Until we understand child consciousness, there can be a misunderstanding about what it means for an adult to be childlike versus childish. Being childlike is beautiful, and no adult can be truly joyful and creative unless we preserve and nurture our ability to be childlike. It includes the capacity to feel excitement about new things, to be adventurous, and to question and learn about new things.
To be childish, on the other hand, is to be immature. It is the inability to accept frustration or to take discipline. It is the false notion that if we do not get what we want immediately, we will perish or never be happy again.
Immaturity originates from the fact that every child wants to receive exclusive love, without limits. This is understandable but unrealistic. Further, every child wants to have their own way. This is equally unworkable. So in every child’s life, there will be pain and frustration.
Worse yet, because we live on a dualistic plane filled with life-or-death thinking, the child equates pain with death. To avoid death, the child acts to stop this pain. The most effective way to do this is through control of the breath. Children literally freeze their feelings by stopping the flow of the life force—called chi, ki or prana in other languages—through stopping the breath.
This explains why, as adults, when we feel painful feelings arise, we will often feel a lump in our throat from reengaging those constricting muscles, and find ourselves holding our breath. It is our habitual way of cutting off the experience of pain, frustration, sadness, disappointment—whatever uncomfortable feelings we don’t want to feel. But we are actually investing our life force in cutting off our own life force.
It is a spiritual law that life cannot be cheated, meaning in the end, we can’t avoid feeling anything that is in us.
As a child, when this cutting off happened, our life force became frozen and stuck. Movement was stopped dead in its tracks. And it will remain so until we do this work of “re-membering” these frozen or split off aspects, and allowing them to become re-enlivened and reunited with the whole of our being. This means that we must now experience the pain we could not tolerate when we were children. For it is a spiritual law that life cannot be cheated, meaning in the end, we can’t avoid feeling anything that is in us.
It is important to understand that before we were born, while we were still in the Spirit World, we made a choice regarding what we wanted to heal in this lifetime. In order for any of us to see our work, or task, it is necessary then that it manifest in this lifetime. So the perfect conditions have been chosen—including parents, siblings and environment—for our unique “soul dent” to come to the surface so we can see it and heal it.
When we were children, we had no adult ego available inside us to make choices about how to handle life situations. There were no higher-level-reasoning faculties to make sense of things. As adults, this has changed. Our ego now has an important role to play: it opens the gateway to our Higher Self. This makes greater resources available for supporting us in feeling and releasing these wounds.
The Gateway Prayer
Through the gateway of feeling your weakness lies
Through the gateway of feeling your pain lies your pleasure and joy;
Through the gateway of feeling your fear lies your security and safety;
Through the gateway of feeling your loneliness lies your capacity to have
fulfillment, love and companionship;
Through the gateway of feeling your hate lies your capacity to love;
Through the gateway of feeling your hopelessness lies true and justified hope;
Through the gateway of accepting the lacks of your childhood
lies your fulfillment now.
– Pathwork Lecture #190
If these painful experiences hadn’t happened—but they did—and if we hadn’t innocently stopped the flow of feelings so as not to feel them—but we did—we would not have these immature places in us—but we do. These are the places that get activated when something happens in life that cause us to have an emotional reaction.
In that moment, our unconscious inner child feels threatened by something that has a similar look-and-feel to a childhood experience. This child consciousness is now facing what it believes to be a life-or-death situation, and is feeling re-traumatized. As soon as this happens, we are effectively in a trance. Whatever or whoever is in front of us is now melded with the situation or person—most often a parent—from our childhood.
We may experience confusion, disassociation from our body, regression in how old we feel, and tunnel vision. We are not in our adult reasoning brain, and we don’t realize that we now have the resources of our own adult ego available to us. It is the healthy, conscious adult ego that can make new choices, including opening to the Higher Self and asking for help. This adult ego needs to wake up.
We can think of this inner child as the “Little-L Lower Self,” because although it is part of what keeps us in separation, there is an “I can’t” quality to it. It feels helpless to make another choice. From this place, we defend ourselves believing we need to protect ourselves from death. We are essentially saying, “I can’t feel this, or I’ll die.”
When we have an emotional reaction and slip into a trance, we need to learn to pause, breathe, and find the part of ourselves that believes it is still in a life-or-death battle. We need to see that “that was then and this is now,” teasing apart the reality of the current situation from the way it overlays something from an earlier time. It will feel like two slides have come together, one on top of the other, with the two images feeling so similar it will be hard to slide them apart.
It may seem that the child’s main problem is the desire for perfect love. But in truth, even if the child had received perfect love, this would not have resolved the child’s problems since they are due to pre-existing beliefs from previous lives. What’s more, although the child would have been satisfied with mature love—love that is imperfect and takes the risk of being hurt—the capacity to give mature love is rare, and even if one parent gives it, the other probably doesn’t.
Instead of mature love, the child received distorted love, which children can feel. This creates resentment, which leads to rebellion. The three types of distorted love from parents are:
- Parent overindulges or overcompensates as apology for not loving maturely.
- Parent won’t punish or exert healthy authority.
- Parent is too severe or strict, bullying the child.
Unlike eternal values, which are about love, truth, wisdom and courage, temporary values are dictated by the needs of a society. So over the centuries, the values of a society can shift. In the past, children were treated with restriction and severity; parents’ pent up hostility was acted out in this way. Today, the pendulum has swung to the other side, and the value is permissiveness, indulgence and lack of discipline. The underlying hostility is still felt though.
It is not uncommon for such pendulum swings to occur as part of spiritual development until the more truthful middle way is found. But if one extreme is wrong, its opposite will be just as in error. If the parents overindulge to atone for their irritation or impatience in parenting, they create guilt and confusion for themselves. Later the child will seek to duplicate the pleasure of the overindulgence, but since other people don’t carry this guilt, they don’t respond with pampering and the person ends up feeling hurt by this.
Here, the underlying desire to recreate pleasurable childhood experiences is a sign of greed and a lack of self-responsibility. It belies the desire to remain a child, and this creates shame for an adult due to unconscious anger and frustration.
The truth about parenting is that we need to follow our insides to follow eternal values. Sometimes leniency is OK and sometimes punishment is called for. There are no rules.
Receiving any kind of distorted love instead of real affection makes the child feel guilty and uncomfortable, which the child pushes into the unconscious. As adults then, we may love our parents, but we still have this unconscious resentment, which prevents forgiveness and letting go. In truth, our parents weren’t perfect, but they don’t need to be rejected now because of this.
If all this remains in the unconscious, we will try to fix this as an adult by unconsciously recreating the childhood hurt hoping that this time it will be different and we will win—or in other words, we will get the mature love we now demand. Unfortunately, this is not feasible.
It is an illusion we were ever defeated, therefore it is an illusion we can now win.
The result is that we will choose a love partner who has the aspects of the parent who fell short, as well as the one who came closer to meeting our needs. We will then blindly try to force them to give us mature love. But love can’t come that way. As an adult, only by giving up our childish demand will we be able to give mature love, and open the door to creating mature love with our partner.
These vicious circles we create are entirely destructive. It is an illusion we were ever defeated, therefore it is an illusion we can now win. It is also an illusion that lack of love was the tragedy we unconsciously believed it to be. The real tragedy is this recreation and our attempt to master it.
To dissolve this conflict, we must find the link between our unfulfilled childhood longings and our present problems. First, we must find the aspects of our current relationships that are like the parent we resent or despise—the one for whom we had little or no love.
Then we must re-experience the longing and hurt of the crying inner child. Realize that we may have been both happy and unhappy as a child. Know that the pain hurts more when we push it out of sight. Think of this as turning the child’s pain into a healthy growing pain. We may have to work to find and feel this pain.
Here are the steps to take:
- Take a current problem.
- Strip out rationalizations that “it’s them.”
- Find the next layer of emotion: anger, resentment, anxiety, frustration.
- Feel the hurt of not being loved, which is underneath; it is the same hurt as the childhood pain.
Doing this will release our parents, and we will start to seek love by giving it rather than by expecting it. Notice too how we may have completely given up on receiving love, which is a wrong extreme.
In truth, we attract people to us with a similar immaturity or capacity to love as our parents, and then we unconsciously provoke a reaction in them that is similar. As we mature, we may bring out more maturity in the other.
We must learn to balance emotional maturity—the capacity and willingness to love—with intellectual maturity, which can be used to re-educate child consciousness. We need to develop both.
As we re-educate the inner child, it may be helpful to impress the point that this pain we faced as children was not really going to kill us. The idea that our defenses saved our lives only works to further terrorize this inner child who believes it was in mortal danger from painful feelings. This doesn’t deny the reality that children sometimes die.
We have a clue we are in child consciousness, or an emotional reaction, when we hear ourselves using the words “always” and “never,” as in “such-and-such always happens to me,” or “I never get so-and-so.” Then the adult ego can connect with the Higher Self and ask the question, “What is the truth of this matter?” Just asking this question brings in a more mature perspective, and the answers will open the door to re-educating this young aspect.
We do this work to integrate all the inner children who have split off at each wounding. It can be helpful to sit in meditation and sense their presence, noticing their number as well as how far away some of them have gone. It requires patience and the creation of a new safe container for them to be willing to trust this adult ego and return for healing. As such, this work of healing is a soul retrieval that reunites and integrates the shattered soul.
Some people’s memories from childhood have sunken so far out of their awareness they can no longer connect with them. The Guide tells us we need not worry about this, because everything we need to know is playing itself out right now in our daily lives.
This is a result of the magnetic pull of these unhealed places inside us, drawing life experiences to us that will allow us to see what is really going on inside. We can’t heal what we can’t see, and we came here to heal.
What heals the wound is the divine love and energy that fills up the space where the wound was, once it has been felt and released. We can actively pray for this healing and then become receptive to receiving divine energy.
“When we have no territory to defend, God rushes in to where God always was. This is a paradox we understand only as we embrace life fully.”
– The Instruction Manual for Receiving God, by Jason Shulman