Recovering from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome:
A Guide to Self-Empowerment

By William Collinge, Ph.D.

Table of Contents 


Chapter 11. Supporting Your Inner Child

"I knew there was a lot of emotional pain, but I didn't know where it was coming from. I especially worked on allowing my inner child to exist, because I found I had never really been a child. I was always the adult - the 'responsible one '-ever since I could remember." -Gail
"Spending time with my inner child daily is a top priority. She's become a great friend. I gain energy from talking with her." -Linda
   Throughout this book I have emphasized the importance of lifestyle change and self-help. Yet healthful change is often difficult to maintain. Why do we postpone, or even forget, to follow through with our intentions to help ourselves? In this chapter we will explore one of the most important ingredients in healing CFS: your relationship with yourself.
    "Relationship" implies that there are two. There are many perspectives on the relationship we have with ourselves. Some people speak of "ego states" relating to each other (Parent, Adult, Child), popularized by the theory of "Transactional Analysis." Others speak of several layers or "levels" of consciousness. Here, we will focus on two aspects of yourself which should be well known to you: what could be called your "wise, mature adult self," and what could be called your "inner child." Symbolically, we use the wise adult self to represent the conscious mind with all its insights, wisdom, and resources. We will use the inner child to represent the subconscious.1  I find this model of relating to be very helpful in working with our resistance to healthy change.

Consciousness and Change
    It has been proven time and again that rational reasons for healthy change are not enough. Research tells us that health education programs often fail because they do not deal adequately with the matter of human motivation. Whether it is public education about smoking, healthy eating habits, preventing sexually transmitted diseases, or any number of other health concerns, the greatest challenge is our resistance to change.
    At the heart of this difficulty is the relationship between the conscious and subconscious. While our conscious mind may totally agree with the desirability of a change, our subconscious may have an entirely different opinion. This is usually at the root of noncompliance with healthy behavior change, and it is an obstacle to healing. In an illness like CFS where lifestyle change is paramount, this takes on even greater importance.
    Your intention and motivation to change must penetrate more deeply than just your conscious awareness. You must have the cooperation of your subconscious if you hope to change the longstanding habits and preferences to which it has become accustomed. This is because the subconscious is much more vast and powerful than the conscious mind.
    The conscious mind can be thought of as the tip of an iceberg, with the subconscious as the vast bulk of the iceberg beneath the surface. Suppose this iceberg is floating along in the Arctic Ocean, and the conscious mind decides it would like to go south for the holidays. The subconscious is used to going north at that time of year, so it says, "What do you mean, south? We always go north. I want to go north." Which way is the iceberg going to go? Who is going to win?
    Or think of the subconscious as the automatic pilot in a plane. Suppose you want to fly to Hawaii for the holidays, but the automatic pilot is programmed to always bring your plane to Seattle. You take off, and before you know it you are stepping down the gangway in your flowered shirt and sandals, only to discover that you're back in Seattle. You forgot to change the automatic pilot.
    The subconscious is very slow to change. In fact, it is so committed to its programmed ways of thinking and behaving, that it can easily sabotage your best intentions to change, if these changes go against its programming. The subconscious always prefers the comfortable, the familiar, and the predictable. In a sense, it is addicted to recreating and perpetuating the habits of the past.

Understanding Your inner Child:
Back to Your Roots
    The adversity of CFS is felt very deeply. Perhaps the most profound way is in a sense of powerlessness or helplessness. You know something is terribly wrong, and there is no medical cure and little understanding or predictability to it. The result may be feeling out of control of your life, with a gnawing sense of helplessness.
    This is not the first time in your life you have felt these feelings. Helplessness, powerlessness, and weakness were a large part of your experience as an infant and small child. The inner child is that part of us which remembers vividly those old feelings of vulnerability. It can be thought of as the simple, innocent, vulnerable part of us which is cohabiting the body of a full-grown, mature, independent adult. But the inner child does not distinguish very clearly the difference between the vulnerability of the past, when you were truly helpless and inadequate, and the vulnerability of the mature adult that you are today. The child believes that, just as when you were physically little, your survival is tenuous today. The experience of chronic illness is extremely distressing for the inner child because it activates those old familiar feelings of helplessness and vulnerability.
    In order to develop a healing relationship with yourself, you need to have access to both the inner child and the wise adult self. Ironically, of the two, the most difficult to access is the wise adult self, not the inner child. This is because, contrary to what we may think, it is the inner child who runs our lives 90 percent of the time--and that's on a good day. Most of us are totally dominated by the whims, fears, cravings, demands, desires, and strategies of the inner child in our daily living. For many of us, the child dresses up in adult clothes, speaks with an adult voice, and does adult-looking things, but the real force behind these adult actions are the desires, fears, and beliefs of the inner child.

Discovering Your Resources:
The Wise Adult Self
    The contrast between the full-grown body of the mature adult and the body of a child is an easy one to see. The contrast between your full-grown mind, with its resources and life experience, and your inner child is a little harder to see, but nevertheless, is just as valid.
    Your wise adult self knows very clearly the reality that you are not a helpless infant. Even if you are bedridden and debilitated by illness, this helplessness is different from that of a small child. You can still communicate, phone, ask for help, make decisions, and advocate on your own behalf, where a child could not. The adult part of you can see the big picture, the long view, the broader perspective.
The major difference in perspective is that the child gets its identity from the past-memories of helplessness and dependency-while the adult identifies with the present. The child projects the old memories onto the present, and in a sense views the present through very young eyes. The adult self, on the other hand, views the present through the eyes of a full-grown person.

ACCESSING THE WISE ADULT SELF
    Even though the inner child may be the dominant force in our lives, we all have the potential of a wise, mature adult within us. We can all describe the qualities and characteristics of such a being. Some of these qualities might include compassion, patience, unconditional acceptance, unconditional love, empathic understanding, permission to be oneself, protection of the child's vulnerability, and strength of resolve.
    Even if you do not feel you have much experience knowing this part of yourself, you can describe what it would he like. Perhaps you would draw upon your own experience with parents, grandparents, teachers, other caretakers, friends' parents, or even movies, television, or books. Your ability to create this image within makes it possible for you to find these qualities in yourself and to bring this wise self into the service of your inner child.

Forming a Healing Relationship
    The healing of CFS involves restoring balance to our lives, and this requires having a healing partnership between the inner child and the wise adult self. Because the child, like the subconscious, has the ability to sabotage your best intentions if it does not agree with your plans, this relationship is essential to your healing. As Tina tells us, "I'm more supportive of my inner child, I give her a chance to speak up. We're more like friends. I don't betray her so much any more. It's just a better relationship."
    Through hypnotherapy, Delores discovered that she was molested as a little girl. She believes this forgotten and buried trauma affected her body and helped set the stage for her vulnerability to an opportunistic illness like CFS. "I have a real wounded little girl in there. I learned fear and guilt, and they are what I feel was blocking my healing."
    How can you develop this relationship? There are a variety of ways to approach this. On her own, Tina decided to start using writing as a way of communication with her inner child. "I write with my left hand which seems to represent that childlike part of me. Then I write back with my right hand. It really helps me to let the inner child express herself that way. It gives her a voice that doesn't come out any other way."
    There are of course countless ways to access the feelings and voice of the inner child. In the following pages l will describe a process which many people with CFS have found very effective. It involves having a dialogue between the wise adult and the inner child. Communication is the key to all relationships, including that with yourself. This process will create an opportunity for you to communicate in a useful way, and to make a clear distinction between important voices within you. By allowing them to get acquainted with each other, you will make it possible to reach higher levels of self-understanding and self-support.

STEP ONE: SETTING THE SCENE
    The dialogue is an intimate and very private conversation. This experience should be treated with respect for its importance, as many people have made profound discoveries through this process.
To prepare the scene, use two chairs facing each other, or two cushions on the floor. You will need to move back and forth between the two seats as you conduct the dialogue. Make sure, as with the other self-healing practices, that you are not disturbed by other people, phones, or other distractions during your dialogue.

STEP TWO: ACCESS THE WISE ADULT SELF
    As mentioned above, it can be a challenge to access the wise adult self, especially if you have been in a state of emotional upset or illness. However, in order for the dialogue to work, you must first access the adult self.
    Some people are helped by sitting quietly and simply stating as sincerely as possible, "I wish to access my adult self now." Take a few moments to calm yourself, sit silently, breathe deeply, and allow a state of calm to descend on you. As the mind clears and you become more relaxed, you will find it easier to feel your integrity, strength, and maturity. A period of meditation is the ideal way to access the wise adult self. If you are following a daily practice of meditation or relaxation processes, this would be the perfect precursor to the dialogue.

STEP THREE: CONDUCT THE DIALOGUE
The invitation
    As in any new relationship with a child, especially one in which you hope to win a child's trust, a rapport must be established. To do this, you must have an attitude of unconditional acceptance toward the child. You must create a situation where the child feels that whatever it says will be accepted. There is no place for judgment, analysis, preaching, lecturing, or teaching in this process. It is not a process for the wise adult to impart any knowledge or any other particular input into the child. Rather, the purpose is to create a context where the child feels free and uninhibited in expressing itself.
    It is only through this free, uninhibited expression that the child will open up and reveal its deepest feelings and thoughts. Hence, especially in the early going, the role of the adult is primarily to invite the child to speak, to create the environment of nonjudgmental, unconditional acceptance, and to listen.
    You might begin by simply inviting the child to share whatever it would like you to know. For instance: "I'd like to get to know you better. I'd like to hear anything you would like me to understand better about you, anything at all that you'd like me to know, about our life." This invitation is short, simple, and non intrusive. You need not try to make any pledges, promises, or deals. It is simply offering an invitation for the child to open up.

The child speaks
    After offering the invitation, switch to the other seat. When you are in the child's seat, it is very important that you alter your posture in such a way that you can feel more childlike. Close your eyes, because the world of the child is the inner world. Hunch your shoulders, drop your head, point your toes together, and take whatever postures help you accentuate the feeling of the child. You may even want to alter your voice.
    Sitting in the child seat with your eyes closed, simply look within and share whatever you feel like sharing. There is no need for you to make sense. Anything you have to share is welcome. Any feelings, needs, thoughts, whatever is on your mind is welcome. If you feel like being silent, that too is welcome. Anything at all that you would like the adult to hear is fine.

The adult responds
    When the child is at a natural stopping point, then get up and move back to the other seat. In making the transition back into the adult, it is very important that you take your time. Stand up, look around the room through the eyes of the full-grown, mature being that you are. book at your body, feel its size and strength, slap your thighs, whatever it takes to make a clear transition back into the adult state.
    One of the most common difficulties in the process is when people forget to make this clear transition. Whatever the child has to say must be welcomed. In some cases, the child will simply remain silent in the beginning. If this happens, your response can be something along the lines of; "I appreciate your being willing to sit with me. Thank you for being here with me.”
Figure 8. Suggested postures for dialogue
between the adult and the inner child

    The child may express long-held resentments, and say something like: "It's about time . . . You never listen to me, you never pay any attention to me, and I hate your guts." Again, the response needs to be unconditional acceptance and appreciation of the child for its willingness to express itself to you. In this case, you could thank the child for being here and being willing to share its feelings.
     It is vital that you maintain a state of unconditional acceptance. This does not mean you have to agree with what the child says. In fact, your focus is not at all on the content of what is being said. Rather, your focus is on the process, the establishing of rapport. In a sense, the words are not nearly as important as the experience the child is having of feeling listened to, perhaps for the first time in its life.
    The purpose is not for you to react, or even give anything to the child, other than this experience of being thoroughly heard. The expression of emotion is in itself curative. Even if the child moves into catharsis about long-standing hurts, your main response must be nondirective, unconditional acceptance, and support.
    It is through this experience of being heard that trust will grow. And the more the child feels it can trust you to respond with acceptance, the more it will open up and share its deeper feelings. Also, as this relationship progresses, the child will gradually allow more and more of your energy to be free for use by the wise adult rather than being bound up in internal conflict. Eventually, as the child and adult become closer, there is a kind of merging or fusion together into a unified being.

The process continues
    The dialogue process may involve only a few movements back and forth, or it may involve several. In each case, however, when you move back to the adult seat, always thank the child for sharing. In fact, thank the child profusely, for this will further reinforce the child's sense of being respected and appreciated. You might respond something like this: "Thank you for sharing that with me. I really appreciate your willingness to be here with me and tell me about yourself. Is there anything else you would like me to know?" And then move back to the child again.
    When we talk about creating a healing relationship with yourself, what do we really mean? As revealed in this dialogue process, the relationship provides an environment which encourages healing. The healing itself is fostered by the expression of deeply felt feelings, the experience of being heard and respected. It is not a matter of your doing any fancy therapy or other techniques that allows healing to occur. Rather it is this simple experience of expressing the unexpressed and being heard, that is most powerful.

Ending the dialogue
    Since the wise adult self is better equipped to be the one who runs our life, it is important to always end the dialogue in the adult position. You may want to finish by thanking the child for its sharing, and for its willingness to be your partner. It is always good to reaffirm your commitment to working on your relationship and being available to the child in the future. Again, be sure you end the process as the adult, so the child is not left in the driver's seat of your life.

SAMPLE DIALOGUE: JOANNE

ADULT: I'd like to get to know you better. I'd like to hear anything you have to share with me.
CHILD: (silence)
ADULT: Thank you for sitting with me. I'm interested in anything you might want me to know. But it's all right if you'd like to be quiet. I appreciate that we can spend this time together.
CHILD: Well, I don't want to talk to you.
ADULT: Thanks for letting me know how you feel. Is there anything else you'd like me to know about our life? I'm interested in you.
CHILD: I don't believe you. You never listen to me. And besides, you always work too much. There's never any time to relax or just feel good. There's always pressure. (Starts crying.)

    Note here that the details of what the child says are not so important as the process of allowing and inviting the child to express herself. What she's saying may not even be accurate. Joanne has not worked for two years, yet her child is preoccupied with the trauma of overwork. It is healing for the child to have the opportunity to express this. Joanne's child is releasing a great deal of pain from the past which she has been carrying, perhaps for years.

ADULT (after giving the child all the time she needs to cry): I so appreciate you for letting me know your feelings. Thank you again for being here with me. Is there more you can share with me?
CHILD: I’m scared. I hate being sick all the time. I hate living here. l never get enough rest. I feel all alone. You don't take care of me.
ADULT: I’m glad you are sharing these things with me. Is there more you can tell me?
CHILD: You're not feeding me enough. I'm hungry all the time. It never seems like there's enough food. I need more water, too.

    This was Joanne's first effort to establish rapport with her child. Remember, in establishing rapport, the most important thing is to help the child feel safe, accepted, and not judged. This is actually a bonding process. The more the child feels accepted, the more she will express, and the stronger will be the bond between her and Joanne.
    If Joanne had responded by confronting or challenging the truth of what the child was saying, the child would have closed down. And if Joanne had responded with "solutions" to the feelings expressed by her child, the child would not have had the opportunity to express all that she did. Also, if Joanne had tried to talk her child out of her feelings, this too would have cut the process short.
    The strength in this dialogue is that Joanne remained in the receptive, accepting mode. She did not become a rescuer or a therapist. She did not preach, patronize, argue, or try to change anything about her child's experience. This atmosphere of receptivity will allow trust to grow between Joanne and her child. And as this trust grows, the child will gradually share more and more significant feelings.
    The more she does this, the more she will unburden herself, and the lighter Joanne will feel. The child will have the feeling of being acknowledged and included in Joanne's life. It may even make itself more known to Joanne, and as time progresses, Joanne will be more intuitively aware of her child's reactions and needs in daily living.

THE FOCUSED DIALOGUE
AND THE ISSUES OF ILLNESS
    So far we have been discussing how to simply establish contact and develop a sense of communication with the inner child. I cannot overemphasize the value of simply listening, rather than feeling you have to solve whatever the child presents. Remember, mere expression of feeling is itself curative. I have seen CFS patients' lives transformed by this simple process.
    Your child may not always have clear input for you regarding questions you might ask. And also, you must remember that the child's responses are not to be treated as "the truth." You would not ask your child for guidance on what medicine to take, for example.
    The child's responses represent its subjective experience, which in itself is a valuable contribution to understanding yourself better.
    Once rapport has been established, however, there may be times when you would like to pursue a particular subject with your child. It can be useful to prepare a list of questions to help you explore how your child feels about a particular issue in your life. This can help you understand more deeply your strong reactions to some things, or your resistance to healthy change.
    Below is a list of questions which could be used to explore the issues of illness. You could write down the questions with space between them so you can write the answers. In this process, you would ask the question from the adult position, move to the child position to respond, and then move back to the adult position before writing down the response.

How well am I taking care of you?
What do you need more of?
What do you need less of?
How well do you trust me to take care of you?
How well am I feeding you?
What do you need in order to sleep better?
How do you feel about our daily treatment routine?
How do you feel about us meditating together?
Are we getting enough relaxation?
How do you feel about the doctor we are seeing?
How do you feel about the medication we are taking?
What do you feel we need in order to help our healing?
Is there anything else you'd like me to know about you?
Loving Yourself
    Your relationship with your inner child can be a healing partnership. To the degree that you can clearly access both sides of this relationship, the wise adult self and the inner child, you can create an environment within your body of harmony and peace. This will have a major impact on your body chemistry and your healing process. Many former CFS patients have pointed to the development of this relationship as the turning point in their recovery.
    One point on which psychologists and history's spiritual teachers agree is the importance of loving yourself. While this seems to be an ideal on which all agree, rarely are we presented with a practical way of putting that principle into action. To embrace your inner child, and to have an open, unconditional acceptance as demonstrated in this dialogue process, is in fact the fulfillment of that ideal.


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Recovering from CFS:
The Home Self-Empowerment Program

For information about Dr. Collinge's four-CD audio program of inspirational talks and guided self-healing exercises that accompany this book, click here