4.6
January 19, 2012

Why Your Inner Child Will Kick Your Ass If You Don’t Learn To Negotiate With It.

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“I don’t get it. I start off the week with good intentions. I’m going to eat less. I’m going to do more exercise. I’m not going to drink, and I’m not going to smoke. I start off well enough but by the end of the week I’ll be boozed up, smoking my brains out and stuffing my face.”

“That’ll be your kids.”

“I don’t have kids.’

“Not those kind of kids. I’m talking about your kids on the inside.”

“Inside what?”

“You.”

“Me? You mean like my inner child? Isn’t my inner child about being playful and not so serious. Why would it want to drink, and smoke, and overeat.”

“It’s not just one child and it has to do with the way they’re formed.”

“That doesn’t sound like my inner child.”

“When something traumatic happens to us as kids we kind of shatter on the inside.”

“What kind of traumatic are we talking here?”

“Physical, sexual, mental, they would be the most extreme, but it’s not just limited to them. It could be anything we found traumatic as children; from a stern look, to not getting our own way, to getting a smack for being naughty. Trauma is a very relative experience.”

“So that time I did my, “I’m a little teapot,” routine and everyone laughed at me, would that count as traumatic?”

“That was at your office Christmas party, wasn’t it?”

“It was still traumatic.”

“I don’t doubt it, but I’m talking about how we deal with trauma as kids. One of the ways we cope with a traumatic event is to try and make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

“You can say that again.”

“We do that by figuring out how we caused the event in the first place.”

“Hang on, we’re just kids right, what if we didn’t cause the event?”

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“That’s the way we think as adults. We know what we’re responsible for and what we’re not, but as children we think everything happens because of us, we’re responsible for everything, so we figure out how we “caused” the event, and then we try to make sure we never do it again. It’s too important try and remember so we make it part of our instinct.”

“Our instinct?”

“Yeah, we set it up so that we automatically avoid doing it again.”

“It?”

“Whatever it was we think we did to cause the event.”

“Right.”

“It’s like we take part of ourselves to one side and tell it to make sure we never do this thing again. Then we put that part in our instinct and forget about it. The rest of us moves on, we have new experiences and grow but that split off part doesn’t. It remains frozen in time. The process repeats itself with each new trauma so that by the time we hit puberty we have all these different freeze-framed. . .”

“Is that a word?”

“It is now, . . . parts of ourselves running around on the inside. Very powerful but with very limited experience.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, they have the power to make us do things but the experience of a three year old to judge the consequences of those actions. It would be like asking a giant baby to make a decision about your income tax.”

“Okay that’s a weird mental image but I’m still not really getting what impact all this has on me now?”

“Well it shows up as apparently irrational behaviour, like drinking too much, smoking too much, eating. . . .”

“I get it now. What can I do about it?”

“The first thing to do is to stop giving yourself a hard time about any irrational behaviour you might engage in. It doesn’t help, if anything it makes it harder.”

“How so?”

“Well as I said, those freeze-framed parts of you haven’t moved on, so they don’t really know about the new improved, more experienced, wiser version of you. They have remained the same; faithfully doing whatever job you asked them to do all those years ago. When you give yourself a hard time, you’re really giving a very wounded part of yourself a hard time and that doesn’t exactly make it inclined to talk with you.

“It can talk to me?”

“Well it might if you stopped bad mouthing it.”

“How can it talk to me?”

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“It takes time and patience on your part. Think of it like this; you’re sitting in an armchair in the dark. Above you a single lightbulb casts a circle of light on the ground around you. The wounded parts of you are running about in the darkness beyond the circle. You can hear them and feel their presence but you can’t see them. They’ve been listening to you bad mouthing them, and raging about what they do, for years. From their perspective, they are only continuing to do what you asked them to do years before so now, understandably, they think you’re stupid.”

“Lovely.”

“Your job is to encourage them out of the darkness; to gain their trust; to have them sit in your lap and tell you their story. Once that starts to happen you can begin to negotiate with them.”

“Negotiation about what?”

“Okay let’s say you find yourself wanting to eat a bucket of ice cream late at night. You know it’s not going to help you with your weight loss goals but you also know, from past experience, that that won’t make any difference. One or more of your kids will be involved. They will be hurting in some way and see ice cream as the only thing that will stop them hurting. You’ll register this as a strong primal feeling in your gut which, if you could express it in words would be, “WANT ICE CREAM.” I’m going to assume that you’ve already done the groundwork and have gained their trust enough that they will at least talk to you. The first thing you need to do is find out what you are really negotiating about.”

“Ice cream?”

“No, you need to find out what’s upsetting them. One way to do that is by talking with that gut feeling and getting it to express itself in more detail. You need to get behind the desire for ice cream and find out what’s really going on. Be prepared, what you discover may be very sad and pathetic.”

“Why?”

“Well you’re dealing with very old and hurt parts of yourself. So it could be something like, “I’m lonely.” or “No one likes me.” or “I’m scared.” or “I’m horrible.” or . . .”

“Right, I get the idea.”

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“Once you know what’s bothering these parts of you, you can ask them if there’s anything you can do to help them feel better right now? If they respond by saying that a bucket of ice cream will make them happy you can start to negotiate about it. You might offer to eat a small bowl of ice cream there and then, on the condition that in the morning you will do something that will also alleviate the underlying pain.

“Like what?”

“Well let’s say those parts of you say they feel lonely. You could ask them what you could do so that they wouldn’t feel so lonely. They might say they want friends, or to go to dinner with friends. They might say they want someone to play with, or they might say they want to go to a party. Once you know what they want you can use the power of your maturity to help them get it.”

“The power of my what?”

“Your maturity. You may not feel mature, particularly if you’re about to act irrationally, at that moment it’s easy to feel you’re at the mercy of something you have no control over, and in a way that’s true, because if you try to force these kid parts of you to do something by an act of will you will loose every time. Your real power is in your years of experience, which have led to your wisdom.”

“Wisdom! Steady on.”

“Well you’re wiser now than you were when you were five years old, no?”

“True.”

“You can use your wisdom to demonstrate to these kid parts of you that things have moved on and are not as they were.”

“How do I do that?”

“Well you can start by getting them to consider the possibility that things are not the way they were, just the possibility, you don’t have to try and convince them. Once they begin to allow the possibility that things are different it will be easier for them to change. Then your demonstrations will have more impact.”

“My demonstrations?”

“Well let’s say these kid parts of you are very anxious about something like public speaking, for example, and you have to give a presentation at work. When you get talking to these parts of you, you discover that they are actually afraid that the people are going to ridicule you during your presentation.

“Well that’s dumb.”

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“You won’t get anywhere with them if you approach them like that.”

“But it is dumb, people don’t ridicule you during presentations.”

“True, you may know that as an adult but if we all truly believed that then public speaking wouldn’t be the number two fear in the world after death.”

“Fair enough.”

“When you’re negotiating with these parts of yourself, get them to allow that there’s a possibility that the people at the presentation won’t ridicule you. Once the presentation is over and assuming you didn’t do your, “I’m a little teapot,” routine again. . .”

“Cute.”

“. . . you could bring it to the attention of these parts of you that you weren’t ridiculed and that the presentation went off well. In that way you’re demonstrating to these parts of you that things are different. You’re also gaining their trust because things were as you said they would be.”

“Okay I think I got it.”

“Hang on, there’s one more thing; when it comes to making deals with these parts of yourself its really important to keep your word. Whatever deal you make you have to keep it because if you don’t you will never gain their trust.”

“Well of course I’d keep my word. What makes you think I wouldn’t?”

“Because it’s so easy not to. When you’re in the negotiation the stakes are high. You really want these parts of you to stop hurting, or stop sabotaging, or stop whatever it is they’re doing that has led you to negotiate with them in the first place. But once the negotiation is over and the pressure is off it’s very easy to forget the deal.

“No . . . “

“For example. Let’s say as part of your negotiation you say that in exchange for not eating the bucket of ice cream you’ll do something about the loneliness. You promise you’ll go to a party at the weekend. As soon as you make this deal the desire to eat the bucket of ice cream will fade away and you’ll feel much relieved. With the pressure off, the deal can slip from your mind and within a couple of days you have forgotten about it completely. The weekend will come and go without you going to a party. Next time you find yourself at the fridge door at 4am and you’re trying to negotiate, they won’t believe you when you make promises.

You’ll find that if you do keep your word that over time you’ll be able to gain the trust of the kid parts of yourself and will be able to talk them out of some of the worst kinds of self-sabotage by negotiating short term surface relief coupled with long term relief for the deeper reasons.”

“Well thank you Mr Smartypants.”

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