Have you ever said, maybe even out loud, “Oh, grow up!” Exasperation over someone’s immaturity got on your nerves, and you couldn’t tolerate their child-like behavior one more minute.
Reactivity is a signal, an invitation to explore inner terrain.
This seems like an ideal time to get curious and reflect on how we feel about the child-like parts of ourselves and others. During the season when Christians celebrate the mystery of God’s incarnation, God entering our world as a baby, can we welcome our inner children?
When you feel the presence of one of your inner children, a young part of you who is needy, what happens inside? How do you respond to their need for comfort, reassurance, or space to express intense emotions? Typically, we avoid neediness. You might notice a part of you who is critical or dismissive. It’s natural for parts of you to be reactive to vulnerability.
Our culture does not celebrate vulnerability.
Attention, admiration, and money flow to the people who are physically strong, beautiful, and powerful. Americans value stoicism; if you fall, dust yourself off and get going. Don’t pause to feel the impact of adversity. Charge ahead and achieve!
The members of your internal family who want to protect you from vulnerability are keenly aware of these messages. They work hard to manage the way you show up in the world, wanting you to conform to the dominant culture so you fit in or are celebrated for success as it’s defined. They mean well; they don’t want you to experience shame or the pain of being an outsider.
The challenge is that their efforts marginalize the tender, often young, members of your internal family. They are relegated to the basement, left alone with their burdens. The “grown-ups” in your inner family are celebrated, and the little ones are shunned.
Yet, many of us celebrate the mystery and wonder of God humbly coming to us as a baby. Maybe we need to reconsider our protectors’ view of our inner children.
Could embracing vulnerability be the path to healing?
When Jesus announced his ministry, he spoke of the poor, the oppressed, the captives, and the blind (Luke 4:18-19). His message? I am leading you to healing and freedom. You who are vulnerable, powerless, and burdened, I see you. I love you, and I am here to help you. It sounds like he’s speaking directly to the little ones locked in the basement.
Even Jesus’ closest friends did not understand that his priorities, his view of worth, was inverse to the world’s standards. The disciples were annoyed when people brought their children to Jesus (Matthew 19:13-14). They didn’t think children were significant enough to warrant Jesus’ attention. “On the contrary,” Jesus said. When his disciples wanted to know who was most important, to see heaven’s organizational chart, he called a child over and told them, “Here she is. She’s the greatest. She’s the one whose example you should follow” (from Matthew 18:1-4).
These little ones who cry when they’re sad, whine when they’re hungry, throw tantrums when they’re thwarted, who need adults to survive, will show us the way to healing and wholeness. Their needs matter to God, and God wants them to matter to us.
If we offer our inner children compassionate curiosity, they can tell us their stories. They hold burdens of painful emotions, distorted beliefs, distressing images, and uncomfortable sensations from experiences they couldn’t process. They’ve been waiting for you to bring them comfort, to create a safe space for them to tell you their story. They are needy, and you can reassure them there’s nothing wrong with that.
Are some of your protectors protesting?
I’m supposed to welcome the whiny, blubbering, desperate part of me? Are you sure? Your protectors won’t be convinced that it’s safe; they worry you will be overwhelmed. Reassure them that if they allow you to connect with her, she won’t need to overwhelm you. When she feels your presence and the Presence of Love within you, she will trust her needs can be met.
Welcome the little ones.
Take them by the hand and lead them out of the basement to a sunny room where they can get to know you. When they share their stories, healing happens.
What if I can’t find the self-compassion to take the burdened young parts by the hand? I hate them because no one has loved them so I can only see them as unworthy. They have ruined my life with their needs & longings. My parts are at war & no book, blog or counselor can help me resolve this. I feel hopeless!
That is a very painful place to be, and I’m glad you reached out. I completely understand how chaotic it must feel. When an inner war is raging, it’s very difficult to access enough of your own compassion to help parts begin to calm. In my experience, working with a skilled IFS therapist can help parts begin to feel hope, begin to feel compassion, and begin to relax. There’s a directory of therapists on the IFS website: ifs-institute.com. In the meantime, there are some things that might help bring some relief. Deep breathing (long inhales and longer exhales), gentle physical movement (yoga poses, walking), and spending time with loved ones to feel connected to others. All of these things can soothe the system. If you have spiritual practices such as prayer or meditating on a brief passage of Scripture, those can help as well. One passage I use is Psalm 46. Everything is chaotic and God speaks into the chaos to remind us, “Be still and know that I am God.” God is present with you, loves you, and will guide you. Sending prayers for grace and peace to you.