‘Don’t ignore your inner child’ are words written on the wall of a building in the town I grew up in. It resonates with my life trajectory because, in the mid-1990s, I had a marriage breakdown and I began gambling at a casino for four years. When it came to the end of 1999, I had to make some serious choices before the new millennium began. There was something about the year 2000 which symbolised a major crossroads for me. I knew I had to give up gambling and seek out therapy to get my life back on track, and this is exactly what I did.
During inner-child workshops, what became clear to me was that, over my lifetime, I had shoved ‘little Vincent’ into a dark corner of my psyche where he was lonely, needy, and hungry for love. What also became clear to me was that everyone has a child archetype, which makes it universal. As I looked around me I began to see the inner child in everyone I met. The inner child, like all archetypes, is extremely difficult to define because they are complicated, fluid, and have constructive and destructive aspects.
There is a book called Reclaiming the Inner Child. It is edited by Jeremiah Abrams, with contributions by Erik Erikson, Alice Miller, Marion Woodman, Joseph Campbell, to name a few. It is a helpful and varied exploration of the inner child. In the book, Marion Woodman says: ‘That child who is our very soul cries out from underneath the rubble of our lives.’
According to Caroline Myss, in her book Sacred Contracts, Plato, the Athenian philosopher in ancient Greece, ‘asserted the existence of archetypal ideas and forms’ which is a fascinating starting point. Myss also says the inner child can include the orphan, wounded, magical/innocent, nature, divine, puer/puella eternis (eternal boy/girl). Everyone has aspects of each of these.
The wounded child dominated my archetype and I had to build bridges to feed ‘little Vincent’, otherwise my gambling would have continued. One way of interpreting our addictions (because there are many ways) is that the needy child within is seeking an adrenaline rush to fill the empty hole as a result of not being loved, generally in childhood. If you win at the gambling table, you trick yourself into believing you are no longer a loser, which works for a brief period of time.
I found John Bradshaw’s, Home Coming: Reclaiming and Championing Your Inner Child, the most practical book, therapeutically speaking. I had to go back to the original trauma and unite with ‘little Vincent’. Over the last twenty years, I have built a great relationship with him and he is very liberated and loved.
I finish with a word of warning. Your health and safety are paramount. Inner child work is dangerous if you plunge into it at the wrong time and without the right support. Follow professional advice. If you are in the middle of an addiction, wait until you are out of the addiction for at least a year. Even then, seek professional help in what to do next. If you are seeing a health professional, discuss it thoroughly and follow their instructions. If you suffer from psychiatric issues or have been heavily abused emotionally or physically don’t attempt inner child exercises, and, as I have said before, follow professional advice.
Vincent Tivoli is a mental health advocate.