How does your inner child feel about it? From one person, this can be an invitation into curiosity and to heal disconnection. From someone else, it can indicate contempt for being foolish enough to fall for that inner child nonsense. How does connecting with and befriending our inner child intersect with identification and nondual philosophy?
When we experience something that overwhelms us, we disconnect. This is especially true during childhood when we were stuck in our family with very little agency to make things better. We have limited brain development and do our best to survive, often in circumstances of neglect and abuse. We have naive (childish) ideas and hope we can fix our family. We take the blame because we can’t afford to see that it is our grown-ups who set up the conditions in our life, often due to their unresolved intergenerational trauma. We have experiences of feeling unloved and unworthy and these develop into core deficiency beliefs.
My experience is that our “self” at different ages exists in our nervous system and brain much like our “self” at this age. Consciousness is expressing itself through our human body and life. Our mammal body, nervous system and brain remember all of our experiences. Neuroception is our unconscious threat detection based on our experiences. This is somatic. “We” live in and through our body.
Traumatic memories are stored as though they are in real time at the age they happened. That is why in somatic mindfulness inquiry, we act as an anchor for the person being facilitated. We help them to stay in this moment as a witness to the traumatic experience, through pointers like “see this is happening in awareness” or a reminder to “breathe and stay grounded in the present moment through your body”.
Trauma is stored in our body along with associated memories. We can have experiences of energy arising with these memories without believing in an identity. We experience trauma as children and also at various times during our adult lives. When I say that I feel like I have a “good relationship” with my inner teen, what I mean by this is that I no longer shame her and I no longer feel disconnected due to trauma. When something reminds me of that time, I feel integrated and whole. She (the one who experienced and remembers those times) is welcome. She doesn’t have to hide in shame and in the shadows.
I am not as connected with myself as a thirty year old. I am recently working again with unresolved trauma from that time. There are clues that there is something to work with more deeply. In this case, it is a painful energy in my heart center along with a slight sense of hard-heartedness towards myself. It becomes more subtle and nuanced. People tend to do a round of healing then set it aside for awhile while we assimilate and move on. Sometimes we circle back to take a fresh look with the maturity, understanding and resources we have now. In this way we heal more deeply. Another way of saying that is that we become free.
I find it easier to feel compassion for my teenager than for my adult self, who should have known better by then, been stronger, been able to see clearly, etc. Pete Walker’s work, particularly on arrested self-protection has been helpful with this. We can all fill in the rest of the sentence after “I should have _________”. Disconnection and this kind of shaming is a clue that something needs healing.
“Safety is the treatment.” This quote by Dr Stephen Porges is a foundation for my work personally and with others. In my experience, it is only when we feel safe that we are able to go deeply in without resistance. We have confidence that we can stay present with ourselves, heal disconnection, and open into compassion and friendliness for ourselves at all ages. We can heal.
Dr Diane Poole Heller is a respected somatic attachment and trauma expert. She uses the term encapsulated child. Watch this short excerpt from my recent interview with her to learn about how a trusted adult (it might be our adult self) can connect with ourselves at different ages and support healing.
Through witnessing traumatic events from awareness and in the present moment, we are able to heal the disconnection that happened because we were overwhelmed at the time. This helps to resolve the trauma somatically (in our bodymind). We can then move more easily to seeing that experiences that happened to us are not “me”. This allows us to let go of identification and live with more connection and freedom.