The Shadow of the Inner Child

by Melissa Karnaze

young boy looking at his elongated shadow on the grassThe Inner Child

The Inner Child is the aspect of each of us that is child-like: full of wonder and innocence, playful, spontaneous, in the moment, delicate, vulnerable, and nonjudgmental.

Some critics believe that the Inner Child is just a product of pop psychology that happened to sell, and that there is no such thing as a separate child-like personality in every one of us.

The truth is, we are all made up of multiple aspects of self. Insights from cognitive science have illuminated the understanding that self consciousness by its very nature is multidimensional and not always a continuous stream of unification as we often perceive it to be.

Despite what the critics say, many people find that reconnecting with the Inner Child brings healing and joy to life. But many people misunderstand the beauty and strength of the Inner Child’s shadow, the Ego.

The Ego

The Ego is the wounded child within us, the part of us that used whatever means possible to survive the betrayals and traumas of childhood. It found whatever defense mechanism possible — denial, numbing, rebellion, aggressiveness, passive-agressiveness, docility, projection, blame, irresponsibility, misplaced anger — anything just to endure the pain of being an innocent and vulnerable child in an patriarchal, oppressive, dysfunctional adult world.

In his bestselling book, Homecoming: Reclaiming and Championing Your Inner Child, John Bradshaw explains in the first chapter, “How Your Wounded Inner Child Contaminates Your Life,” that such defense mechanisms in response to a harsh reality range anywhere from codependency and addictions to depression or narcissism.

Some of the wounded Inner Child’s, or the Ego’s coping strategies may not make sense at first, but consider what Sigmund Freud spent years of work anchoring into the field of psychology — that the Ego is the rational self, striving above all other things, for self-preservation amidst a frenzy of conflict between inner desires and how the world actually is.

The Ego is the survivor, who must reconcile differences between the spiritual Super Ego of values and ethics and the primal Id of desires and basic drives — which is a constant struggle.

The Ego’s burden

We rely on the shadow side of our Inner Child for survival. Sometimes we need fear to protect ourselves, and anger to mobilize ourselves and ward off violations. Judging these emotions as bad or useless only pits us against ourselves and dissociates us from our emotions — which are intricately linked to our belief systems.

If you truly wish to heal yourself so you can make the best of what life has to offer, you must begin with your own shadow, that of your Inner Child. He or She is a certain way for a reason, and you might as well look into your past for answers. The Ego bears a large burden, yet how easy it is to slip into judgment about its own judging nature!

We don’t have to let Ego run our lives, but we don’t have to subdue it either.

The Ego’s power

No matter how much you try to think good thoughts or change bad habits, you cannot change your beliefs without examining the emotions that hold them in place in your subconscious.

You cannot escape the destructive patterns of your subconscious when they are still hidden from you — that the subconscious is very little understood by science is a test to its true stealth and pervasiveness.

No matter how hard you try, if you deny your Little Boy or Girl (your Ego) the love and acceptance they need to feel validated and safe enough to begin healing, they will no doubt sabotage you in ways you may not even notice. Your Inner Child needs you; you are the only true parent they can trust to be taken care of and nurtured. If abandoned by you, they will have nowhere else to go for help.

Accepting the Ego

Understanding the magnitude of this relationship is daunting, I know.

Taking responsibility for all the ways in which you reject, condemn, harm, destroy, hurt, invalidate, or suppress your Inner Child (Read: Ego) is extremely difficult.

Facing up when you realize you treat yourself the same way you accuse others of violating you takes courage and brutal honesty.

But don’t blame yourself for not knowing what was so effectively hidden from you by the dysfunctional belief systems of the world you grew up in.

Remember, it only gets easier with practice. And once you start practicing, you realize that no matter how hard it is, there is perhaps nothing more satisfying than truly accepting your hurts and mistakes fears and vulnerabilities, and loving yourself just the same.

It’s satisfying because you begin to feel whole, and rewarding because only then can you truly feel compassion towards others, who have wounds and dark sides just like yourself.

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Odin Xenobuilder August 5, 2009 at 11:21 am

My inner child is an important and cherished part of my person, and it has been the greatest challenge of my life to integrate it into the part of myself that I expose to others. An ongoing challenge. I hope to get better at understanding what steps to take to work through the fear associated with this. Constant awareness is a start, and I’m finding your writings inspiring as I attempt to grow emotionally.

Melissa Karnaze August 5, 2009 at 12:20 pm

Hi Odin, I’m glad the writings here inspire you. I commend your courage for taking on that challenge.

Can you be a bit more specific in how you would like to integrate your IC into your relationships? Is it that you would like to be more spontaneous? Speak your true feelings? Laugh more? Ask more questions without worrying what others think of you?

Also, this is a tricky question I know, and you may not have an answer right now, but what exactly is it that you fear? Is it judgment, rejection, or abandonment?

I would like to write an article on this, as you bring up a great topic! If you have any specific questions or insights I’ll think about them. :)

Odin Xenobuilder August 5, 2009 at 2:41 pm

For me, it is about allowing my self to open up and let others in. The fear may be somewhat about rejection, but mostly about fear of loss. Sometimes I think this is related to a childhood where I lost the few friends I would make during the couple years I would be living in the same place. But even without that, I think most people experience this to some degree, possibly with different causes.

It’s like an instinctive irrational response of anxiety at any social situation where I am becoming closer to others, even when I know full well that developing deeper relationships with people can be such a wonderful experience. It’s only when that barrier is broken, that my inner child can come out and people see who I really am, and I feel able to communicate my feelings effectively.

Some of this is just what comes with building relationships, but it seems that these tendencies and fears build up unnecessary roadblocks which stifle the depth of sharing we could obtain and limit opportunities to discover new friends. I am thankful for the many random events which have sparked a curiosity strong enough to break through this, but how many times may chance have missed? It’s interesting that even as our world is burgeoning with population growth, we seem to get less and less connected locally, while we’re pushed tighter and tighter together.

Melissa Karnaze August 6, 2009 at 10:32 am

Yes, even as internet connection is making us more inseparable from others, that kind of connection does not ensure friendship or emotional intimacy.

I think you hit on an important factor of your fear, of having to move often and lose the relationships you built.

I am thankful for the many random events which have sparked a curiosity strong enough to break through this, but how many times may chance have missed?

Well, don’t be too hard on yourself, life is full of opporunity. :)

Thank you for sharing Odin.

Tony Turner January 28, 2010 at 7:38 am

how did you lern this information ?

Melissa Karnaze January 28, 2010 at 10:11 am

Tony, I read a lot of self-help. (Bradshaw’s book is a good one to check out.)

But really “learned” it through interaction with my own Inner Child (and Ego). It’s very much an experiential learning process.

Pali February 11, 2010 at 4:12 am

love this story by anthony de mello

inner child
Johnny goes to modeling class in his school for special children and he gets his piece of putty and he’s modeling it. He takes a little lump of putty and goes to a corner of the room and he’s playing with it. The teacher comes up to him and says, “Hi, Johnny.” And Johnny says, “Hi.” And the teacher says, “What’s that you’ve got in your hand?” And Johnny says, “This is a lump of cow dung.” The teacher asks, “What are you making out of it?” He says, “I’m making a teacher.”
The teacher thought, “Little Johnny has regressed.” So she calls out to the principal, who was passing by the door at that moment, and says, “Johnny has regressed.”
So the principal goes up to Johnny and says, “Hi, son.” And Johnny says, “Hi.” And the principal says, “What do you have in your hand?” And he says, “A lump of cow dung.” “What are you making out of it?” And he says, “A principal.”
The principal thinks that this is a case for the school psychologist. “Send for the psychologist!”
The psychologist is a clever guy. He goes up and says, “Hi.” And Johnny says, “Hi.” And the psychologist says, “I know what you’ve got in your hand.” “What?” “A lump cow dung.” Johnny says, “Right.” “And I know what you’re making out of it.” “What?” “You’re making a psychologist.” “Wrong. Not enough cow dung!”

Howard June 20, 2013 at 7:23 pm

Great. You wrote you cannot change your beliefs unless what emotions are holding those beliefs. So, once you identify the emotions, what do you do then?

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