Part of my treatment in rehab included a 5-day intensive workshop that was designed to root out the cause of my dysfunctional behavior as an adult, by starting to heal the damage to my inner child. During the five days, I was encouraged to think about, and talk about, the family system I grew up in, family roles, family expectations, and how I fit into it all generally.
And the week ends with a meditation exercise that I can honestly is the most amazing thing I have ever witnessed when other people in my group went through it, or experienced when I was going through it.
It started with me choosing a stuffed toy or teddy bear from a pile of them in the corner, and then the therapist guiding me into a very, very deep meditative state.
OK, from here it gets pretty trippy, although if you are still reading at this point, let’s face it, you’re probably going to be OK with that.
She took me to a place where I could see myself as a child. Interestingly, she didn’t nominate my age when I see myself, everybody sees themselves at different ages, and that’s usually relative to when our most significant trauma, neglect, or abandonment happened.
So I saw him (me). I was about 7 years old. I was happy. I was wanting to be the centre of attention. I was loved. I had my big family around me. My youngest brother had just been born. Everything was awesome at that time in my life.
At this point in the process, the stuffed toy that I had chosen, become the embodiment of my inner child. In the deep meditative state, I didn’t see it was a giant teddy bear, I saw it as myself, it was the 7 year old version of me.
And, despite my 7 year old world being awesome and fun and untainted, when my younger self turned around and saw me, he stopped smiling. I called out to him, said hello, but he just glared back at me, really angry. It’s weird when you see a seven year old act this way, even weirder when it’s you, reacting to you.
When other people in my group met their inner child (or the stuffed toys that represented them), they hugged them, clung to them, cried with them, wouldn’t let them go. But when I saw mine, it was obvious to me that he definitely didn’t want to hug me and cling to me. He wanted nothing to do with me.
It took me a long time (probably only a couple of minutes in actual meditative time) to gain his trust and have him accept me enough to even stand near me, or to hold my hand. He was angry at me. And for a good reason.
For the 38 years since I was that 7 year old, all I had done was blame him (blame me) for all of my problems and issues. For everything that had ever happened to me that wasn’t 100% wonderful and happy and uplifting, I had blamed myself. And, as my own inner child was now showing me, I was really resentful of that.
As I wrote about in my book, Reboot Your Thinking, I am a sexual assault victim. For three years, between the ages of 13 and 16, I was tormented and tortured by a boy who was just three years older than me. That abuse has had far-reaching implications for me as an adult, and I have always blamed myself for not telling anyone about it straight away, for going back each time it happened, and for somehow encouraging it in the first place.
The therapist, of course, knew all of this, and the next part of the meditation was designed by her to have me and my inner child resolve some of that blame and hurt.
She had me hold the child’s hand, and then guided us to walk with him into another room. In that room, we came face to face with the perpetrator of the sexual abuse, standing there, right in front of us.
It was horrible.
As soon as we both realized who it was, standing there before us, my inner child moved to hide behind me, and I reached behind me to put one hand on his shoulder to make sure he knew I was there for him and wasn’t going to let anyone – least of all that guy – hurt him.
I briefly turned around to him, gave him a reassuring half-smile to show I wasn’t afraid anymore, and the child smiled back at me, as if to say, ‘finally, you are there for me, finally you love me’.
And then I turned back, and instead of screaming angrily at my abuser, I felt a great sense of calm and peace, and spoke quietly, but quite deliberately to him. I said three things to him. I told him that I felt sorry for him, because I realised now that what he was doing to me was, probably, also happening to him at the same time, perpetrated by someone who was in a different imbalance of power with him. I told him that I wasn’t scared of him anymore.
He didn’t have that power over me (us) anymore, because that was a power that I had given to him, and that I was now taking back. I told him that he could have the shame back though, the shame that I had carried for such a long time, and that wasn’t mine to carry.
As I told him this, I physically – and quite literally – felt a weight come off me, as if I had taken a heavy backpack off. And then the last thing I told him was that from this moment, and with my inner child present and watching and listening, he could never hurt us again. That it wasn’t because he had decided not to hurt us again, it was because we were never going to let him again.
I held the child’s hand a little bit tighter, and we turned our back on him and walked away. I didn’t look down at his face, but I could tell by his touch that he was not only happy that I had faced our tormentor down, but that he was proud of me for it. It’s the weirdest feeling to know that you are proud of yourself because you are actually in touch with a part of yourself that is.
The most amazing part of all of that was that the other people in the room watching this meditative process reported to me that, when I walked into the room where he was, my fists clenched tight, as if ready for a fight, and as soon as we walked away from him, my hands relaxed again and my whole posture shifted to a more relaxed, but in control one. The rest of my deeply entranced body didn’t move, just my hands.
The next part of the meditation process was to have me imagine my favourite place as a child, the place where I experienced the most joy and fun and light and happiness. For me, that was the beach near our house that I practically grew up on.
She guided us there, where we sat on the sand, side by side, watching the waves roll in. My inner child still had some unresolved upset with me, I knew that because he wouldn’t sit right up next to me, and wouldn’t let me put my arm around him as we sat. But he was still there with me, giving me some extra time to sit with him, to feel his energy and fun and innocence, as well as his determination. And I knew that we were back in step, that I had started to fix a lot of the stuff that he resented me for, and that I would never let him down again.