Steeped in the mythopoetic tradition of Jungian psychology, Jeremiah Abrams, psychotherapist and author, has worked for almost 30 years in the helping professions. His books include the best-selling Meeting the Shadow: The Hidden Power of the Dark Side of Human Nature; The Shadow in America: Reclaiming the Soul of a Nation, Reclaiming the Inner Child, and Living from the Inside Out. He is director of Mt. Vision Institute, in Marin County, California.
I found ‘Reclaiming the Inner Child’ at the time when I was myself working with Inner Child Recovery and Healing. Next to Stone & Stone’s Embracing Our Selves, the present book was an important inspiration for drafting my own approach on healing the inner child.
The reader is well edited and presented; each contribution is essential and brings a new insight and perspective for awakening the inner child.
Jeremiah Abrams wrote once in a presentation of the book that inner child recovery is a religious quest. I can fully subscribe to this statement, as it’s in accordance with the oldest of traditions.
In fact, the ancient Hermetic Tradition was teaching the dialogue with our inner selves as a path to self-knowledge, and unfortunately this is today forgotten in our rushy and outwardly prosperous culture. Inwardly, most of us are impoverished on the level of soul which is why we have such a high incidence of depression and the resulting emotional disorders in our modern international culture.
Let me tell you upfront that this book is not about psychiatry. You do not need any psychological knowledge for reading it, and applying its wisdom in your own life. Most contributions, and to mention here especially those of Jeremiah Abrams, Gaston Bachelard, Joseph Campbell and John Loudon expand on the poetic and mythological dimension of a healed and functional inner child. But even those other contributions, written from the pulpit of psychiatric professionals, to mention only John Bradshaw, Nathaniel Branden, James Hillman, Robert M. Stein or Hal and Sidra Stone, do not present inner child healing as a discipline that is strictly speaking to be placed within the closed space of psychiatric hospitals or the coach of the psychoanalyst.
Also these contributions are very well readable for the novice and non-professional reader, and they emphasize the poetic, creative and artistic role of the inner child, while they also show what good a functional inner child can do within a healthy and well-composed psyche. To make this book review not too extensive, I have chosen to publish a few quotes from the contribution of each author to the reader.
If we are to stop abusive family patterns and not transmit them to the next generation, then the internalized parental image also must be recognized as wounded. Such compassionate awareness is a developing phenomenon in the lives of those courageous adults who are overcoming their shame and pain in order to acknowledge and heal the wounded child within./168
He is stuffed with sociability. He is prepared for his life as a man along the lines of the ideal of stabilized men. He is also instructed in the history of his family. He is taught most of the memories of early childhood, a whole history which the child will always be able to recount. Childhood—that dough!—is pushed into the die so that the child will follow closely in the path of the lives of others./45
The child dreamer is alone, very much alone. He lives in the world of his reverie. His solitude is less social, less pitted against society, than the solitude of men. The child knows a natural reverie of solitude, a reverie which must not be confused with that of the sulking child. In his happy solitudes, the dreaming child knows the cosmic reverie which unites us to the world./45
Our source relationships were bathed in poor modeling and abandonment. This created our shame-based identity. Because we had no authentic self, we clung to our caregivers in a fantasy bond or built walls around us where no one could hurt us. These earliest imprints colored all our subsequent relationships. /225
The emotionally shut-down person literally is filled with will, i.e., becomes will-full. Willfulness is characterized by grandiosity and unbridled attempts to control, and is the ultimate disaster caused by toxic shame./227
In effect, the child we once were can be experienced as a source of pain, rage, fear, embarrassment, or humiliation, to be repressed, disowned, repudiated, forgotten. We reject that child just as, perhaps, others once did—and our cruelty to that child can continue daily and indefinitely through our lifetime, in the theater of our own psyche where the child continues to exist as a subpersonality, a child-self./243
When related to unconsciously and/or negatively, a child-self is left in a kind of alienated oblivion. In the latter case, when the child-self is left unconscious, or is disowned and repudiated, we are fragmented; we do not feel whole; in some measure we feel self-alienated; and self-esteem is wounded./244
Left unrecognized, not understood, or rejected and abandoned, a child-self can turn into a ‘troublemaker’ that obstructs our evolution as well as our enjoyment of existence. The external expression of this phenomenon is that we will at times exhibit harmfully childish behavior, or fall into patterns of inappropriate dependency, or become narcissistic, or experience the world as belonging to ‘the grown-ups.’ /244
On the other hand, recognized, accepted, embraced, and thereby integrated, a child-self can be a magnificent resource that enriches our lives, with its potential for spontaneity, playfulness, and imaginativeness. /244
How might we as individuals get in touch with the child that lives within us? By killing the dragon ‘Thou shalt’. By choosing not to live by other people’s rules? Right. Respecting them, but not living by them./260
Jungian therapy, at least how I practice it, brings about an awareness that fantasy is a creative activity which is continually telling a person into now this story, now that one. … Soulmaking goes hand in hand with deliteralizing consciousness and restoring its connection to mythic and metaphorical thought patterns. Rather than interpret the stories into concepts and rational explanations, we prefer to see conceptual explanations as secondary elaborations upon basic stories which are containers and givers of vitality./278
Whenever we are caught in a literal view, a literal belief, a literal statement, we have lost the imaginative metaphorical perspective to ourselves and our world./278
The main body of biblical and classical tales directs fantasy into organized, deeply life-giving psychological patterns; these stories present the archetypal modes of experiencing. /279
There is a sense then in which the self is a lifelong project, as long as we remember that it is a project that requires as much passivity as activity (to use Teilhard’s terms)—both receptivity and taking hold, yin and yang./237
The child has the glory of simply being, like a flower or an animal, without the necessity of doing anything, becoming anything in order to be fully what it is./238
In later childhood, one is socialized into conventional values and meanings. While this is necessary for an adequate sense of self-worth and basic orientation and for social order, all too many of us can become arrested at this stage of development and lead what Paul Tillich calls ‘heteronymous’ lives, in which something external sets our priorities, establishes what is meaningful and worthwhile./239
But if we give ourselves to the process of growth, if we take up the search for wholeness, the quest for understanding (rather than the vain longing for certainty), we are set on a path that leads not back to the childhood we may nostalgically idealize but forward toward an authentic fullness and integration. /239
Maturity, then, is an achievement of synthesis. It is not simply a chronological stage of life./240
The true self has been in ‘a state of noncommunication’ as Winnicott said, because it had to be protected. The patient never needs to hide anything else so thoroughly, so deeply, and for so long a time as he has hidden this true self./136
Where there had only been fearful emptiness or equally frightening grandiose fantasies, there now is unfolding an unexpected wealth of vitality./137
I would say that the puer may result from a parental milieu which, in a roughly eighteen-month to a two-year-old child, habitually disrupts any sign of assertiveness, of action or fantasies that carry not the hallmark of masculinity, but of specialness and grandeur./146
Thus, an internal vicious circle is established; each constellation of the Self, bringing with it a tide of grandiose fantasies, is followed by a tide of self-criticism and re-fragmentation. /147
By reflecting back to the child his specialness and grandeur, the parent helps to sustain a kind of necessary inflation. This inflation will motivate the child to move into an ever-expanding world where, by suffering tolerable defeats, the inflation will be modified and personal identity sustained more and more by the capacities of the ego./153
Robert M. Stein
Creative psychological development, individuation, is dependent on spiritual freedom. When we say, for example, a man has a free spirit, do we mean that he freely or necessarily transgresses the imposed manners, mores and taboos of his culture? I think not. But it does mean the freedom to do anything or go any place he desires in the imaginal realm. He is a man who has clearly distinguished the sacral, timeless world from the secular, historical world. He knows he can move with unashamed dignity among the gods and demons which belong to the mundane world. Such freedom cannot occur with a primitive form of consciousness in which inner and outer reality are governed by the same laws and values. In this sense, our Judeo-Christian tradition is primitive in that our thoughts and desires are subject to the same dogma, the same regulation, as our deeds. Spiritual freedom requires a break with biblical tradition and the development of a new form of consciousness—a consciousness which promotes the cultivation of imaginal freedom./265
If one has experienced an authentic rebirth, one is ready to enter into a new life where kinship of spirit becomes a stronger bond than kinship of blood./269
The lack of firmly rooted kinship connections is perhaps more responsible for our sense of isolation and alienation today than any other single factor. Frequent renewal through kinship connection is basic nourishment for our spiritual and physical well-being. /270
There is a great need nowadays for new forms in marriage, friendship and community which will promote the development of erós and feelings of kinship connection. /270
The exchange of soul-substance which occurs when two souls meet and touch is essential for the life and health of the body and spirit. Inner wholeness soon becomes cold, rigid and life-killing if the soul is not continually re-humanized and renewed through the human connection. Still, it is just because soul-connections are so rare and difficult to have in our culture that the internal healing of the mind/body split and internal wholeness is so essential. This is another paradox which we cannot avoid./270
The need to keep one’s soul carefully hidden and protected disappears when one is no longer dependent on the connection to another for completion. There is no longer the fear of experiencing and expressing one’s feelings, one’s reactions to another, simply because the integrity and wholeness of one’s being are not dependent on a particular relationship. This increases the possibility of having close human connections, and it decreases the demands and expectations which we are all prone to make upon those we care for. In addition, the revealed soul generally evokes the emotion of love, especially when it demands nothing from the other. Thus, inner wholeness opens the door to many more possibilities for soul-connection, in spite of the lack of erós promoting vessels in our culture./271
Hal and Sidra Stone
What is this child like? The most striking quality is its ability to be deeply intimate with another person. The facilitator can feel a physical warmth and a fullness radiating from this child. It is as though the space between the two people is alive and vibrating. /177
The vulnerable child is tuned in energetically—it is aware of everything that is happening. Words will not fool it for a moment. As you speak, the child will know if there is any change whatsoever in your energetic connection to it./177
Caring for this inner child through an aware ego gives a feeling of real strength. It represents real empowerment./184