Self-parenting can be a breath of fresh air for anyone drowning in addiction. Knowing how your inner child feels is vital to maintaining sobriety of any kind without becoming a “dry drunk.”
Dr. John K. Pollard has been developing the concepts of self-parenting since 1970. Having written a number of books on the subject including "Self Parenting: The Complete Guide to Your Inner Conversations," he has devoted an entire website to educating people on the benefits of self-parenting.
I have discovered through his work firsthand that feelings go hand-in-hand with successful self-parenting. For those of you, like me, who were not taught to be aware of your feelings, this may come as a surprise—that feelings actually do matter.
As reported by Julie Beck in The Atlantic, four basic feelings underlie everything we think and do according to research findings by Institute of Neuroscience and Psychology at the University of Glasgow: sadness, anger, fear and happiness.
Being able to understand these core feelings and why we feel them is an empowering thing. For one, it allows us to align our actions with our true intentions, which is a healthy shift in perspective for recovering addicts. It also allows us to be in tune with our inner child who, according to Dr. Pollard and others, is the true subject of all our emotions.
Our inner child can be sad for a number of reasons. Like other emotions, sadness exists on a scale ranging from “a little” to “a lot.” When the feeling is not addressed and the reasons are not dealt with in a healthy manner, we can slide into depression and resentment. Resentment can then quickly turn to anger. Pretty soon, before we know it, our inner child is throwing a temper tantrum. The only difference is that he or she is doing so in an adult body. And we all know what it looks like when an adult acts like a five-year-old—not pretty.
One particular therapist encouraged me to describe what my angry child resembled. My answer was “a playground bully.” We know from experience that a child whose anger is not acknowledged, addressed and acted upon can behave like a bully to both himself and others. Unaddressed anger often escalates to violence. My therapist was only moderately concerned about my anger level until I mentioned kicking a chair end-over-end across my office. Needless to say, he became very concerned. Not having learned how to self-parent, I was unable to take care of my little boy anger at that moment and because of that it boiled over into violence.
When a child is afraid he or she usually grabs for a favorite blanket or teddy bear. When the inner child feels fear, it’s important to remember that they continue to do so in an adult body. Unacknowledged fear leads the inner child within the adult to habitually reach for his or her favorite coping mechanisms, even if it’s no longer a blanket or teddy. An addiction is formed and that can come in many forms. Food, drugs, alcohol and pornography are all well-known coping mechanisms that can result from an inability to address our feelings and their underlying causes. According to shame researcher Brene Brown, shame and fear are closely connected. Successful self-parenting enables our inner child to express that it feels fear. Self-parenting can also reveal that the cause behind our fear may be shame. Acknowledging, addressing and acting upon this discovery can be the difference between an addict reaching out to his or her sponsor and reaching out to the object of their addiction. In other words, choosing to feel your feelings can be the difference between life and death.
The most simple out of the four feelings just happens to be the most enjoyable: happiness. When children are happy, they’re happy. And they continue to be happy until they’re not. Forcing ourselves to ignore or subdue our happiness contradicts who we are and is a way of neglecting true gratitude. Gratitude is really an expression of thanksgiving that comes from acknowledging something good. An adult would never walk up to a child having fun on the playground and say, “Stop being so happy.” Why then would we ever do that to our inner child?
We don’t have to be scientists in order to figure out how we feel. Instead, we just need to practice checking in with our inner child. Start by embracing yourself as you would your own child, niece or nephew. Give your inner child a hug. Then ask the question, “How do you feel?” Your inner child wants to be heard and will respond with one of the four feelings above so you the adult can better understand yourself. How does your inner child feel today?
Learning how to self-parent is just one of the many skills a person in addiction will learn during recovery. Ready to get help? Browse our directory of rehab centers or call 866-606-0182 to inquire about addiction specialists in your area.