Wednesday, May 7, 2014

The Inner Infant

So my inner child, Sophie, has a younger sister. She is an infant and doesn't have a name yet. While my relationship with Sophie is pretty good, I confess, I'm a terrible mother to my infant. But I'm working on it.

It's easier to enjoy Sophie because she is playful, funny, cute, and full of energy. But like most kids, she can be a brat and gets on my nerves sometimes. And she doesn't like it when I'm alone. She's afraid something bad will happen to us. She advocated for my last relationship and was terribly anxious whenever she thought we might break up. It took awhile before I learned how to comfort her and assure her that I can take care of her by myself.

I only became aware of the infant about a year ago--mainly because I was neglecting her so badly it was affecting my health. I wouldn't feed her when she was hungry. I wouldn't soothe her when she was upset. I yelled at her when she cried for no reason. If Social Services could have seen how I was treating her, they definitely would have intervened. After awhile I was having so many physical problems that I was forced to attend to her needs. It was starting to affect my tennis.

I've had to get to know my infant the same way any parent gets to know their child: by paying close attention. You don't automatically know which cry is the hungry cry, the poop cry, or the tired cry; you learn from experience. She is usually upset when I wake up on the weekends because I sleep in and throw off her feeding cycle. So if I'm feeling depressed or anxious when I wake up, I get something to eat because she's probably hungry.

Or she could be crying because that's what infants do when they wake up--especially after a nap. It's funny that we just accept that young kids cry when they wake up without understanding why and without being mad at them for it. I wonder at what age we start expecting people to have a good reason to cry.

I guess some people do acknowledge that they're in a crappy mood when they wake up and turn to things like coffee, cigarettes, and drugs to calm them down. Those are not good ways to comfort a baby, though. And maybe they're not ideal for us, either, really. But that's for another blog post.

She also gets upset whenever I'm rushing around, which is essentially all the time. She is very sensitive to transitions: leaving for work in the morning, rushing to a tennis match, rushing to the grocery store. I have no idea why. Maybe my stress upsets her. Or maybe I'm neglecting her when I'm on the run. This is the distress that is the hardest for me to be compassionate about.

So now there's this mantra I have to say multiple times a day to soothe her: It's OK. Everything's going to be OK. You're fine. Everything's going to be fine. And when I'm frustrated, I add although I have no idea what you're anxious about!  It's a process, accepting that she deserves to be upset and comforted, even when it doesn't make sense to me.

I know this probably sounds silly to some of you, but it works really well. I use this analogy often with clients as a way to get them to pay closer attention to what they need, to honor their feelings, to have compassion for themselves, and to learn how to take better care of themselves. It can work surprisingly quickly, once you reassure them that having all these parts doesn't mean they're crazy.

So if you ever find that you are arguing with yourself, or that you're frustrated because your thoughts/feelings/actions don't make any sense, you might want to ask what part of yourself you might be neglecting.

2 comments:

jacqueline said...

I'm having a very difficult time understanding the idea of an inner-infant. Is it a feeling? A voice in my head? I just don't seem to be get it but I want to. I think it can be very beneficial for me. The title of an affirmation I read this morning was "I nurture my infant self with love", and I can't grasp its meaning.

christy barongan said...

The inner infant is like the inner child but younger, nonverbal. You can experience it as a voice, a feeling, an image. Sometimes people can see what it looks like if they try to imagine it.

Think of it as the part of you that can't speak but is trying to communicate that it has basic needs that need to be met. Food. Sleep. Soothing. Wanting to be held. As we get older we treat these basic needs as annoyances that can be ignored rather than lovingly attended to.