Your inner child still lives – Your outer child still acts out.

By Saybrook University

Baby_Blue_Adult_Pacifer While many think childhood ends at eighteen, new research shows it is still very alive at any age—and is a contributing factor in your everyday life.

Author Leon Seltzer explores the evolution of self and personality in Self-Sabotage and Your “Outer Child” speaking to an “outer-child” in adult personalities that is characterized by impulsivity, carelessness and limitlessness. The Outer Child, Seltzer points out, acts impulsively out of a need for instant gratification from tension, anxiety and other negative feelings. Its motto: at all costs – avoid pain, pursue pleasure.

Sounds good – but there’s an inherent problem in instant gratification.

Turns out, it makes us feel worse about ourselves. Sure, we feel better in the moment, our tension relieved (or at least ameliorated). But eventually we feel worse about ourselves because we’ve sacrificed our values, wishes, or ethics to the moment. It’s self indulgence at its most unhealthy level, and for it we sacrifice our deepest need, self-nurturance.

We have all been guilty of it at one time or another. Our Outer Child is present in those actions that give us an external “fix” – late night junk food, getting surgically attached to a slot machine, spending money at the mall we don’t have – the list is at once generic and deeply personal.

The more we chase our tails around with self-indulgent behaviors, the more we miss the mark of what we really need. Our inner selves are really looking for unconditional love, self-affirmation and other inner self-nurturing attitudes.

In her revolutionary book, Taming Your Outer Child: A Revolutionary Program to Overcome Self-Defeating Patterns, Susan Johnson tackles this increasing important issue in society – self-indulgence at the expense of self-nurturance. 

Johnson’s work suggests that the inner child, outer child and adult self are all still at work, regardless of your age.

Anderson defines the inner child, outer child and adult self as different constructs forming the foundations of personality (much in the way Freud did with the Id, Ego, and Super-Ego); and ultimately choice. From the perspective of emotion and action, Johnson defines the constructs as:

Inner Child: It’s the feeling, needing, and wanting part of you.

Outer Child: Looks for the easy way out, quick fixes and immediate gratification.

Adult Self: It’s your inner nurturer and your outer parent. Better yet, it accomplishes goals.

Johnson’s groundbreaking work suggests a program to work directly with all three personality components to help resolve internal conflicts that affect the decision making processes of the psyche – resulting in self-defeating behaviors in place of self-nurturing.

Tranquilize your inner child. Tame your flippant outer child. And fortify your adult self.

It’s all about healing those deep seated wounds without diving into the muck of the past. Through the use of self-help tools including support groups (if available), visualization, inventories, and daily exercises to address your outer child, and its lack of integration with your adult self and inner child.

Looking specifically at issues of abandonment, loss, emotional stress, relationship distress, depression and defense mechanisms, Johnson encourages her clients, book readers, and support group attendees to fill our surveys to heighten awareness of “outer child” behaviors. Awareness of our impulsive behavior, our unmet nurturing needs, and the slippery slope of instant gratification are the underpinnings of the insights and tools Johnson suggests using every day to heighten awareness and reflection to avoid engaging in self-defeating behaviors.

In addition to surveys, and exercises, Johnson encourages the use of visualizations to engage all three parts of the personality to integration. Here is a glimpse of one:

Imagine a child, one who’s been abandoned and is living on the streets in a distant foreign city. (Imagine this child is of the same gender as you are) This child is cold, hungry, wounded and scared. Her fondest wish is for someone to care for her and protect her from harm…

Picture yourself coming upon this poor abandon child as you are on a trip. You sense something familiar about this child. This child becomes an important and meaningful commitment in your life….

This child is you—your own inner child—and she’s counting on you.

Johnson is a skillful clinician and offers practical steps toward stopping self-defeating behavioral patterns—and awakening to the self you have always dreamed of.

Carl Jung once observed, “Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.” His words ring truer today than ever before:  in a world that values external indulgence with people that cry out for inner self-nurturance.

 — Liz Schreiber