months ago, still after my work last year, again my child self was triggered one night. This session was the most powerful I have experienced. Having my partner with me, who is comfortable, safe and supportive, who is big and unafraid, further encouraged my hurt girl to feel her feelings in their fullest. For over three hours I cried, sobbed, and released primal sounds that came from deep within my center. My body shook, trembled, contracted and released. My emotional pain and physical pain seemed to merge, I was unable to differentiate them. I could physically feel the energy releasing out through my mouth via sounds, and course through my body eventually releasing out of my feet and hands. This healing work is profound and powerful, yet simple: we need not “do” anything . . . just allow ourselves to be open to the experience and be with it. Hold the hand of our hurt little child and let her deeply cry.

In the process of grieving, experiencing and expressing our child’s anger is just as important as releasing our sadness through tears. “We are learning that in healing our Child Within it is appropriate and healthy to become aware of and to express our anger” (Whitfield, 1987, p.104). But many of us are not aware of this. As we move through our grief process, we may experience blocks at any phase, and I see this is especially true for the experience of anger. I know this was true for me. During my own process, I knew somewhere inside I must be angry, yet I had a difficult time touching into those feelings. As it has always been my mother whom I see as the victim, and as I witness her innocent childlike self full of love and vulnerability I couldn’t imagine how I could be angry with her. But intuitively, I also understood that intentions are not relevant in this work, what is relevant is what I actually experienced. As John Bradshaw (1990) explains, “It’s okay to be angry, even if what was done to you was unintentional. In fact, you have to be angry if you want to heal your wounded inner child. . .” (pp. 78-79). Thus I did open to the experience of my anger. I did get in touch with a lot of anger towards my father during this time. And eventually I was able to experience anger for the experience of being abandoned and the unfairness of not having a mother. For me, this was just as healing.

Allowing and experiencing our anger during grief work is necessary in many ways. As with allowing our tears of sadness, feeling and expressing our anger helps us to release the stored up emotions that have accumulated inside due to our childhood experiences. This process is extremely important. Otherwise, in our adult lives we may continue to hurt ourselves or others with our unconscious behaviors that come from old unresolved anger. When we work through our past anger, we are less likely to carry anger in our adult lives. When we attempt to deny it we then allow it to come up unconsciously and this is when it turns against us--becoming rage, suicidal depression, creating violence in the world. I agree with Walker (1995) that most of us fear our anger and hide from it, as we are afraid of this energy and of its seeming power to damage us. Ironically, it is truly damaging only when we do not embrace it. And thus we see the necessity of allowing our anger to manifest during our grief work.

But not only is our experiencing of anger necessary, it can also be extremely beneficial. Many possibilities for transformation occur when we embrace our anger and work with it. As Walker (1995) says, “Angering unlocks our joy. When we finally end our lifelong repression of our anger, we often feel exuberant relief” (p. 87). Anger empowers us. It releases our fear so that we can more fully embody ourselves and feel more free to express who we are. It allows us to hold boundaries. It gives us assertive strength, without the need for aggression. It builds confidence. Interestingly, it may even create more peace within us. Our relationships and interactions may also shift. Walker (1995) found that his anger actually helped him to feel safe enough to risk being vulnerable with others, and says, “Truly intimate relationships finally began to flower in my life” (p. 69).

And during grief work we need not fear our anger as there are many healthy nonviolent ways to explore and express it. It is important to understand that almost always the least helpful way to express our anger is actually releasing it directly towards others, even the person we our angry with. Some other more helpful techniques, most of which I myself actively participated in, include psychodrama, art, writing letters (not to be sent), role-plays, sharing with others, yelling, voicing primal noises, journaling, pounding, dancing to “angry” music, expressing with self out loud or silently. Through using our feelings therapeutically in this way, experiencing our anger frees us from our fear of it, and we come to learn that our expression of anger is not always dangerous—it can be safe and healing. And as Walker (1995) says, “What a wonderful paradox that the safe letting go of control actually insures us that control will not be lost destructively! Safe angering insures this won’t occur because it prevents rage from becoming an explosive pressure cooker without a release valve” (1995, p.150).

Within this discussion of experiencing our anger, I feel it is important here to discuss blame, and the idea of “blaming” our parents during this grief work. What seems most common to me as I witness my clients struggle, is their fear of blame. Many of us are afraid of blame because as children we were “abandoned” for challenging our parents. We may thus unknowingly carry an unconscious fear of rejection. Although we are not technically still needy children of our parents, our lives no longer threatened by their abandonment, the emotional dynamic is deep within us from childhood. Also, as I shared earlier, because I have so much love and compassion for my mother, I have a “block” to blaming her. How could I blame her, with her large innocent heart and vulnerability and illness, her incredible poetry and depth. How could I do anything but love her. I have seen my clients, when attempting to share their childhood pain, experience much hesitation, as they imagine that by doing this they are being unloving to their parents. They imagine that if they present their pain, they are blaming harshly and then discounting all of the positive aspects of their parental figures. We may feel guilt or shame. We may feel, as I myself did at various points, that by feeling our anger and blaming, we are “bad.” We may find it easier to blame indirectly and feel anger towards the unfairness of the experience, as I have--rather than the direct person. In cases of unintentional hurt (death, illness), I believe this may be just as helpful. Yet also, I remind my clients, as I did myself, that acknowledging the difficulty, does not have to take away our appreciation. We can hold both. Our pain falls within the experience of our love.

Further, it is now clear to me that experiencing our anger around childhood and expressing our “blame,” is ultimately a more loving act towards ourselves and towards our parents. Through our grief--the blame and anger and sadness we experience around our childhood issues--we are finally truly able to forgive our parents. Walker (1995) shares an intense experience of feeling anger towards his mother. He then says, “On the other side of one particularly intense role-play of catharting blame at my mother, I felt my heart open with more love for her than I had ever felt before. This feeling of love then expanded into compassion for her and finally culminated in an authentic feeling of forgiveness” (p.157). Our stored up pain is released and the energy of the emotions has moved through us, and thus real acceptance and love can be available. Yet if we “forgive” before we feel our blame, we may carry our child’s hurt and anger around forever (Walker, 1995, p.148). Not until we fully experience our anger, do our resentments begin to fall away. Not until we fully express our blame, do we release it and open our hearts to truly seeing, accepting, and loving. And we naturally begin to hold our parents with compassion as we see their innocent wounded child selves. We then have the opportunity, if we choose, to create a less defensive more honest and meaningful relationship.

For me this happened naturally as I went through my grief. At one point in my process, my anger towards my father manifested. I felt too hurt and angry to continue in our relationship, and thus took a “break” from it. Through taking my space, feeling my feelings and creating temporary distance, my internal relationship with him was transformed, and thus our external relationship was shifted when we reconnected. My idealization of him had melted, finally allowing me to project less and see more clearly. My sensitivity and intensity of emotion around my father dissipated. My boundaries strengthened. I believe we both experience now a clearer easier connection. I love him deeply and also see and accept him in his humanness. As I went through the darkness, not around it, I authentically moved towards the light. One year ago, I could not speak to him. Now one of my very favorite weekly experiences is having Friday night dinners at my dad’s house.

I have noticed a great shift in my relationship with my mother as well. The other morning I telephoned her. She began to share her usual “delusional” news. In the past I have listened, feigned response, and felt completely disconnected from her not knowing how to be “real” or relate because her reality is so different than mine. For the first time the other morning, I felt sincerely emotionally connected to her throughout our entire conversation, and it was effortless. She asked me if I had heard anything about her winning the Nobel Peace Prize or Pulitzer Prize. I told her I had not, but that she certainly deserved all of that. And I felt this; I see what she goes through, how hard she must work inside, and feel that she certainly deserves recognition. She told me about the beautiful new houses she owns, and how she would like to spend her time painting and growing roses. I told her what a wonderful plan that was; it felt beautiful to me. She told me about her lover who she is wishing to be with but can not because he has a spell cast on him that makes him invisible. She shared that she is very thin (“103 pounds!”) but she appears 200 pounds because her old teacher is “throwing bulk” on her. Listening to her, sensing her feelings behind her story, I told her how frustrating this all sounded. She told me that she is in charge of a courthouse and gave me a telephone number of the judge who would be there for me if I ever needed help. I felt her intention of protection, and told her what a wonderful mother she is. I felt this in my heart. She replied back to me, “And you are a wonderful daughter.” I felt her feeling this, but more importantly I felt it myself. The entire feeling and ease of this conversation was a great shift. In the past I have heard her delusional words and thus instantly felt distant. I have had to “force” a feeling of connection. But this conversation felt clean and clear and easy. My unconscious guilt, shame, fear, judgment, hurt, discomfort, defenses (denial, dissociation), emptiness and yearning melted and transformed into a natural openness, acceptance, joy, energy, true authenticity. I saw clearly her Narcissistic wound, her child-like regression, her fantasy and wishes and I naturally and intuitively responded to that. What was incredible to me, is that her different sense of reality did not threaten my sense of connection to her, for I could hear what she was feeling and understand her and respond from that place. In my past I would have never imagined this. I am aware that this transformation occurred through my grief and anger. Thus when I see my clients begin to approach the anger phase of their childhood grief, I am aware that their feelings and blame are a part of the larger process of unfolding love.

I would not be able to enjoy these conversations with my mother so much without my grief work and experiencing my anger. I feel fortunate that I was able to do this. During my journey the universe set me up with the perfect “gift” one night to facilitate my own anger for the first time. I was triggered spontaneously. I write in my journal, “For the first time in my life, I DON’T WANT COMFORTING. I don’t want to be held and soothed. I want to be alone in my anger. I walk outside and allow myself to scream. It is so fucking unfair. Why can’t you be here. It is so, so unfair. Although this is a painful experience, it feels right. . . I can not speak, but I want to release. From deep within the noises come. Noises of anguish. Noises of frustration . . . pain . . . sorrow . . . noises of deep, deep . . . anguish. I am O.K. in this, I feel strong enough and I feel safe. . .”

I was beginning to get in touch with the anguish--the pain and anger--of my experience of abandonment. When I was young, at the age of the actual experience, my little child self could not have tolerated this pain. I thus held it, stored it, waiting until a time when I became “big” enough to be able to sit with it, live through it and survive. Bradshaw (1990) speaks of this when he says, "The natural response to emotional abandonment is a deep-seated toxic shame that engenders both primal rage and a deep-seated sense of hurt. There is no way you could grieve this in infancy. You had no ally who could be there for you and validate your pain, no one to hold you while you cried your eyes or raged at the injustice of it all. In order to survive, your primary ego defenses kicked in and your emotional energy was left frozen and unresolved." (p. 88). Years later when we are ready, we may then begin to work towards resolution.

And now I did have someone there to validate my pain, to hold me while I felt this grief. I had my intimate friends, and my incredibly supportive partner. But most importantly, I had myself. “We also discover that there is only one person that can assure that we get the nurturing we need, and that one person is us . . . . We are our own nurturer . . . . We may at times get others to help us get what we need, but basically we are the only one that can attend to our needs” (Whitfield, 1987, p.130). My nurturing mother self was there for me and with me in an unconditional way that was profound. She was big and strong, validating, encouraging and full of love. She can love me and fulfill my needs like no other separate human being can. I/she journals to myself after the night my anger was triggered: “My incredibly strong girl. How painful it is that you didn’t get to experience what almost all other women experience throughout their lifetime. The joy and love and support and strength--you missed out on. The little girl in you feels how unfair this is and is angry that her mother was taken away. Let her feel this and know it is okay, in fact appropriate, justified and necessary. You are so strong now that you are able to hold this deep hurt and know you are all right. You can be in it and not get lost. You can be in it because you are so strong. The fear is gone. And know that even your mother supports you in this anger and pain. She knows it doesn’t mean you don’t love her, she knows in fact it means you are more connected to her. I am so incredibly proud of you my beautiful strong girl. You are big and you are safe in yourself now. You are large enough to contain yourself. You did not have that strong container--a mother--to hold you when you were young, and for many years understandably you were unable to hold yourself. But you have grown solid and powerful, and I admire the incredible depth of your journey.” My Higher self, or mother self, nurtured me through writings like this, as I tapped into a large well of self-compassion.

I believe the most beautiful aspect that occurs through our grief work is the awakening of true self-compassion. This seems to occur naturally as we awaken to our pain. Stephen Levine says, “We seldom let go of our judgment and make room in our heart for ourselves. How can we so lack compassion for this being we feel suffering in our heart? If we fully acknowledge our pain, it would be difficult not to be swept with a care and compassion for our own well-being” (cited in Walker, 1995, p .57). As we begin to contact our inner child, we can separate her painful wounds from other aspects of ourselves. In doing this, what was once the shame we have taken in from identifying with our young experiences and our external environment, transforms into a new perception of our innocent self. This holding of our child naturally elicits a loving self-compassion within us which then may replace self blame and criticism. Our relationship to our self shifts. We can learn to contact our nurturing parent inside, and begin to reparent ourselves by giving and receiving the complete acceptance that we couldn’t possible get from another yet so much deserve. We begin to find True Love. We begin to truly heal.

“When we have compassion, pain dissolves into love” (Stephen Levine cited in Walker, 1995, p .57). I remember experiencing this self-love profoundly one day during a therapy visit. I write about it in my paper: “At the end of this session...I really see myself and feel myself. I feel so much love for myself that I begin to cry. I tenderly share how proud I am of myself, that I feel that I am an amazing person . . . I feel so much appreciation towards myself, as one would feel towards another person. I have always had so much love inside, and a lot of love to myself that I express (usually through poetry or writings from Higher Self), but somehow healing with my mother. . . has transformed it a little. Love exchange can go on inside me now - and is a part of me TK. I can give it to myself and receive it from myself. Before I just felt this love inside...saw it just as a beautiful yet stagnant emotion. Today it is a most touching sweet exchange.”

Going through my grief and nurturing my child self allowed me to tap into and experience this intense self-love. The power of self-love and compassion is one of the greatest I can imagine. This self-compassion and self-love is what leads us towards our authentic, whole spiritual Selves. We gain acceptance and love for who we are, we thus become more fully Who We Are. We gain access to the Divine within us. As contacting and grieving our child self can awaken our connection with the Divine, some call this self the “eternal” child. Metzer says, “Out of the turmoil and darkness of dying come the sparkling vitality of the newborn self. This new self is connected to the eternal source of all life, that source from which we all derive, the divine essence within. It is therefore aptly named the ‘eternal child’” (cited in Abrams, 1990, p. 16). In Psychosynthesis, the term “inner child” represents this transpersonal openness as well. Firman and Russell (1994) state, “If we were continuously aware of this connection. . . . we would be walking the path of Self-realization, living with ongoing communion with Self” (pp. 5-6). When we contact our inner child and gain self-compassion, it seems we open up more fully to the larger realms of Love and Spirit.

For Walker (1995), “Grieving has also moved me to notice the spiritual beauty of many other human beings” (p. 204). I would say the same is true for me. And thus when we hold love and compassion for ourselves inside, we are then able to hold it more fully for others. As is said throughout all of the inner child literature that I have encountered, the way we treat our outer child is a reflection of the way we treat our inner child. I believe it is true that the more loving we are towards ourselves, the more loving we naturally are towards others. We also become more clear. We are more conscious of our defenses, of when we are coming from our still somewhat wounded child, and when this contaminates our adult interactions. We are able to react less, to be more honest, to take responsibility and own our own feelings. We no longer blindly project or easily blame others. Inner child grief work creates the self-compassion that allows us to then love others on deeper levels than before. “In reclaiming and championing your wounded inner child, you give him the positive, unconditional acceptance that he craves. That will release him to recognize and love others for who they are” (Bradshaw, 1990, p. 40).With this connection and self compassion, we no longer feel like a victim, for we are healing ourselves inside. With self love, we are more loving and empowered. We are big. We are grown.

I felt this empowerment through the work of my own journey. Through my grief I discovered a sense of my own self, of my own “power.” I write in my journal one day after therapy, “The feeling I have--standing there in front of another in my own power space--is that I am finally reclaiming my self . . . after a long, long time . . .before I leave the session Lane tells me he truly felt he was in the presence of a woman.” In the past I had always judged and feared this, having learned what most of us learn in childhood--that being in myself completely, authentically, was not okay. Through my grief I realized I was always, unconsciously, “giving away” my power, having associated being “powerful” with being “unloving.” Through my grief work I began to let go of that fear and judgment. In the last page of my personal process paper I write, “Lately, I have simply felt completely full in myself, big. Nothing is wrong or hurtful about this my dear. This is true beauty. Today Lane left me with Nelson Mandela’s inaugural speech, a powerful assurance of this message:

‘Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous?
Actually, who are you NOT to be? You are a child of God.
Your playing small doesn’t serve the world.
There is nothing enlightened about shrinking
so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.
We are born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.
It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone.
As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.’

When I remember this, that being in my self and my power is actually coming from a loving intention, which it always is, then I realize it is not only okay but ‘good’ and even necessary.” This is how I grew through grief, becoming my own full self.

Although I have much grief from my childhood, and experienced abandonment from my ill mother, I have also been extremely fortunate as the expression of love emotionally was great in my family, both from my mother and especially my father. Even through her altered state my mom exudes a profound amount of loving energy. And my father, even during my difficult days in adolescence, came into my room at least once a day to tell me just how much he loved me. Love was the central most accepted and thus expressed emotion in my household growing up. Thus for me, feeling self-love has come rather easily. There are many situations for others though, as I have witnessed with my clients, that access to love is much more difficult as it is, sadly, unfamiliar. And as Marion Woodman says, “Children who are not loved in their very beingness do not know how to love themselves. As adults, they have to learn to nourish, to mother their own lost child” (cited in Bradshaw, 1990, p. 205). Thus in the field of psychology and inner child work there are many techniques and exercises that facilitate one to contact the inner child, experience our grief, and build “reparenting” skills to encourage self-love and compassion.

These skills are essential for our healing, as “The more disconnected your Adult and Inner Child are, the greater your pain” (Paul, 1992, p. 27). We can learn how to connect and nourish the relationship between these parts of ourselves. But first we must simply contact our child within, as she has probably been hidden for many years. We have built defenses to protect her. She has been hurt and may be frightened to come out. I agree with Firman and Russell (1994) that, contacting our inner child is a matter of mirroring, of empathic attunement. “It was a disruption in mirroring which caused the splitting off of inner child, and it is only mirroring which can heal the break with inner child” (p. 23). We need to be patient and gentle. We need to create or seek a safe environment.

One simple yet powerful way we can then gain more emotional awareness of our child is by sharing with others. “Telling our story is a powerful act in discovering and healing our child within” (Whitfield, 1987, p. 96). And as we share, within the context of a safe mirroring environment, we become a witness to our own story. We get to hear our own story, and the more we do so the more we begin to contact the character of this story, our inner child. We then begin to separate slightly from our identification with our wounded child self, and allowing some “distance,” we can begin to conceptualize the hurt child inside of us. Doing this, “disidentifying” from this aspect of ourselves and labeling her, seems to create deeper feelings of safety and allow the pain (pained child) to emerge further.

One of the most powerful ways to awaken our child self and begin to nurture her is through meditation and visualization techniques. Most authors share their own version of guided meditations for the inner child. Bradshaw (1990) for example, has created various exercises for our different phases of development, including infancy, toddlerhood, preschool and school-age years. “You need to go back to those (threatening) scenes and let your championing adult give your wounded inner child some new words that are nurturing and soothing” (p. 217). He has a list of affirmations, scenes and specific meditations. Many others give the example of “playing our childhood movies” which can bring old memories into consciousness. Bry for example, explains that we are to watch the movie, unhappy or scary as it is, and feel whatever feelings it brings up, knowing they will pass (cited in Abrams, 1990, p. 255). Sinor (1993) instructs us to watch the movie and then recreate those scenes and recreate our emotional experiences (p. 159). Sheldon Kramer (1994), in his brilliant book “Transforming the inner and outer family,” gives meditation exercises and imagery for contacting our inner child, as well as accessing our “intragenerational family” (inner parents, siblings, grandparents, etc.) in order to heal our internal images and those inner aspects of ourselves that have been in pain. Throughout his book he gives healing meditation techniques (as well as specific techniques for the therapist to use with clients). Others emphasize the power of simple imagery such as that of our adult selves holding our child, gently being with her, stroking her, showing acceptance, compassion and respect. Branden shows the power of this imagery when he quotes a client saying, “All of these years I’ve tried to be an adult by denying the child I once was. I was so ashamed and hurt and angry. But I truly felt like an adult for the first time when I took her into my arms and accepted her as a part of me” (cited in Abrams, p. 247).

These are a few ways of gaining contact with our child self. The most important step then in caring for this inner child is to recognize her presence and to develop an awareness of her feelings and needs. There are techniques to help facilitate this as well. We can work with our wounded child and develop her presence more fully through expressive arts and psychodrama. Ritual can be extremely powerful. We can use various forms of journaling as well. We can write about various childhood events, including milestones and traumas that we experienced during our developing years. We can continue to do this through various exercises such as “sentence completion,” in which we finish various sentences such as “When I was five years old, One of the things I had to do as a child to survive was . . ., When my child self tries to talk to me . . ., When I recall how my body felt when I was very young . . . ” (Paul, 1992, p. 245). Reflecting and allowing ourselves to complete these sentences, to sink into the experience, is one simple way for our child to present herself and for us to become more aware.

Another helpful way of contacting and nurturing our child is through internal dialogue. “The first dialogue with the vulnerable child may simply involve sitting quietly and encouraging it to come forth. It is often preverbal and may sit quietly or cry” (Stone & Winkelman cited in Abrams, 1990, p. 178). As we continue to work this way, our child’s verbal feelings and words may begin to come through. We can dialogue silently inside, verbally aloud, or with a facilitator in therapy. One of the most popular modes of dialoguing with our child self is through writing. The most common writing technique used in dialogue is for our adult self to write with our familiar hand, and our child self to share by writing with our non-dominant hand. We can ask our child questions, such as “What are you feeling, How can I help, Am I shaming you, What do you need from me . . . ” and give reassurances such as, “It’s okay to cry, I’m here for you, You are not alone . . . ” (Paul, 1992).

These dialogue techniques can be especially helpful in allowing our true hurt and uninhibited child self to speak up. It is extremely important to remember that our full and complete acceptance is essential in facilitating this. “And without a non-judgmental, empathic, mirroring atmosphere, inner child simply will not emerge” (Firman & Russell, 1994, p. 24). And with it, our true child self feels she can begin to safely speak after these many years, encouraged through dialogue. We may wish to ask for our inner child’s forgiveness for neglecting her for so many years. We listen to our child selves, respond from a loving place, dialogue, and take action to meet both our inner child and inner adult’s needs. Through dialogue work, we can hear the child’s voice and gradually begin to love our child self and take over the responsibility of “child-rearing,” reparenting our selves in the unconditional way we so desire.

And thus we begin to take over child-rearing and take care of our inner child. Walker (1995) believes, “The most essential task of self-mothering is restoring the individual to a deeply felt sense that he is lovable and deserves to be loved. Self-mothering is the practice of actively and passively loving the inner child in all his mental, emotional, and energetic states” (p. 211). We give understanding, compassion, and guidance. We can write letters to our child selves, or have our child selves write a letter to us (again with the non-dominant hand) to express what she wants or needs. As discussed earlier, we can meditate with her, visualizing her vulnerable self and give her solid attention and love. We can facilitate this further through positive healing affirmations such as, “You are a gift to the world, You are exactly perfect the way you are, I am very proud of you” (Walker, 1995). To cultivate deep love we can also journal from our mother or Higher Self in a similar way that I shared in my own process earlier. We may also need to learn how to discipline her in a loving way. And we give her new permissions. It is important to create the time and space for her. Many authors emphasize the importance of “taking time” for our child, making inner parenting a priority. This means living with her, listening to her, attempting to meet her needs appropriately, even making agreements with her if necessary. And in return, as Barbara Sinor (1993) emphasizes in her book, we may receive many gifts from this contact with our inner child. And once we contact her, we now continue this relationship throughout our lifetime.

There will always be our child self inside of us. She may always remember the pain and hurt she has experienced. This may not change. What we may shift is the relationship we have to her, how we hold her--this is the healing that is in our power. I appreciate how Firman and Russell (1994) state, “’healing the inner child,’ is misleading, while ‘healing my relationship with the inner child’ is more accurate” (p. 24). We are the responsible adults now, and it is a choice we make that allows us to shift from discounting, criticizing and shaming to the healing nurturing we may give. And being this loving adult means shifting the way we see ourselves--we begin to see ourselves through the eyes of gentle acceptance, as we would our own actual child. Thus it appears the most essential aspect of inner child work is learning to “reparent” our inner selves and to give the love that they so much yearn for. As discussed earlier, the process of grieving seems to naturally trigger the beginnings of this self love for our child. And as we continue to nurture her, she comes to trust us, knowing finally that we will not abandon her. Then, “to be our self requires no work or effort. There is nothing to do” (Bradshaw, 1990, p. 256). And by reparenting our inner child, we can release and heal the pain from the past. “This healing through reparenting is the way to bring freedom and joy into the present” (Paul, 1992, p. 81). It is a way to bring love.

“The power of inner bonding is the power of love as the force that heals, love from Inner Adult to Inner Child. Other’s love can help support this process--love from mate to mate, from friend to friend, from therapist to client; but it is only when the Inner Adult loves the Inner Child that true healing and joy occur” (Paul, 1992, p. 6). This is what I attempt to help facilitate during my work with clients. I do strongly believe in the power of the therapist’s love and acceptance. When a person is given mirroring, acceptance and love, he or she begins to heal her or his wounded self. We can be helped to gain self-love through internalizing the love of others, and self-acceptance through internalizing the acceptance of the therapist. And yet of course, another’s love alone, and as a therapist my love alone, will not automatically bring about transformation. But, “If the defenses of the self are worked through and the individual receives the appropriate reflection, the Self will reconstellate. Proper reflection means that the divine child is being accepted by another and so eventually by oneself” (Satinover cited in Abrams, 1990, p. 155). Although, ultimately, it is the act of inner love from self to self that truly heals the wounded child within, also it may be in the therapy room that one first learns how to cultivate this act.

Throughout my two years of seeing clients, I have been a witness to this healing work. I have sat with clients, holding the space for them to get in touch with their childhood grief. I have guided them through inner child/adult self dialogues, allowing self-compassion to manifest. I have seen clients begin to disown the internalized projections from their parents, dissolving self-criticism and blame. I have felt shame begin to release as acceptance from myself and then their own self is honored. I have witnessed pain, tears, anger, laughter, self-love, and hard, hard work. I thank my clients for touching me and allowing me in to their deepest exploration. I thank them for the sharing that has aroused my interest and created my passion for the topic of grief and the wounded child. I will share here some glimpses into our experience in the therapy room[1].

Mark is a male in his mid-fifties, who came in for therapy as an adjunct to his spiritual work. During this session he began discussing the difficulties he has when attempting to communicate with his mother. We begin to talk about his relationship with her when he was younger. The session continues as follows:

Mark: I guess just little things (pause) I mean I don’t know how important things are to talk about my childhood. There are things that I experienced that were really traumatic for me that involved her.

Therapist: It sounds like it’s really important.

Mark: One thing was (pause) it was the first day of the first grade (begins to tear). And during the middle of the day I peed in my pants sitting at my desk because I was too shy to ask the teacher to go to the bathroom. So I was sitting there during recess. I did not get up and leave my desk I was so petrified at such a (pause) blowing it so hard. So after school I waited until everyone else left. Then I got up to leave. I was supposed to walk home with my sister who was in kindergarten. I was so miserable I didn’t want to walk with my sister because I didn’t want her to find out what I had done. So I ended up throwing rocks at her to keep her away from me (sad laugh) so she would walk farther away. I was like “leave me alone leave me alone I don’t want to talk to you.” She starts crying, gets upset. She goes in and tells my mother that I was throwing rocks at her. So I come home and my mother is just raging mad (crying).

Therapist: Mmm...

Mark: And just shrieking and yelling, just really freaked out and just really, I just remember her being incredibly angry even when I told her what had happened. She was so mad at me that I had done that in the first place.

Therapist: You were trying to protect yourself.

Mark: Yeah (crying). (pause) So I don’t know that was a really heavy experience.

Therapist: I’m also really struck by the sense of shame that you felt and it wasn’t okay that you went to the bathroom

Mark: No exactly, it was like just guilt, shame, just feeling like this is really (pause) not cool.

Therapist: What was the message that you were given?

Mark: That I was a bad person. That good people don’t do those kind of things. So that’s what I carried with me for a long time

Therapist: Yeah

Mark: I’ve never forgotten that. There’s just a lot of real intense guilt and shame around all of that kind of stuff, anything that had to do with your body.

Therapist: Let me ask you how you see that first grader now?

Mark: Pretty sad. Not very happy. And definitely not able to understand how to make friends very well.

Therapist: And if you were to tell him something about that incident, about his going to the bathroom in his pants because he was shy. What would you tell him now?

Mark: (cry). Whew. (very emotional) (pause) (cry) I would have to tell him he is okay.

Therapist: (softly) Yeah. Yeah.

Mark: That that’s no big deal (cry).

Therapist: (again softly) Yeah.

(towards end of session)

Therapist: It feels like you’re beginning to find compassion for that boy

Mark: Yeah, I’d like to. I’d like to find that. I’d like to let that boy know that it is all right (cry). He’s not a bad kid.

Therapist: It is painful when you hear other things.

Mark: Yeah. Just this little bit today, I can tell I can be more aware of my feelings and how I was feeling then. It is so painful to go there but I know that’s the direction to go in.

Mark has begun to get in touch with his sadness around his child’s experience, and begin to cry for him. He can also then begin to hold him and heal. I look forward to our continuing work. Another client of mine, a 23 year old female, has been getting in touch with much of her shock and anger as her denial is beginning to disappear. She comes from a physically and emotionally abusive father and an alcoholic and neglectful mother, who divorced when she was young. During this session she is feeling the upset of the reality of her past. She is feeling her anger and now wishing for the first time she could tell her parents and get validation from them. I attempt to give it to her in the session. The session continues as follows:

Sarah: I have been thinking about it a lot. I mean am I ever going to get my chance to say what I want to say. What is it, “You hurt me,” is all I really need to say. And then you blamed me for doing the things that I did to survive that, which was like sex or food or whatever. I hated my dad because he was so scary, but my mom, she was just drunk all the time, all the time. By the time I was in high school it didn’t bother me anymore. But no one intervened, I can’t believe my dad didn’t do anything about it. And if they only knew what I did, snuck out all the time, shoplifted.

Therapist: So let’s just stay with that, what you just said. You as a child was left with a mother who was drunk and negligent of you, and no one intervened.

Sarah: Right. Why didn’t they? I was just so unsupported. It was like no one cared.

Therapist: Can you feel that?

Sarah: Yeah, it makes me really angry

Therapist: Yeah.

Sarah: Everything I did in high school, I was valedictorian, I started all these clubs, all on my own, I had no help from them. They never once helped me with my homework. I never felt like they helped me. It astounds me now.

Therapist: And I hear it makes you really angry.

Sarah: It does. I’m angry because I was not acknowledged. The world from my eyes was just written out of the family consciousness.

Therapist: So you really did not have anyone understanding from your perspective.

Sarah: And I guess one of my goals now is to be able to just tell them. But I can’t count on them.

Therapist: I know that that would feel and be really healing for you to be able to share with them and have them respond to you and I also know that it might be too difficult for them to be able to hear. I imagine what you’re wanting is validation from them, it could be painful for you then. I do strongly believe that it is possible to work through that hurt and anger without having to do that.

Sarah: Okay.

Therapist: And I’m not saying “Don’t do that.” I imagine, you are 23 years old, I imagine there may be a time when you can talk with them.

Sarah: So where do you think we should go from here?

Therapist: It can be helpful to get in touch with that hurt and that younger hurt can be seen by you and I.

Sarah: (large sigh). (pause).

Therapist: And we can validate the anger. There is anger around not being seen and heard and being neglected. That is very understandable. If 8 year old Sarah was here, getting in touch with feeling how she felt, what would you say to her?

Sarah: (sigh) God (crying)

Therapist: What can you imagine 8 year old Sarah wanted to hear?

Sarah: (sobbing) I can’t believe you have to be here (long pause). There are other places in the world. There are other places for you, I promise. (long pause) (crying).

Therapist: How do you feel about yourself right now?

Sarah: I feel pretty strong.

Therapist: I want to tell you what I see over here. I see you are very strong and you are getting in touch with your pain, and also beginning to get in touch with a nurturing part of yourself.

Sarah: (crying).

Sarah is continuing to work with her anger, as well as her hurt, and is realizing that her harsh inner critic is a false voice that she internalized from her father. Rather than continuing to accept it as “truth,” she is now attempting to grieve through her painful experiences and is beginning to feel that she is more than she has believed. Currently she feels as if she is going through a transformation, and I have seen a tremendous shift in her feelings of self-worth. I admire her incredible courage. Another client of mine, a 22 year old female, Becky, has been attempting to penetrate through her feelings of shame and self-hate. She continues to slowly share more with me, including an eating disorder she struggles with. I have seen a shift in her communication with me, although it can still be somewhat difficult for her. Because she has difficulty sharing verbally she has brought in many journal entries and poems for me to read. She believes her self-hate comes from incidents when she was younger with other kids in school. She feels deeply wounded by other children teasing her. Most of her writings are focused around this pain. The beginning lines from one poem she shared expresses her experience well:

“I took in your words as my own. Your voices tell me I am...worthless...undeserving... unlovable...unworthy...bad...I tried to understand why you would say such things. Then 13 year old me understood...I deserved that cruel treatment because I am me.”

I feel honored that Becky has felt safe enough to let me in. I have seen a lot shift in her, and yet she is still unable to make much room for any other feeling towards herself besides self-critical blame and shame. As she says she is unable to imagine any positive feelings towards herself, including her child self, I decided one session to “bring in a third party” to begin with. (Some authors suggest the metaphor of ‘adopting a child’ to start with). I took her through a visualization in which she left therapy that day and was walking home through a park. There she came upon a group of children and witnessed them teasing a little girl. How does she see this little girl. What would she do. With this exercise, Becky was able to get in touch with care and concern and empathy for this imagined girl. Seeing this little girl as “other” and not a part of her self, she was able to have the distance that elicited compassionate feelings for her. Although she is not projecting this towards herself, I believe it is a small helpful step. Becky came in the following session and handed me a writing. I read it out loud to her so she could really hear it. This writing had a tone unlike any other I had heard from her before:

“If I were at a park and saw other kids picking on her, what would I want to say to her?

I would kneel in front of her and sit on my heels. I would gently hold her close, stroking her hair and back. I would talk to her calmly as she cries. “It’s okay. You are all right. They told you lies. Those kids said those cruel things to make themselves feel better about themselves, and to feel powerful. They actually could be hurting inside, too, and this is all they know to do to deal with their own pain. I’m sorry they felt they needed to take their insecurities and pain out on you. You are not bad. You’ve done no wrong” . . . “You don’t deserve to be hurt. What they tell you hurts a lot, though. It’s okay to do well. You don’t deserve the pain and hate they give you. Send it back to them in your heart. Don’t take it in. You don’t deserve to hurt.”

Becky says she still believes she deserves to hurt. Although she works hard and has accomplished a lot since she began, she still believes her core is ultimately and undoubtedly “bad.” But when I read this writing I was amazed, just to hear her write these nurturing words. Although when I read them to her she said she was unable to really feel that message towards her self, I believe the act of writing it was helpful. Somewhere, unconsciously, it may have a slight chance to sink in. As she herself once said, “It has to be when I’m not looking, and then it (positive self-expression) can slip in.” I feel so proud of her for her effort and work. I hope one day she can know her beauty, and see in herself all that I see as I sit across from her. I hope she can allow the above writing to be directed towards herself. The last client that I will share, Tina, a 30 year old lesbian female, seems to effortlessly take in her experiences in therapy and then continues to apply her learning to her life. After some visualizations, she easily contacted both her inner child and soothing mother self (her own mother was an alcoholic and Tina left home at age 16), and she actively now utilizes this process. She has begun to build a relationship between her pained child self and her knowing adult. During one session she shares with me that when feeling nervous and fearful during a situation recently, she was able to help herself through it using self-talk. She goes on to share this experience:

Tina: I said to myself, “It’s okay. Stay calm, stay in your body, it is not a big deal.” I just brought it down, “Okay, bring it (her energetic boundary) in.”

Therapist: What I’m hearing from that is that you have, looking at parts of self, your mother was there.

Tina: Yes. The mother part that we have talked about has really helped. I just say now, “Okay Mother Tina, come out and take care of me right now.” It has also helped me at times when I have felt abandoned. I use it sometimes when I need to be strong and I use it at other times when I feel, “Oh I’m sad right now, I’m feeling abandoned.”
When I feel that unhealthy part of me begin to come out, I try to get in touch with the Mother Self, just talking myself down from things that can seem really scary.

Therapist: Mmm. When there is the younger part of you feeling abandoned, what happens during those times?

Tina: I do a lot of putting it into perspective. “Okay, right now you are feeling kind of sad and you are parting with somebody but there are going to be these new exciting things you are going to do with your day instead.” It’s always about putting it in reality because for me sometimes I can get so crazymaking in my head that I go to this land that doesn’t make any sense and I’m like “oh my God” so a lot of times it is just self talk around that.

Therapist: Yeah. The part that is so able to go into those places is that younger wounded part and it sounds like you are having a pretty good relationship between the two right now, where you can use your adult mother self for reality checks.

Tina: Yeah.

She is able now for the first time to soothe and ground herself. The session prior to this one further illustrates some of this process:

Tina: (has been discussing a party she went to) It was so much fun. It was the first time I felt comfortable with my girlfriend’s friends too. I wasn’t jealous of them or feel threatened by them and my girlfriend’s relationship.

Therapist: What was it that allowed you to be experiencing in the moment the joy rather than having some difficult feelings?

Tina: I noticed some difficult feelings coming in at times and I would just sit with them and talk with myself about them. It was interesting, I really would just feel them and be like, “Okay, let’s just reframe how you are looking at this right now,” and just start telling myself, “okay Kelli (her girlfriend) is still here, everything is fine, she’s not flirting with anybody like all your past girlfriends, we’re just having fun and these are great people.” And I (the other part of her) was like, “Oh this is great!” Then I would just be in a moment of having fun again.

Therapist: You were doing an internal reality check with your wise parental part of you.

Tina: Right.

Therapist: That’s great.

Tina: It was really fun.

Therapist: And that’s new.

Tina: Very new. Instead of just being like “I want to go home” and being a cranky person and feeling scary feelings of like my mom talking to boys at parties and men at parties and feeling like she’s going to run off with some guy and never...ya know, that fear of abandonment that sometimes comes up at social situations.

Therapist: Right.

Tina: And just really nurturing myself and not going into that, “Well I’m going to leave.” That was fun.

Therapist: So that more observing part that is able to help you out at times, that it newer.

Tina: That part of the voice is definitely new. Because before I would just have reacted in whatever my initial reaction was, didn’t have that tool to talk myself down.

Therapist: And how did you begin to manifest that tool? (at this point I am a little surprised and truly wondering how she gained that tool...it manifested so easily and quickly).

Tina: I think some of our visualizations around Mother Me and a lot of the stuff we’ve done around bringing myself back in here (inside), instead of coming out here (outside). What did we call it, merging. Not merging with other people or other things. And I notice that when I’m feeling kind of “ah!,” it is always about out here, and when I bring myself back in, “Okay, you’ve got your arms, your legs...” literally like, “breath, bring it back in.” Then I feel like, “okay!” It really is about that. I think some of the work we’ve done around that has given me a tool.

Therapist: And it sounds like although you didn’t use that tool before it sounds like you have somewhat easy access to that helpful part of yourself.

Tina: Yeah. Easier than ever. Before I knew kind of what to do but I don’t know why I didn’t use it as much. I surprise myself (short laugh).

Therapist: What I see is that’s the part of you that is loving yourself.

Tina: Yeah. Yeah, it’s cool. I love it! (laugh). It’s kind of overwhelming. It’s like me, love myself, it’s kind of new.

Therapist: Yeah.

Tina: Because I’ve never done that ya know (eyes begin to tear).

Therapist: Yeah (eyes begin to tear).

Tina: Yea, yea for me (cheering). (pause) (tears, laughter).

Thus we can see with these four clinical examples, that I have witnessed a variety of phases of the grief process and client’s relationships to the inner child. The experiences in these examples seem to fall into the emotional phases described by Bradshaw (1990), which include validation, shock and depression, anger, hurt and sadness, remorse, toxic shame and loneliness (pp. 77-79). I believe that the process of grieving our inner child is very similar, if not identical, to the process of grieving any other major loss that we experience in life. There are many feelings that occur with our child’s grief, similar to the grief that Judy Tatelbaum (1980) in “The courage to grieve” describes from mourning death. In this book she says, “Feelings of grief are very intense and often very mixed. We may feel emotions in an entirely new or different way. Among the many feelings aroused by loss are sorrow, anguish, disbelief, despair, anxiety, loneliness, guilt, regret, resentment, emptiness, and numbness, as well as yearning, love, and appreciation for the deceased” (p. 23). Here, the “deceased” may be the lost inner child self and it may be the “absent” parent as well. I experienced almost all of those feelings listed, in relation to my grief work around the mother-daughter relationship. Also similar to traditional grief, the recovery of our feelings is a process, and the phases of grief may appear as a spiral rather than linear experience. The unresolved grief work is a re-experiencing process, which then frees our childhood pain and helps to integrate our lost inner child. It may be ongoing or come back again after a long period of rest, as we continue to do the work of integration. Even after deep grieving, my own grief still comes up at times, elicited by a dream or touching circumstance. But I am not overwhelmed now, and to feel my feelings is a conscious choice I can make. I can clearly feel and see the effects of the hard work I have already done. My heart feels deeply but it is also bigger and stronger from my experience.

As Walker (1995) says, “In my experience, the broken heart that has been healed through grieving is stronger and more loving than the one that has never been injured. Every heartbreak of my life, including the brokenheartedness of my childhood, has left me a stronger, wiser, and more loving person than the one I was before I grieved” (p. 70). I believe this is true and I can feel this truth myself. Thus this is the work I see as powerfully healing, leading us towards love and authenticity. I can feel the gift of the pain I have suffered from my own past, as it has helped to fill my heart and create the fullness of who I am. Also, I am who I am, and the therapist I am, because of my past. And as John Bradshaw (1990) shares, “ I can now see that my whole life is perfect . . . {my childhood experiences} were exactly what I needed to experience in order to do the work I am now doing” (p. 262).

I appreciate Leon Bloy’s words, “There are places in the heart which do not yet exist; pain must be in order that they be” (cited in Bradshaw, 1990, p. 272). Through experiencing this pain and healing I can hold the depth of other’s experiences, help their fears dissolve and allow their grief, as I sit with my solid presence unafraid of the dark. “In therapy, for clients to . . . accept the experience of the child usually depends upon therapists who have done these things in their own lives. Therapists who have wrestled with their own survival personality and faced their own wounding seem best equipped to mirror the wounding of another” (Firman & Russell, 1994, p. 33). And what an incredible gift to be witness to others growing through grief and becoming their wiser more loving authentic selves. I feel incredible gratitude for my grief work as now my life path leads me to continue to accompany others on their own amazing journey of healing.

I see this as a journey not only on the personal realm but the Transpersonal as well. While at times this grief work hurt tremendously, my adult self was present, knowing of the healing of this pain. My Higher Self was present, aware of the beauty in it. In working with clients I thus hold the pain of the personal in the larger framework of the workings of the Universe and Spirit. As some clients have not tapped into their awareness of the Transpersonal, I continue to hold it in the room for them. For myself, I was always aware more of the “light” and larger beauty of Life, and thus I had to do the opposite--to bring my awareness to the more personal “darkness.” I write to myself in the very beginning of my grief work, “You have accepted your life without question, knowing only of the larger beauty. And yes, you are right, all of this life is a gift. But some gifts are painful, tragic, frightful. To live in the truth is to embrace it all. To know the higher love yet feel the shadow that comes along with being human . . . ” In whichever case, as Jack Kornfield says, “This is perhaps the most difficult of the balancing acts we come to learn; to trust the pain as well as the light, to allow the grief to penetrate as it will while keeping open to the perfection of the universe” (cited in Walker, 1995, p. 203). This is the balance I hold as a therapist. And for myself, this balance I now know intimately.


References

Abrams, J. (1990). Reclaiming the inner child. Los Angeles, CA: Jeremy P. Tarcher, Inc.

Bradshaw, J. (1990). Homecoming: Reclaiming and championing your inner child. New York: Bantam Books.

Firman, J., & Russell, A. (1994). Opening to the inner child: Recovering authentic personality. Palo Alto, CA: Psychosynthesis Palo alto.

Kramer, S. (1994). Transforming the inner and outer family: Humanistic and spiritual approaches to mind-body systems therapy. New York: The Haworth Press.

Paul, M. (1992). Inner bonding: Becoming a loving adult to your inner child. San Francisco: Harper Collins Publishers.

Sinor, B. (1993). Gifts from the child within. Capitola, CA: Moon Dance Publishing.

Tatelbaum, J. (1984). The courage to grieve: Creative living, recovery, and growth through grief. New York: Harper and Row Publishers.

Walker, P. (1995). The tao of fully feeling: Harvesting forgiveness out of blame. Lafayette, CA: Azure Coyote Publishing.

Whitfield, C. (1987). Healing the child within: Discovery and recovery for adult children of dysfunctional families. Deerfield Beach, FL: Health Communications, Inc.

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