Wikipedia defines the concept of the Inner Child as follows: “In popular psychology and analytical psychology, the Inner Child is our childlike aspect. It includes all that we learned and experienced as children, before puberty. The Inner Child denotes a semi-independent entity subordinate to the waking conscious mind.”
For me, the Inner Child has always been that secret part of me, the part of me that is tender, and where my hopes, dreams, and fears reside. My first conscious introduction to my Inner Child happened when I found myself thinking about going through my ex-partner’s phone to see if he was having an affair. Thank heavens I stopped myself and asked: what’s happening right now? Why do I have this urge to behave this way? What is wrong with me?
I sat with that for a day or so, not taking any action. Instead, I started journaling about the emotions that were coming up. What I found was that two fearful voices emerged. The first one was a girl that was very black-and-white in her thinking and very outspoken. She thought she had all the answers to how things should be. She had an opinion on how my then partner should behave and what I should do if they weren’t behaving the right way. Whoah, I thought. I never knew I was so judgemental.
The other voice was more quiet, less intense and more fearful. She had the vocabulary of a 3-year-old child, and all she wanted was to cuddle and be accepted. It was a strange sensation to have two so succinctly different voices present at the same time.
Then, years later, I came across the work of Personality Hacker. When I learned about the Car Model, it all clicked. There was this inner 10-year-old part of me and this inner 3-year-old part of me, and now I had some words to put around what I had intuitively known to be true for quite some time. I felt so validated. It was all making sense now.
But of course, that was only one thing. I thought, OK, I have these people deeply within me. Now, what will I do? While the validation was nice, and it certainly gave me some mental clarity around what was happening, I was not sure how to manage these Inner Children or how to make them happy. At worst, I just wanted to shut them up when they were acting out, and not deal with the issues at all. At best, I felt this deep compassion toward them and what they had already endured.
At the time I was speaking with my sister, Anne, about parenting styles. She had once owned an alternative child care center in Zurich, Switzerland, That’s when another piece fell into place: I had to parent these little children. I had to pick a parenting style which was complementary to the one that I had received as a child. After all, the style I had received as a child had molded me into who I was today. This meant that while I could take some of the better parenting skills my mother had offered me, I also had to learn entirely new skills, to which I had no previous exposure. That was overwhelming and exciting at the same time. I referred to the Car Model and looked at all the four different people within it. I took my preferred new parenting style and the qualities associated with them, and boom! It became clear to me: my Inner Parent – the one I needed to heal – was my healthy Copilot process “Harmony” (Extraverted Feeling).
At this stage I didn’t make any premature conclusions on my discovery. Instead, I tested it. I tested it with my work. I tested it with thousands of my clients, and soon a pattern emerged. The healthy version of everyone’s Co-pilot process is the Inner Parent that our Inner Children need to heal and become creative.
I then turned my attention to the Driver process of the Car Model. If I had two Inner Children and an Inner Parent, what was the purpose of the Driver process? Again, I let it percolate. I let it be what it was. I read on Personality Hacker about the genius qualities of the Driver process and looked at the description of the so-called Flow State. And then it dawned on me. The Driver process is who we want to be. Our grownup self. The part of us that (ideally) makes adult decisions about life and the direction of it. It sees your aspirations, your goals, and forms your main identity as the person that you are. So, I started to call the Driver process my Adult Self.
The Role of the Inner Children
Your 10-year-old Inner Child is like a little mini-me. The 10yo is introverted or extraverted, just like your Driver process. So your inner 10-year-old is wired to reflect back to you what your most common modus operandi in life is. As such, your 10yo child is jumping on the bandwagon of the Adult Self, and in their black-and-white way, they are looking for ways to add fuel to your Driver process’ fire without checking on any biases that might be there. They just follow the leader like a little soldier.
Because your Adult Self and your 10yo share the introversion or extraversion attitude, the 10yo becomes the “go-to” person for the Adult Self when seeking support in challenging situations. Your Inner Parent process (Copilot) is always opposite to your Adult Self and your 10yo process. So, if your Adult Self and 10yo are introverts, your Inner Parent is an extraverted process. The same goes with an extraverted Adult Self/10yo combination. In this case, the Inner Parent process is always an introverted process.
If your Adult Self makes a choice to rely on your 10-year-old for support, you enter what’s called a loop. The loop is the tendency to stay in the same attitude with which you lead. If you are an introvert, you get caught in an introverted loop, which favors the inner world. If you are an extravert, you get caught in an extraverted loop which favors the outer world. When you are in a loop, you either stay in your own little world or you “busy” yourself with all the “stuff” that keeps you from checking in with yourself and really feeling your feelings.
This loop can stunt your personal growth considerably. When your Adult Self relies on your 10yo for support, your worldview narrows to just the internal or the external perception of what is going on. In other words, a person with an underdeveloped Inner Parent process relies heavily on the 10yo for support, and thus the weak Inner Parent does not challenge the biases of the Adult Self. An underdeveloped Inner Parent process is why most people, when challenged in life, jump over the Inner Parent process altogether and relies on the 10yo for decision making or information gathering instead.
Needless to say, this is not healthy. Whether your 10-year-old is a decision making or an information gathering process, they are only doing their job from a child’s black-and-white perspective. They are likely to just be the ‘yes boy or girl’ to the biases of the Adult Self. You can see why we encourage people to stop giving preference to their 10-year-old in place of the Inner Parent. The key to a healthy 10yo Inner Child is a strong Inner Parent process, which acts as a bridge between the Adult Self and the Inner Children.
Now, Let’s Talk About Your 3-year-old Inner Child!
Your 3-year-old Inner Child, or what Myers-Briggs calls the Inferior Function tends to be the least explored and most challenging process to control. Because individuals have very few skills associated with the 3-year-old Inner Child, a lot of his or her behavior happens in the unconscious mind. What this means is that we are often very unconscious of the emotional well-being and needs of the 3-year-old Inner Child. The natural development of this function tends to come in late midlife, say from the 50s onward. This unexplored relationship can be a source of great stress, or it can be a seed for significant development.
Your 3-year-old Inner Child is the polar opposite of your Adult Self. For example, if Thinking is your dominant function, Feeling would be your 3-year-old function. In that case, you would probably have significantly less interest in, and fewer skills with, the Feeling function. In other words, attending to harmony in relationships and giving weight to the personal aspects of decision making may be a bit of a blind spot for you.
One of the big issues with the inner 3-year-old is that it emerges without conscious intention, especially in times of great stress, and tries to overpower the Adult Self, as well as the Inner Parent process, which can lead to a person feeling “in the grip” of his or her 3-year-old Inner Child. Extreme examples of this so-called “change in personality” are individuals who suffer from conditions such as bipolar disorder. When the inferior function manifests in someone’s life, that person may say, “I don’t know what got into me.”
The 3-year-old holds the hopes and fears that you had when you were that age. This is why in the most challenging situations in your life, you can revert to the behavior patterns of whatever developmental level you were in at three years of age. Because your inner 3-year-old is the most unsophisticated part of you, it can be very challenging to build a relationship with him or her. We have a tendency to rely on the first three functions, the Adult Self, the Inner Parent and the Inner 10-year-old much more, and because of this, the 3-year-old can be unseen and left behind. If the 3yo feels ignored, it will begin to build resentment toward the rest of you, which can lead to dire consequences. When we feel resentment toward ourselves, we soon become unable to reconcile the feelings, and we begin to direct the resentment toward other people. What this means is that if your 3-year-old is not allowed a voice, you will be sabotaging the creative side of you. Lack of creative expression affects every aspect of life, including relationships, vocational pursuits, and life’s purpose.
The Role of the Inner Parent
By now you know your Inner Parent has the power to support your Inner Children and thus create a more happy and fulfilling life. That’s how powerful your Inner Parent can be, and that’s how much he or she brings to your plate.
When the going gets tough, and your Inner Children are not coping very well, it is YOUR INNER PARENT that IS YOUR Biggest ALLY. When your Inner Parent is present, you ARE never ALONE, nor will you feel lonely. If you HARNESS THE POWER OF your INNER PARENT, you WILL ALWAYS FEEL LOOKED AFTER. You know that feeling of “coming home”? It’s a sense you get from time-to-time about a person or a place. You already have it within you. That place is your Inner Parent, and developing him or her will give you the opportunity TO LIVE a MORE HAPPY AND FULFILLING LIFE. Do you feel deserving of more happiness?
Let me give you a personal example: Before self-parenting I was working too hard. I was addicted to performing at a certain level to be acceptable for people. I kept running myself down because that was the only way I knew how I could value myself. When I started self-parenting, my life just calmed down. It was like everything took a lot less time and my to-do list lost 80% of the tasks. I no longer needed to make myself feel needed to know I had value. My Inner Child could finally relax into knowing that she did have value and that she could just be her creative and loving self.
As a result, my intimate relationships changed. I have amazing and close friends. My career sky-rocketed — every day I work with meaningful projects. I love my life! You can have this too by learning some type appropriate self-parenting skills.
This concept of the Inner Parent, can be hard to grasp in its entirety, but let’s start here:
The other significant purpose of the Inner Parent process is to balance the Adult Self process. If individuals only used the Adult Self process, they would be one-sided, always either taking in information (and never making decisions) or rushing to decisions (and not stopping to take in information). Remember when you lead with an introverted or extraverted process, the same is with information gathering and decision making. If your Adult Self is an information gathering process, your Inner Parent will balance the Adult Self out with being a decision making process and vice versa. It’s like the Inner Parent, being opposite to the Adult Self, offers us balance and support.
The role of the Inner Parent, effectively, is to be there to support your personal development journey. This part of you – your auxiliary or Co-pilot process – is the key to living a happy and meaningful life.
Powerlessness is rampant in the world, but what people don’t realize is that they have the power to choose their destiny. If you choose not to develop your Inner Parent, you are making a choice to leave your sense of inner power undeveloped. The choice is yours.
Your Inner Parent’s level of maturity will dictate their ability to help guide your Inner Child to healing. And since your two Inner Children are very different from each other, having maturity and flexibility in your Inner Parenting style is necessary. This kind of maturity and flexibility will also allow you to engage fully in your life, as your Inner Parent balances out your Adult Self in his or her flow state.
I want to challenge you to start taking your Co-pilot (auxiliary) function seriously and make a commitment to developing it’s healthy aspects over any other part of you right now. Committing to developing your Co-pilot will make the rest of your healing journey easier and less time and self-consuming. By choosing to strengthen your Inner Parent, you claim authenticity over your life, gain access to your true gifts and begin to share those gifts with the world.
Your Inner Parenting journey won’t always be smooth sailing, but it’s good to remember that when you feel powerless in your journey, by simply showing kindness to yourself, you will allow these feeling of powerlessness to pass.
When you struggle, just remember that you are so much more than your feelings at that moment. You are the magnificent being who is doing the work to self-actualize.
The Role of the Adult Self
Since the Adult Self is the Driver in the Car Model, the Adult Self is supposed to be driving the car of your life. Of course, all the other parts of you play a significant role, too. The Inner Parent (Co-pilot) will help the Driver to navigate. The healthy Inner Children can make the journey fun and creative. But when your Adult Self (Driver) is not healthy, your car aims through life directionless and chronically diverted by life’s distractions.
If your Inner Children’s emotions are running your life, we know your Adult Self is not holding the steering wheel. Having said that, I just want to reiterate, that it is normal for the emotions of the Inner Children to come up from time to time, but they should not hold your grown-up life hostage. Life is too short to be at the mercy of your emotions.
When the Adult Self is underdeveloped in relationships, a power struggle is inevitable. Your Inner Children are overruling the Adult Self; their insecurities are surfacing, they are looking for safety, and will play power games to find out who’s in charge, you or your partner. When the Adult Self is developed and healthy, he or she shows up in relationships with a clear direction, trust, and a sense of teamwork that will make you a power couple.
When your Adult Self does not show up to take charge of your finances, you are likely to let your Inner Children’s emotions make you an emotional spender, who always has too much month left at the end of the money. Your inability to save, invest or work toward a more financially free future relies on your adult claiming power over your Inner Children’s emotions. To be back in the Driver’s seat, your Adult Self needs to build a financial infrastructure that is relating to and respecting your innate values as a person.
At work, the underdeveloped Adult Self shows up as feeling like you are stuck in a dead-end job and there’s nothing you can do about it. On the other hand, an underdeveloped Adult Self is likely to change jobs regularly, and believe that if only the “people, office, commute, etc.” were better it would all be better. Again, your Inner Children’s fears are running the situation, and the grown-up parts of you need to take charge so that you can remember that you ARE in charge of your grown up life and that you CAN choose something different for yourself.
What it all comes down to is that an underdeveloped Adult Self is likely to feel like there’s more to life, but is unwilling to claim the direction of his or her authentic life and make the changes that need to be made to acquire this authentic life.
That’s why we could call your Adult Self your personal responsibility for the direction in your life. He or she is, after all, supposed to be the Driver of your life.
When the Adult Self is stable, he/she is determined to reach their goals, no matter how large or small those goals are. A healthy Adult Self takes pride in everything they do, no matter how big or small.
Many people feel that massively influential things like purpose and financial freedom are more important than little things like playing with your dogs or having a play date with your Inner Children or even reading a book at a coffee shop.
A healthy and stable Adult Self understands that those seemingly small things that contribute to the personal integration of the four people within are what determine your success. A healthy Adult Self sees how the seemingly small things all build up to a stronger and bigger reality, and as such, he or she recognizes the power of having healthy relationships between the four people within your car.
To start the integration of the four people within you, here are some immediate action steps to take:
- Draw out (or write out) a diagram which explains the four people or cognitive functions that you have within you. Make sure to refer to your Car Model and use it as a starting point. I recommend using both drawings and words to engage the right and left side of the brain.
- Give your Inner Children a name. Ask them what they would like you to call them.
- Look at the strengths of your Inner Child processes. How can those strengths get you to where you want to go in your life? How will your Inner Parent help the Inner Children to strengthen those qualities and bring them to the table? For example, my 10-year-old Accuracy is great at spotting typos or grammatical errors before I submit my work to the publisher, and my 3-year-old Sensation reminds me to ground myself during a busy day writing.
For more information on how to apply the car model to the work of inner parenting, check out Merja’s brand new program, The Healing Power Of Inner Parenting: The Four People Within.
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