General, Overcoming

Authenticity and inner child work

In my last blog-post I mentioned the early days of my journey of recovering of my authentic self. Today, I will be sharing a little more about my journey.

Inner Child Discovery

My introduction to inner child (adult child) issues was through a psychologist/counselor/author/self-help evangelist by the name of John Bradshaw. A by-product of the alcoholic family, Bradshaw was to the 90’s, what Brené Brown is today. He not only identified problems plaguing those who grew up in dysfunctional family systems, he pointed out the path toward healing and recovering one’s true self. The true identity of the inner self he referred to as the inner child.

While dealing with internal/emotional issues isn’t a new thing many never even approach this particular healing process. It’s uncomfortable. It’s easier to avoid the painful issues of the past rather than identify, own as your own and heal from them. As a result, well into adulthood, unhealed we make choices and behave having been fashioned by dysfunctional system. We then live as adult children, wounded, hurting adult children. We don’t have to. The good news is we can experience break free from destructive patterns and move beyond the pain that has suppressed our inner self. Through reclaiming and healing the inner child we learn how to value ourselves. We learn to like ourselves, defend ourselves, and champion our lives. We can “re-parent ourselves” by being loving, caring for, protecting and nurturing the child within ourselves. We truly do hold the power to come out of our hurtful past and see ourselves and the world around us through a new lens.

That’s the past, I don’t see how talking about will help

As a born again, Spirit-filled believer I completely believe in divine, supernatural, spontaneous and miraculous healing. Is that ALWAYS how God chooses to heal us? No. Sometimes healing is a process. When the children of Israel entered the promised land God didn’t wave a magic wand and erase all the problems. They had to face the inhabitants of the land. They had to deal with things that were already living in the land. They had to choose to live differently. They had to choose to not conform to the customs, traditions and practices already in place. They had to make that choice every single day. The ability to possess the land was in direct proportion to their willingness to drive out the current inhabitants. As they made that choice they took more and more land. And a day came when they were finally able to abide in the land and make it their own. The dysfunctional families in which many of us grew up in are much like the inhabitants of the land. It represents the system. The customs, traditions and practices are simply the abusive, neglectful, and addictive behavior that flourishes in a dysfunctional system.

Finding and recovering our inner child is much like securing the inheritance God made available in the promised land. The promise is one of goodness and prosperity. There is a treasure trove of wealth to be had. The benefits are worth the war it will take in order to take possession. It takes courage and a willingness to take a risk in order to secure that treasure. What is the treasure? Our true, authentic, real self, the inner person hiding from the unsafe outside world.

Many of us wear a mask to hide our insecurities. We live in a society despises weakness. Those around us can often be insensitive, and even hurtful. They might not intend on inflicting pain and causing us to bury our true self. But it happens. My parents were never able to come out from behind their masks. They never found that healing. They didn’t have the skills or the support system to aid the process. (Much like the generation that died in the wilderness. They just were unable to take the necessary steps to secure the inheritance.)

Those of us who have found fthis reedom and healing share our stories in an effort to point the way for others.

I was blessed to stumble into a support group meeting several years ago where I was introduced to a whole room full of adult children. One of those individuals suggested a book: John Bradshaw’s Homecoming.

In his book, Homecoming, Bradshaw writes:

I had explained that when they kept their wounded inner child in hiding, that wounded child contaminated their lives with temper tantrums, overreactions, marital problems, addictions, toxic parenting, and damaging and painful relationships. I must have touched a nerve, for they had really responded. I felt both excited and grateful as I looked at their open, smiling faces. This workshop took place in 1983. In the years since then I have become more and more fascinated with the healing power of the inner child. Three things are striking about inner child work: the speed with which people change when they do this work; the depth of that change; and the power and creativity that result when wounds from the past are healed.

Bradshaw, John. Homecoming. Random House Publishing Group.

Moving along the healing path

I began recovery work in 1989. Along that path, around 1992 or 93, I learned about family dysfunction and that would later lead to recovering my wounded inner child. Someone had given me Bradshaw On: The Family. I devoured that book. I was hooked on healing. I was learning that if I allowed myself to feel the feelings, talk about my experiences and do the work, I was actually walking out of the pain.

Shortly after finishing Bradshaw On: The Family I read Homecoming. OMG! The incredible adventure of learning and discovering my authentic self was more than words on a page. It was becoming my living reality. I was actually becoming the real me. I was setting boundaries. I was saying no when I really wanted to say no. My self esteem was no longer in the gutter. I actually felt good about myself. It wasn’t a façade. The real, genuine, authentic Betty was emerging. AND I LIKED IT.

The first thing I did to honor and reclaim my true self was to file for divorce. I didn’t do that lightly. I had been married to an abusive alcoholic for ten years. I had four children. I had pleaded with him to get help. He not only refused to get help with dealing with his addictions, he distanced himself and withdrew his financial support of our family. With a few years of recovery under my belt, and a good support system around me I took what I knew to be the healthy thing to do. I was taking control of my life. I wasn’t leaving my happiness or safety in the hands of an abuser. I owned the fact that I had made choices that had led to marrying and remaining in an abusive relationship. I took the steps to get out. It took three years for our divorce to be final. Throughout the process I went to my support group. I continued to read books. I kept going despite the pain. I walked out of the mess making one choice at a time. I was building a new life, one that did not include empowering an abusive alcoholic.

Out of the Old Into the New

Then in the fall of 1995 I did something I totally for myself, I enrolled in college. When I was a junior in high school I wanted to do what others in my classes were doing. I wanted to apply for college. Evidently the school sent some correspondence to our home. I found this out when my dad sat me down to set me straight about this college idea. My dad didn’t know the first thing about empathy or communication. He was blunt, harsh and often a manipulative bully. He had no problem resorting to coercion or intimidation to get what he wanted. My dad did NOT want to pay for college. He also didn’t want to make it possible for me to earn my own money to do so. We lived in a rural suburban area where jobs available to high school students was limited. There was nothing within walking distance and I didn’t have a car.

“We can only afford for one of you to go to college. If we give that money to you, your sister won’t be able to go.” Those were the exact words my dad used. He had no intention of paying for either me or my sister to go to college. He knew exactly what to say. He knew I would give up my desire to go so that my sister could go. I don’t blame my dad for my not going to college. It was my choice. I can only say that now because I’ve done inner child work. I’ve reclaimed my inner self. I own the dysfunction. I don’t remain in it. I found a way to walk out of it. I discovered that as long as I blamed my dad, I was stuck. Once I took ownership for whether I went to college or not I was free to make the choice. AND I DID! In September 1995 I started classes at Robert Morris College in Chicago, where I graduated with honors.


Tattoo image taken from: Jesus Saving Peter by Shreeharsha Kulkarni.

My creativity was unlocked as a result of reclaiming and championing my inner child. I no longer refer to my inner child as being the wounded inner child. I don’t carry the scars anymore. When I think about my past I don’t see the old patterns. I see a whole new image. It’s kind of like covering up an old tatoo with a new image. For whatever reason you want to make a change, you do. It’s painful and not typically done in one session. It can be costly. Once you commit to the process you really need to see it through. Otherwise you end up with something unidentifiable. Once the new tat is complete you no longer see what was underneath. You see the new image.

That’s what recovery looks like. That’s what walking out of dysfunction can do. Within ourselves lies the power of transformation. I CAN change. I CAN start over. I CAN be me, the real me, the me that is on the inside. I don’t have to pretend. I don’t have to mask my feelings. I don’t have to hide them.

At the same time I like what Brené Brown writes:

Vulnerability is based on mutuality and requires boundaries and trust. It’s not oversharing, it’s not purging, it’s not indiscriminate disclosure, and it’s not celebrity-style social media information dumps. Vulnerability is about sharing our feelings and our experiences with people who have earned the right to hear them. Being vulnerable and open is mutual and an integral part of the trust-building process.

We can’t always have guarantees in place before we risk sharing; however, we don’t bare our souls the first time we meet someone. We don’t lead with “Hi, my name is Brené, and here’s my darkest struggle.” That’s not vulnerability. That may be desperation or woundedness or even attention-seeking, but it’s not vulnerability. Why? Because sharing appropriately, with boundaries, means sharing with people with whom we’ve developed relationships that can bear the weight of our story. The result of this mutually respectful vulnerability is increased connection, trust, and engagement.

Vulnerability without boundaries leads to disconnection, distrust, and disengagement.

Brown, Brené. Daring Greatly. Penguin Publishing Group.

Why am I still on this journey? Why is championing my inner child still necessary? If I don’t stand up for myself it’s the same as telling my true self, my inner self, my inner child, that I don’t matter. And guess what? I do matter. And so do you.

Every day we are faced with choices. I choose how I am going to respond to each and every situation. I can confidently say that my choices today are no longer empowered and empowered by the dysfunction family system I endured as a child. I am seeking approval. I don’t act out of an over developed sense of responsibility that denies my own happiness and welfare. I don’t look outside myself to tell me who I am. I am no longer see myself as a victim. I don’t deny the trauma of the past, but I don’t live in it either. Neither does it define my actions or shape my soul.

For more information on Adult Children visit the Adult Children of Alcoholics website. Or check out John Bradshaw’s book. There are resources available online. Click this link for an article on Healthline

If you happen to be in a physically abusive relationship, dealing with someone who is prone to violent tendencies, I strongly urge you to seek professional help and professional intervention to facilitate your process. Dealing with violent people is dangerous. Minimizing the danger can be catastrophic. I would never suggest getting up in someone's face and telling them off. It is not only counterproductive it can be dangerous depending on the situation. That doesn't mean that we can't champion our inner child. It means finding a safe and effective way of doing just that. ACA (Adult Child of Alcoholics) meetings are great for this purpose. [Find a meeting near you]