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I recently read a book called The Journey from Abandonment to Healing by Susan Anderson.
For those of you not familiar with the concept of abandonment wounds, in our lives, we are continually dealing with experiences of abandonment: it might have been as a child before we can even remember, it might have been in a romantic relationship, a friendship, or even a job.
Things change and people come into and leave our lives all the time. How our wounds factor in is that in our attempts to protect ourselves from being hurt, we react in ways that seem counterproductive to what we actually want or need. We might react in ways that don’t even make sense to us, or ways that would be appropriate for a child, but not for an adult, and most of the time we aren’t even conscious of the what or the why.
Susan explains that we have an inner child, the part of us that needs to be held, affirmed, and know everything is going to be okay, and then we have an outer child, the part of us that reacts, throws tantrums, and doesn’t always see clearly. The outer child might think its helping or protecting, but most of the time it only makes things worse. By “reparenting” ourselves and speaking directly to and comforting the fears of our inner child and redirecting the outer child, we can move though the changes of our lives much more easily…and possibly with less destruction.
There are several visualization exercises that Susan guides you through to meet these parts of yourself and start some dialogue; she even suggests naming these parts of yourself—for example, calling your inner child “Little.” I went through those exercises, but didn’t have a name for my outer child until today—hello, Veruca Salt.
I had a date planned with someone I am very much smitten with and was so excited to see him that I had even picked out my outfit the night before. So when he messaged me in the morning to tell me we needed to change plans, I felt crushed. If you can, imagine my little inner child in her little frilly party dress holding a balloon that is quickly deflating and my preteen outer child in her red velvet dress, dramatically throwing herself on the couch with her arms crossed. So ridiculous right? I’m nearly 41 years old. It’s okay if people need to change plans—why am I reacting this way?
So I practiced what I learned in Susan’s book and started a dialogue with myself. I asked myself, why do I actually feel so disappointed? Because of having plans canceled in the past, because I’ve dated bad communicators and flaky people in the past, because I’m really excited about this person, because plans are important to me and I put a high level of expectations on them, and lastly—because I’m not going to get what I want! (haha)
I took a deep breath and told my inner child what I thought she would want to hear, “Little Lorena, you are safe, you are loved, and you are not alone. I am sorry you felt disappointed and it’s okay that you feel that way. This feeling will not last forever and there will be lots of other things to feel excited about. This person has shown us that they like us consistently through their actions and the plans changing have nothing to do with us or our worthiness.”
I told my outer child, Veruca, “I know you feel really grumpy right now. It sucks when things don’t go our way. So let it all out, but we’re not going to let it all out on this person we care about. Those things that happened in the past, happened in the past; they aren’t happening now. I am a different person and the person I am dating is a different person.”
A strange thing happened afterward…I felt okay. Even the practice of naming Veruca and realizing it was her who was reacting in that moment seemed to deflate all her power. I was able to stay connected to myself, redirect, and stay connected with him. Heck, I was even able to poke fun at myself for my reaction.
I’ve also ordered Susan’s follow up book called Taming Your Outer Child and I can’t wait to see what Susan has in store for Veruca!
Do you think you have an inner and outer child? What would you name them? When do they show up for you and how do they react or respond?