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One of the greatest contributions of the alcoholism treatment field was the identification of the inner child by such clinicians as Charles Whitfield. Through such techniques as writing with the non-dominant hand and focusing on photographs from childhood an individual learns to form an active relationship with a lost or dissociated aspect of themselves. Though most mainstream psychology dismissed inner child work, Jungian psychology had pioneered the technique of active imagination decades earlier. In active imagination the conscious personality opens to a direct relationship with sub-personalities and, through this interaction, integrates the truths and viewpoints of these other aspects of the self into a more comprehensive, adaptive personality, one that reflects the fuller truth of who we really are. Jung was careful to stress that the conscious ego, the mature adult self, must be strong enough to remain in command during such inner encounters or risk the possibility of being taken over by a sub-personality.
Jung also noted that there are layers to the psyche, both personal and impersonal. The personal psyche begins with the experience of the individual from conception forward. The impersonal or collective psyche is the inherited experiences of humankind stored in the collective layer of the unconscious or the home of the archetypes, what I have previously referred to as the ultimate motherboard. When an individual develops a relationship with their unconscious it is possible to be interacting with a part of the self in the personal unconscious or a part of the self that has drifted into the non-personal collective layer of the unconscious. In the case of the inner child, one might be interacting with an unknown part of the self in the personal psyche, or a part of the self encased in the non-personal psyche by the archetypal lost child. This distinction is critical, and often confused, as the archetypal energies experienced as primal emotions may have attached to a lost part of the personal psyche, one’s inner child.
The personal inner child may be “housed” in what Jung called, the shadow, an unknown region of the personal psyche. This may have resulted from the impact of socialization, where aspects of the self were rejected and forced out of consciousness into this dark region. Retrieving the inner child from this region is consciously experienced in the release of creative abilities and faculties previously lost to the conscious self.
In more traumatic experiences the child completely retreats from life in a dissociated state, sinking more deeply into the protective womb of the deeper psyche, the collective unconscious. In this case the outer world and personal psyche have proven unable to house the child and a retreat to the motherboard becomes necessary. Consciously, the evolving personality may experience actual amnesia toward the experiences and existence of this inner child, so powerful was the impact of the trauma and the need to get distance from it (to dissociate). When the dissociated child enters the archetypal womb it merges with the archetypal lost or abandoned child, that is, the sum total experiences of the rejected child through eons of life on earth. Imagine the bottomless pit of pain this archetypal child feels. It simply cannot and will not ever be healed. It is the archetype of eternal wounded rejection, hell or Hades. That pain is a vortex that will consume and collapse a misguided ego. In other words, the ego must be able to distinguish personal from impersonal and not succumb to the vortex, which is difficult to climb out of without being controlled by the archetypal wounded child.
Herein lies the failure in healing of much inner child work. Often an individual will open to the experience of the wounding of what they believe to be their personal inner child and be swept under by the emotional tide of the eternal archetypal lost child, a wound that can never be healed, from a child entitled to unending attention. The trap here is the archetypal child gaining possession of the personality under the guise of healing. The ego becomes charged with having to eternally make up or compensate for the experiences of the archetypal wounded child, constantly pampering, tending, protecting, rescuing, and in return demanding forgiveness, protection, and parenting from others, who are perceived as re-wounding the child. This is not to dismiss the true traumatic experiences of the child self. These experiences must be honestly acknowledged, along with all of the truths. It is critical to free the inner child from the experiences of the archetypal child or we remain in eternal bondage to the demands of the wounded archetypal child.
Retrieving the personal inner child from the womb of the collective psyche is a heroic journey. Here the various Greek myths of journeys to the underworld are instructive. Firstly, the ego must, indeed, be in heroic form. That means we must be in strong possession of our adult mature self to undertake the journey. For when we go inward we will be confronted by powerful emotions and trickery. As I have previously stated the archetypes, or the gods, seek life through possessing our lives. We must be able to hold our own when we encounter them, or they take over. In everyday life, we enter the underworld when we are triggered, returning to a place of wounding. The challenge is whether we become possessed and re-enact an archetypal drama, such as deep rejection; or withstand that compulsion or dictate from the gods and arrive at, and stand in, the truth of the present moment, fully integrating the experiences of our personal past. This is healing. The archetypal psyche, with its recurrent drama, will recede from conscious experience if the adult ego consistently refuses its call to possession, i.e., becoming overwhelmed and inappropriately acting out an archetypal drama in everyday life.
Countless techniques have been developed to help people heal their inner wounds, i.e., cathartic psychodrama. This may offer a genuine healing for the inner child; however, it often becomes an archetypal enactment and release, which does not accrue to lasting healing. This would be the equivalent of being deeply moved by a movie that triggers a personal inner wounding. The wounded child is experienced, acknowledged, and offered emotional release, however, continues to resurface, seeking another opportunity to enact its drama. This is archetypal possession controlling the personality, not healing. Healing is final. There are no more triggers. An archetypal drama is eternal and will never be healed, simply re-enacted anew. A personal drama can be healed and moved on from, never needing to be repeated. There is no personal wounding that cannot be healed. If one insists otherwise, I suspect archetypal possession.
To complete healing the adult ego is challenged to withstand the fire of emotion of the archetypal psyche, primal pain, without identifying with it or succumbing to it. The adult ego is, as well, charged with finding the personal child, opening up to the full truth and experience of this dissociated part of the self, in full acceptance, fully owning the experiences, no longer rejecting them. We call this recapitulation. Finally, the adult ego is challenged to merge the truth of the child self with the mature adult self, with the adult self maintaining the leadership or parental role. Here the child is completely freed from the archetypal womb as the conscious self assumes appropriate parental responsibility for the total self.
If one continues to experience triggers of wounding these become opportunities for the adult self to more fully retrieve fragments of the lost personal self, dodging the ever present vortex of archetypal energy that seeks to lure one back into a state of possession in the form of primal pain and eternal woundedness. True healing is final. It may require encountering many triggers as guideposts signaling where to retrieve the lost personal self, but ultimately the personal self can be fully retrieved, as the personality moves forward, unencumbered by any previous wounding, fully healed.
Emerging from the underworld, I bid you adieu,