Posts Tagged ‘inner child’

I received the following letter regarding humankind’s on-going battle with its own impulses:

Hi Will,

I really enjoy reading your blog, you give great insight. I have often been told that I need to focus (I do not have ADHD or any other attention disorder).My problem or what others see as a problem is that I tend have a large array of interests and life goals that are not necessarily connected for which I have much passion. There so many things I want to do, but the older I get the more I feel like everyone is right. I need to pick an area or two at most on which to focus. I have heard the arguments for and against the jack of all trades approach to life, but I am still not sold. I don’t want to focus; I want to do it all. I am I being overly idealistic? Is it necessary for one to focus on their energy on one specific passion? If so, how does one decide how to go about focusing their energy on something specific?


And here’s my response:

To submit a question to Ask The People’s Therapist, please email it as text or a video to: wmeyerhofer@aquietroom.com

If I answer your question on the site, you’ll win a free session of psychotherapy with The People’s Therapist.

If you’re interested in learning more about the scientific and philosophical underpinnings of psychotherapy, you might enjoy my first book, “Life is a Brief Opportunity for Joy”

My second book takes a humorous look at the current state of the legal profession, “Way Worse Than Being A Dentist”

(Both books are also available on bn.com and the Apple iBookstore.) 

For information on my private practice, click here.


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There are foods no rational human would knowingly ingest:  the stuff listed on this website.

Why would you eat a double bacon peanut butter egg and cheese burger with chipotle mayo?

Because you think it will taste good.

To be precise, a little child inside you thinks it will taste good.  That little child is unconscious, and he seeks pleasure.  Freud called him the “Id.”  He doesn’t think.  He reaches for something shiny because it’s shiny.

Welcome to the appeal of Sarah Palin.

Sarah is the political equivalent of marshmallow fluff, chocolate fudge, mac & cheese and cookie dough in a deep fryer.

Why does she look like she’ll taste good – and why is she so bad for you?:

FIRST REASON:  Sarah has an easy answer for EVERYTHING.

Millions of Americans without healthcare?  Sarah would shrink government while lowering costs, cutting taxes and creating jobs.  It’s THAT SIMPLE!!

Foreign Affairs?  Sarah would stand tall against our enemies and stop terrorism in its tracks while keeping us the strongest nation in the world.

Immigration? Sarah would stand up for real Americans and protect our jobs.

The environment?  There’s plenty of oil – we just have to drill for it!  Sarah doesn’t believe in global warming.  We can do whatever we want.  That’s what the planet’s there for – having fun!

What else is there?

Who cares!

Sarah would cut taxes, build the economy, create jobs, shrink government, make America strong and bring the family back – like things used to be in the olden days!  Everything would be super!!

You betcha.

Does any of this make sense?

Does washing down a bag of Doritos with a two liter bottle of Mountain Dew and a super-size bag of peanut butter M&M’s make sense?  Does it have to make sense?

It feels good.  Until a few hours later.  When you throw up.

SECOND REASON:  Sarah’s just like you!

Palin’s Tea Party supporters are always stressing how “real” Sarah is.  That word – “real” – is code for “just like me!”  Your Id, like a small child, is by definition a narcissist – he cannot see where he stops and another person begins, so doesn’t see anyone or anything beyond his own reflection.

Neither does Sarah!

She brings you…you.  Not like that weirdo Obama, who’s…well…umm…he looks “different” –  you know what I mean?

Your Id wants to have fun.  He seeks pleasure.  That’s the “Pleasure Principle.”   Your unconscious – this child – is utterly regressed.  He likes sugar, and shiny things.  He likes Sarah.

In case you need a male Sarah Palin?  Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered.

That would be Scott Brown.

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This week’s question is from A.M.:

What strategies can you suggest for someone who is stuck when writing, say a thesis or a dissertation? Two people dear to me have essentially withdrawn from society, apparently unable to deal with the ego strain of finishing this last piece of the degree. Any thoughts?

And here’s my answer:


To submit a question to Ask The People’s Therapist, please email it as text or a video to: wmeyerhofer@aquietroom.com

If I answer your question on the site, you’ll win a free session of psychotherapy with The People’s Therapist!

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My patient looked me in the eye.  Tears poured down her cheeks.

“It hurts so bad.  Why does it have to hurt so bad?”

I often sit in a room with another person in emotional agony.  It’s part of my job.  I sit.  I listen.  I don’t interrupt.  I tolerate the feelings, and do my best to understand.

“Why won’t he call me?  Why doesn’t he love me?”

I told her what I knew to be true.

“This guy isn’t worth your time.  He isn’t worth these tears.  This isn’t about him.  It’s about you.  And these are old tears – the tears of a heartbroken child.  Your heart was broken long before you met this guy.”

A child’s first love affair is with a parent – and a little girl’s is typically with her father.  She instinctively adores this powerful man who controls the world.  She would do anything to win his attention, his delight, his love.

Sometimes things go wrong.

The father might be distracted by other things – his career, his marriage, something.  His baby daughter adores him.  But his attention turns elsewhere.

For that child, his rejection is akin to abandonment – which is akin, for her, to death.  The resulting pain is cellular, and unendurable.  It is a child’s heartbreak.  She thinks she is going to die.

That’s what my patient was feeling now.

We talked about how it felt, attempting to physicalize the symptoms to make them more conscious.

A cold steel ball in the gut.  A choke in the throat – like a cry rising up and getting stuck.  An ache at her core.  She cried all the time, and couldn’t sleep.

This was heartbreak.

We returned to her childhood, to see where this hurt began.

Her father sounded awful – a swaggering bully, who verbally and physically abused his wife.

Still, when my patient was little, he became the positive focus of her life.  She recalled afternoons spent sitting on his lap, being fussed over.

That ended abruptly when she was 10.  Her father left with a mistress, then moved back in a year later – with the mistress in tow.  After that, her childhood was a blur of drunken rages.  Her father fought endlessly with both wife and mistress.  The little girl got lost amid the drama.  She spent most of her time alone, wounded by his rejection.

Now she was repeating the pattern.  She’d found a guy like her father – a swaggering, charismatic bully who paid attention to her for a few weeks, then lost interest.

An adult doesn’t waste time on someone who doesn’t return her care.  But a child loves differently – without question.  The child seeks to please.  If the child’s love is rejected, she locates the fault within.  She must be to blame for refusing to please.

This is the formula for heartbreak – the pain of a rejected child.

My patient was pining for a someone who never existed, any more than the father who made gestures at parenting before he disappeared into his own self-fascination.  Both men constituted a promise, not a reality  Both appeared when they felt like it, then left.  Neither deserved her love.

The first step in recovery from heartbreak is to recognize that this is a child’s pain – and address it as such.  This is a cry of need that you have to answer yourself, by bringing your child the parenting she craves.

Instead of assigning importance to someone for whom you are unimportant, start treating your child as important.  If you are there for yourself, you will not experience solitude as a child experiences it – as abandonment.  You will feel secure in your own care.

The message for your child goes something like this:

You are good and unique and important.  I love you.  You deserve my love.   I’m never going to put anyone else’s needs before yours, because you are mine – you belong to me – of me, and with me, and rely on me for care. You are my special love, always first in my heart.

Those are words a parent should tell a child, each and every day.

No one should ever break a child’s heart.  Or let a child’s heart stay broken.

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The other day, I was listening to a patient explain to me why he was ugly and no one could possibly find him attractive.

This was news to me, because so far as I could tell he was a very handsome guy – film star handsome.  It was a puzzling case.

Let’s talk about beauty – plain old physical appearance.

The first steadfast rule is summed up by the old cliche – beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

If you’ve never thought about what that really means, let’s do it here.

The fact is there is no standard for beauty.  That’s a myth.  The gossip mags and entertainment shows on television hold up one star after another as the ideal, but it’s not true.  Only you decide to whom you are attracted, and your taste doesn’t have to match anyone else’s.

Different eras have held widely varying ideas about what is beautiful.  Even now, Americans are only beginning to open their eyes to the beauty of different ethnicities whose images were almost entirely absent from the popular media for centuries.

Just as you have a right to decide whom you think is beautiful – other people have that right, too. And it is quite possible someone might decide his ideal of beauty is…you.

My patient had been told by various people that he was handsome, and some had even attempted to pursue him, but he’d always dismissed their interest.  He couldn’t accept that other people didn’t see what he saw when he looked in the mirror:  he was too short, had bad skin, bad teeth, a bump on his nose.  Even as he enumerated these terrible flaws, I strained to see what he was talking about.  I looked – and saw a handsome guy.

The problem wasn’t with how this guy looked.  It was with the messages he was given as a child.

His parents had him when they were very young, and their marriage soon broke up.  The father, caught up in a nasty divorce battle, fought for custody of my patient and won it, only to dump the boy on resentful relatives.  My patient grew up receiving the message that his presence was a nuisance – that people wished he wasn’t there.  He learned that he was nothing special – certainly no one whom anyone would notice or be attracted to.

My patient went on to succeed in his career, against the odds.  Despite his parents’ disinterest, he worked hard in school and rose to an impressive position in the business world.  But he still felt ugly – nothing special.  His physical appearance became a container for all the feelings his parents put in him about himself.

In our session, I reminded him that his parents were old now, and far away – he hardly saw them anymore.  Nowadays he was the one in charge of parenting the little boy inside him.  And he was doing a lousy job of it.

I asked him when he first became ugly.

He shrugged.

I asked him whether he was ugly back when he was a little boy.   Was he ugly at 6?  At 10?  At 12?  When did the ugliness first arrive?

He shrugged, and said he’d always felt that way.

I asked him if there was such a thing as an ugly little boy.

He said, no, probably not.

So were you ugly when you were 7?

He said he didn’t know – probably.

I said of course not.  There is no such thing as an ugly 7 year old.  In fact there is no such thing as an ugly child.  No child is ugly because every child is unique and beautiful.

So why are you treating this child with such cruelty – telling him such terrible things about who he is?

The messages my patient was addressing to his child were the same ones his parents sent him.  A psychotherapist calls these messages “negative introjects” – voices that were put inside you as a child, messages that keep playing years later, like:

You are a nuisance.  You are nothing special.  You are always in the way.  We wish you weren’t here.

I asked him to create some healthier messages for his child self.

He looked at me blankly.   Like what?

Well, let’s pretend your mother wasn’t absent from your life when you were little.  Let’s pretend she took you up in her lap when you were a boy and said something like:

You are my little one, my precious little fellow.  You are handsome and good and you make me proud.  You are my boy, my special boy.  You are beautiful.  You are my treasure.

Tears started to run down my patient’s face.

She never said anything like that.

I know.  But you can say it.  You don’t have to feel ugly.  There’s nothing ugly in you and nothing ugly about you.  You deserve love because you are beautiful.  Inside and out.

Please don’t tell your child he is ugly.  He isn’t.  He’s you, and he deserves your love, so he can learn to accept love from the world outside.  It’s critical to his happiness.  Please be a better parent to that little child.

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Studies have been done of resilient children – kids who have faced down tough times and survived intact.  They share one key finding:  These kids locate surrogates – replacements – for what is otherwise missing in their lives.

Whether it’s a teacher or a neighbor or an uncle or a grandparent – somehow, these scrappy little children overcome difficult circumstances to find someone to take care of them, to love them, so they can find a way to love themselves.

The challenges these kids face can be pretty severe – physical, verbal and sexual abuse, neglect, parents who are missing or mentally ill or addicted to alcohol or drugs.  By some miracle, they find what they need to survive and make their way forward to happy, healthy lives.

One year ago today, an old friend of mine from high school, Shin, died of breast cancer.  She couldn’t have been much over forty, and left behind a husband and two young children.

Shin and I reconnected in the days and weeks before she died. She was in Singapore and I’m in New York, but thanks to the internet, we were able to video chat regularly.  Towards the end she was having trouble breathing, so I spoke and she typed her replies.

When I realized Shin was dying, I expected that my role, as her old friend the therapist, would entail simply listening and being there for her.  Knowing Shin, I should have realized how much she had to teach me about what it means to be alive, to love, and to care for others.

Again and again, Shin repeated to me that her children were the most important thing to her.  Josie and Toby were very young, and she knew it would be devastating for them to lose their mother.

She created a sort of ritual as a way to prepare them – taking the children aside each day and asking them the same question:

“Where’s Momma?”

They answered as she’d taught them, by pointing to their hearts.

“That’s where I’ll always be,” she said.  And she held them tight.

Shin knew what she was doing.  She understood that her kids had a terrific dad – but they were going to lose their mother soon, and they’d need somewhere to go to process that loss.  They would need to look within themselves.

Studies of resilient children overlook another place where tough little kids find the love they need to survive.  They don’t just locate it in neighbors and uncles and teachers – they also find it within their own hearts.

You have a little kid inside you – the same kid you used to be.  And that kid needs love.  You’ll never receive everything you need from the outside.  Even the best parent or parent-substitute can provide only some of what a child needs.

The rest has to come from you.

When Shin taught Josie and Toby that Momma would always live in their hearts, she placed her own strength within them, setting them on a path towards self-sufficiency.  The unconditional love of their dying mother will remain within them forever – a well to draw on when times get tough.  They will never forget that there was a young woman named Shin, who was their mother, and that she loved them absolutely.

Shin’s goal was to place a love in her children that would evolve into a love for themselves – to make them secure in the conviction that they deserved care.

You need to find a way to love yourself, or you cannot survive.  You need to hear that message from within your own breast – that someone cares for you, and always will, no matter what.

Maybe you’re not always at your best.  Maybe you have regrets, and remorse.  Maybe it feels like there isn’t much love out there for you sometimes.

But there is a child within you.  He means no one any harm.  Offer him your love – carry it within you.

You can be a resilient kid.  You can stay conscious, and be your best self, and love the best, most authentic you.

You can be deserving of love – love from within your own heart.

Just like Josie and Toby.

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