In their effort to build a stronger relationship, Mark and Arian have started to see a counsellor to sort out what they believe are mainly communication issues. Since then, they have made small steps toward improving how they talk with each other and they have begun to learn about the three internal parts that play a role in how they react to each other: the inner child, the adaptive child and the adult.
All the good ‘will’ doesn’t lead to peace…
Mark struggles with his son, James, for no apparent reason. The more James pushes for freedom, the more Mark pushes back with rules, restrictions and frustration. After James spent two nights at his friend’s place, he comes back only to ask for permission to go to another get-together with his friends the next evening. Mark spent the time prior to his son’s overnight watching him closely. He is convinced that James has not done enough home-work to stay on top of school stuff. James has used his phone too much and has not contributed enough to the household chores. When James asks if he can go, Mark uses the opportunity to let him know how unhappy he is about his son’s lack of engagement with the ‘important’ things in life.
Predictably, the conversation ends in another disaster. This time, Arian is adamant that it is time for Mark to receive an individual counselling session to sort himself out. Mark, who is torn between feeling self-righteous and sad, agrees.
Mark is off to his first individual counselling session to address his anger.
He struggles with a number of things. Anger is uncomfortable and doesn’t feel good. But it also gives him a feeling of authority he is very reluctant to relinquish. He really doesn’t want to let go of the idea that he is the one who makes decisions and that James is the one who has to listen to him. In counselling it takes some for him to drop below the anger and notice the helplessness and confusion.
Softer feelings: They are not a sign of weakness but a sign of honesty.
It takes further gentle coaxing and challenging before he can admit to himself that he feels insecure. Thankfully the counsellor continues to normalise the defensive reactions. She explains how men struggle with expressing what many think of as ‘softer’ feelings – those that normally belong to women… Mark is a bit embarrassed. He is glad that Arian is not in the session, but agrees non-the-less. Eventually it feels like there is a kind of permission and acceptance in the room for him to go to these ‘softer feelings’. Mark then finds it easier to acknowledge his confusion and helplessness and can begin to explore what the inner child might need. This is the part that experiences these feelings from a place of innocence and youth.
The inner child responds to safety, compassion and care.
To his astonishment he warms up to the idea of having a dialogue with the younger version of himself and finds it quite helpful. He knows what he would have loved his dad to tell him when he got bullied at school. Mark is also aware of the physical closeness he craved as a younger boy from his mother and the rejection he felt when she was not responsive. He remembers climbing onto his grandmother’s lap as a five-year-old and the safety and warmth that came from her.
After talking about these events for a few moments, Mark is invited to check in with his body and notices a relaxation and indeed, softness, in his muscles that has not been there for a long time. This helps him to understand the concept of the inner child care.
Caring for the inner child is always step number one
His counsellor invites him to mentally place himself in a supportive environment when he feels the old, familiar anger and frustration arise. This could be an image of sitting on his grandma’s lap. Or receiving a hug from his mom. It could be a supportive word from the adult him to his inner child. Anything Mark experiences as supportive, caring and compassionate can help him through the moment of anger.
This is the adult coming back ‘online’, assisting the ‘inner child’.
As a last exercise, Mark and his counsellor recall the latest fight between father and son again. This time Mark can feel the difference between before and after his session. Now that he knows his feelings belong to him, Mark finds it easier to own the experience. He can stop blaming James for behaving somehow ‘wrongly’. Mark is even aware that he, as a teenager, also wanted to break away from the conventions of his parent’s ideas of adulthood. He actually remembers despising them a fair bit at the time. James is only the trigger of these uncomfortable memories.
Thus equipped, Mark, once again, comes back to his son with greater understanding. He now has a better capacity to negotiate the latest request with reason and care. He also notices how he is actually fully capable of guiding his son through the conversation without being angry or self-righteous but with no less authority.
One quote his counsellor mentioned and he will always remember is: ‘When you begin to reinforce your authority through anger and shouting, you have actually already lost it’.
Do you want to learn to soothe your own frightened inner child?
If you need to learn to take care of your inner child and wonder how to do this, book a free 45-minute check-in-session with Mattie or Michelle now.