Reflections About a Letter to an Inner Child “A powerful counselling intervention to understand parts of self”

Reflections about a letter to an inner child  “A powerful counselling intervention to understand parts of self.”

The concept of writing a letter to your inner child as a therapeutic intervention comes from various therapeutic approaches, including inner child work and parts work. These approaches are often used in psychodynamic, Emotion-Focused Psychotherapy, psychodrama, and trauma-focused therapies. The idea is to address and heal past wounds, traumas, and unmet needs by connecting with younger aspects of oneself that may have been hurt or neglected. Below is a reflective process from an inner child and parts work.

Case Study: Letter to an ‘Inner Child’ Part.

You were an unexpected arrival for your mother. She was in her forties, and the last thing she wanted was another child. Life was not easy, and her husband was absent. She longed for her family and her homeland, leaving no time for the responsibilities of raising a child. Your mother concealed your existence under oversized t-shirts, fearful of judgment from others. She was worried about being perceived as a sinful woman for conceiving a child in her forties.

Even your siblings, who were twenty years older than you, were unaware of your impending arrival. They were taken by surprise when your mother went to the hospital to deliver you. How could Mama have a baby? Only your older sister knew and promised to care for you. You mother was in survival mode, so many parts were playing in her mind. Angry about becoming pregnant (the ‘fight’ response). Fearful that others would judge her (the ‘flight’ response). Numbness when recalling her Mother’s death when delivering your youngest brother (the ‘freeze’ response).

Despite the circumstances, you arrived as an act of defiance, weighing 5kilograms, a healthy and robust baby. You were the largest infant in the nursery, and your father couldn’t have been prouder. He would excitedly exclaim, “She’s mine! I did it!” Your childhood memories are scant, and the few that remain are traumatic recollections from difficult times. At a very young age, you struggled to sleep due to terrors and nightmares. Your ‘flight’ part was so activated, and you feared to sleep at night. A recurring dream featured a homeless man under your bed. One wonders whether you were inherently anxious from birth or inherited it from your anxious fearful mother. Can we also inherent our parent’s parts? Your mother managed to comfort you until you fell back asleep. You would grasp her pinkie, the only means by which you could self-soothe. However, physical touch was challenging for your mother, and she would quickly find excuses to distance herself from the mother-daughter attachment. She always seemed occupied with cleaning, cooking, or other tasks. Her ‘protective’ part prevented her from getting too close to you, what if she also was to die like her mother? What about you? How would you feel? Better not get too close for everyone’s sake.

The ‘protector’ parts attempt to shield the person from emotional pain and vulnerability. For instance, the ’flight’ part within the mother seeks to avoid judgment, leading her to conceal the pregnancy. The ‘angry’ part of the mother could be seen as her way of defending herself against further emotional pain. Similarly, the ’angry child’ part within the person may have developed to express unmet needs and seek attention. Your mother’s expression of love was through food. She believed in the beauty of fullness and encouraged you to eat more. Cakes and bread rolls with tomato salad became cherished moments of connection between the two of you, perhaps influencing your affinity for food.

During kindergarten days, your mother appeared older than other mothers, causing you to feel ashamed and different. A friend even remarked, “Your Grandma is here waiting for you.” Shame and guilt became early emotions in your life. Connecting with other children was a challenge, and you often played alone and submitted in this part, yearning for connection. Your mother never taught you how to care for yourself – hygiene, teeth brushing, or homework. You had to learn through observation and creativity. However, your mother was swift to shame you for mistakes, often doing so in front of others. It seemed she took pleasure in belittling you, perhaps viewing you as a disturbance to her peace, an ‘angry’ child seeking attention and love, this was the way your angry part was presented to society.

Your life took a different turn when you faced a sudden tumour in your head. Three unsuccessful surgeries later, a miraculous healer, Mrs. Aurora, ended your pain and suffering. She told you that your faith would save you, and indeed, your unwavering faith has been your saviour, it learns from the pain and sadness parts. I’m wondering what your body was holding, so much inflammation in your need for connection? According to Bessel Van der Kolk’s theory, traumatic events can dysregulate the nervous system and lead to chronic activation of the body’s stress response. This chronic activation can result in inflammation, which, over time, can contribute to various physical and psychological symptoms. The body’s natural response. This chronic activation can result in inflammation, which, over time, can contribute to various physical and psychological symptoms. The body’s natural response to trauma, such as the need for connections, might indeed contribute to the inflammation and distress experienced by the child.

Your mother, afflicted by mood swings, oscillated between anger and sadness, parts of her unresolved grief state. Family rumours hinted at instances where she harshly disciplined you, even going so far as to slam your head against the door. This anger might have been compounded by your bedwetting habit until the age of ten, potentially testing your mother’s patience. -Her dissociation and difficulty functioning like an adult woman was clear.

Dissociation is a psychological defence mechanism that involves a disconnection or separation of certain thoughts, feelings, sensations, or memories from conscious awareness. It can occur as a response to overwhelming or traumatic experiences, serving as a way for the mind to protect itself from emotional pain. Your mother had varied reactions. Sometimes, she would resort to derogatory Italian terms she learned from her grandmother. On other occasions, she would encourage you to pray to the Virgin Mary. You prayed diligently, and your bedwetting eventually stopped. Labelled as an ‘angry child’, you wondered about the underlying reasons for your anger. Could it have been a plea for connection? Was your angry part fighting for connection? Your absent father worked tirelessly in two jobs to provide for the family. But you later discovered he also had another family. Yet, he stood apart – sensitive, caring, giving you simple gifts, foot massages, and fresh orange juice. He had a ‘functional father’ sweet part. Truthfully, it seemed your mother resented the attention you received from your father. He wasn’t kind to her, and this would activate her angry part. Your mother spent her days cooking rice and beans, often crying in front of the oven. You observed her sorrow through the curtains, feeling that you could have been a better daughter, unaware of why she disliked you or why she was so sad. You internalized blame, feeling that your supposed ‘anger’ was the cause. You both had angry parts because you both could not have your needs met.

Your sister and her family had disappeared for about a year after that sad carnival where your brother-in-law tried to touch you inappropriately, and no one ever spoke of it again. Your family excelled at pretending, didn’t they? After marriage, your mother revealed that your sister had almost committed suicide that day. She left a letter, but your mother changed the subject when you asked for details. You always felt you were in the wrong, inappropriate, or born into the wrong family. You used fly from them, lock yourself in the bedroom and collapse with overwhelming feelings. When child sexual assault occurs, some families may avoid discussing it due to feelings of shame, fear or discomfort. This can leave the child feeling guilty and responsible for what happened to them. This silence and lack of acknowledgment can worsen the emotional impact on the child, making them feel isolated and unable to seek support.

It’s essential for families to address these issues openly, provide emotional support, and seek professional help to assist the child to heal and overcome the trauma. My dear child, you longed for validation and love, just like any other child. I am sorry for what you endured. You are a good person, and I will be there for you, offering validation and ensuring you never feel alone again, I will integrate all your ‘parts’ and together we will find harmony and peace, now you are able to feel, to talk and to trust again! With heartful love, from your functional adult part.

The above letter illustrates how these different parts interact within the person’s inner system. The child longs for nurturing and validation, while the mother part explains her struggles and limitations. The protector parts, like the flight and angry parts, are activated in response to perceived threats or unmet needs. These interactions can lead to internal conflicts and a difficulty with attachment. From an Internal Family Systems perspective, the goal of therapy would be to facilitate communication and understanding among these parts. This process can lead to healing and integration. The person would work to unburden the protector parts and understand the roles they play. The mother part might be supported in acknowledging her own limitations while expressing love and care in more effective ways. The child part would be nurtured and healed, and both the child and mother parts could learn to collaborate for the person’s well-being.                                                                                                                                                           

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