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When We Tell Our Inner Child that Something Bad Is Happening

By Phyllis Stein, Ph.D.
December 31, 2006

Are you causing your inner child to feel sad or scared by telling him or her that something bad is happening? Phyllis shows us the subtle ways that we might be doing that.

There is a saying in some spiritual circles "You can't afford the luxury of a negative thought." I have never related to it. It always seemed like a way to try to be in control rather than be authentic. At them same time, a basic tenet of Inner Bonding is being aware of the effect of what we are telling our inner kids. Somehow, I never completely saw that everything I am thinking IS what I am telling my little girl. I didn't see that when I told her that something bad is happening, when I thought I was just thinking about something that was true, it had a profound effect.

On one level, this is completely obvious. I have a friend who lives in Washington, DC. I finally reached her by phone about 4 days after 9-11. She was in a state of total panic. "I am so scared," she said. "I have gotten 2 weeks worth of food. I have taken all the precautions. I took a long walk with my husband and tried to calm down by talking with him and nothing helped." I asked her to tune into what she was telling her little girl about how something terrible was going to happen. Then I asked her if she would say that to her granddaughter. She gasped and said, "No. I would tell her that we will be okay. That we are doing everything we can to take care of her." My friend got it. She calmed down instantly.

But this can be more subtle and confusing. For example, we live in a world of global warming and other potential disasters. We hear about how something bad is happening all the time. Some of us are glued to TV news, endlessly absorbing the threats. Imagine telling a real child, every day, the polar ice caps are melting. Everything is going to flood. Disaster is coming. Actually, some of us did grow up with a version of that. We felt sad and frightened. That is what we do to our inner children when we dwell on the bad things that are happening or going to happen. What would you tell a real child whom you loved very much? Maybe you would hold that child and tell him or her about all of the people that are working hard to keep this from happening. Maybe you would tell the child that you will be there and do what you can to stay safe. Maybe you would tell the child what you are doing to try to make things better. Maybe you would listen to the child's feelings about how scary and sad this is. Maybe you would talk about how God keeps us safe. Maybe you would stop watching TV news. There are a lot of loving possibilities. But what you would NOT do is keep reminding the child, over and over, day after day, about how bad things are going to be and how helpless everyone is. You would not ignore the effect you are having on the child. Saying this would not be "being realistic," it would be being cruel.

An even subtler version of this, at least to me, was how I was making my little girl sad about bad things that may be happening to people I love. I was doing this in the case of my ex-husband who appears to have completely lost himself to an addiction that could destroy him. It seemed so ordinary to tell her that something bad is happening to him. Every time there was another incident that reminded me that this was going on, I would tell her, again, "Something bad is happening to him," and she would become horribly, horribly, heartbreakingly sad. I could not figure out why I could not let go of this sadness. Then I saw that the sadness was caused by me, not by the situation. I saw that if this were a real child, it would be completely unloving to tell her, over and over, that something bad is happening to someone she loves. It was not about pretending that this is not happening, or that this is something she does not know about. There is no new information for her here. Suddenly, I realized that I had another choice. I picked up my sad little girl and this is what I told her. "We both love him and we both care about him. How about let's cuddle up together and pray for him and send him light?" When I did that, my sad little girl felt happy and safe and cared for, and I knew that I was done making her sad.

So we need to be more deeply aware of our thoughts and how they become things we are saying to our little one. Thoughts about bad things that could happen cause our feelings. These truly are negative thoughts. Even when our thoughts seem to be the natural consequence of external events, it's worth always asking, "Would I say this to a real child that I loved?" Chances are you wouldn't. Then you might ask, "What would I say to that child?" and say that to your little one. The outside world will not change, but the inside one definitely will.


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