Chapter 1a of Meeting the Voices in My Head and Searching for an Inner Adult
I don’t remember, but I’m sure I didn’t begin with so many voices in my head. When I was a newborn, I possessed only one point of view, but was unable to articulate it. When I had a need, I felt it as acute, but undefinable distress. I cried instinctively but didn’t even know what was wrong because I had no understanding of what could be wrong, nor words to describe it. In that time in my life, I had no feelings, perceptions, or learned behaviors, but I did have nameless emotions, sensations, and instincts. I had no desires; but boy, did I have needs.
Lay people use the words emotion and feeling interchangeably, but psychologists regard them differently. To a shrink, an emotion is a neuropsychological change in the body, feeling is the label we put on it. That queasiness you sense in your stomach is an emotion. When you call it butterflies, fear, dread, excitement, or anxiety, that’s a feeling.
By the same token, the Body has sensations, different from perceptions. Sensations are the raw data that come in from the senses. Perceptions are processed data. You sense blotches of light; you perceive a table.
Then, there are instincts versus learned behavior. When the Body acts on its own, it does so out of instincts, which are behaviors present from birth, whereas learned behavior is acquired from education, observation, or experience. When you touch a hot stove and pull away, that’s instinct. When you call yourself an idiot for touching it, that’s a learned behavior.
Similarly, a need is different from a desire. A need is like a hole; desires are what you think will fill that hole. Sometimes they do, but sometimes the desire is a poor fit for the hole, and sometimes the hole is so vast no satisfied desires can fill it up.
I call this inarticulate part my Innermost Child. Back before I had any capacity for language, all I had was the Innermost Child. Today, it’s still there. It’s the part that emotes, senses, and acts out of instinct. It still has needs that I attempt to fill with desires. I’m also in touch with this part of me when I have an experience that’s beyond words. It’s the part that’s stirred by ineffable experiences; the part that communicates by touch, by look, and by gut-wrenching cries of anguish.
Getting in Touch with the Innermost Child
Primal therapy, where, under the supervision of a therapist, the client screams his head off, might do me some good if my Innermost Child has been boxed out by other parts that want me to act more civilized. Primal screams can get me in touch with a truth that’s beyond words, that words only obscure. But screaming is not the only way the Innermost Child lets itself be known. When I sit with a man in grief and allow his tears to flow in silence, without filling up the space with inane conversation or stupid attempts to comfort, I’m making room for the grieving person’s Innermost Child. When I walk with a friend and just enjoy the feeling of one another’s presence, we’re walking with each other’s Innermost Child. When I’m in awe of beauty, struck dumb by the majesty of the stars, the mountains, or by grace, it is my Innermost Child that’s taking it all in. When I look into my beloved’s eyes and tenderly stroke her face without the need for words, I’m gazing on and touching her Innermost Child; and she, most likely, is apprehending mine.
The Innermost Child is utterly helpless and totally vulnerable. If you have a shred of decency, when you encounter someone’s Innermost child, you just want to take care of them and make them safe. There’s something terrifying about being the Innermost Child and having no one to take care of you. It’s fine to experience the Innermost Child in a safe environment like a therapist’s office, at a funeral, with a friend, in a supportive church, or with a beloved. But those moments when I don’t know what’s going on and don’t feel safe are truly horrifying. I’ve got to believe I had many such moments early in my life in which I lay in my crib, screaming bloody murder, not knowing what was wrong or what could make it better.
The Original Trauma
My Innermost Child experienced a trauma, a trauma I believe we all had. It occurred when I was that newborn, screaming in my crib. I don’t recall that trauma because I had no capacity to remember anything in a way that can be recalled, but I’m sure I had it. I can tell by how I feel today. No one was doing anything bad to me, nor was I especially neglected in any way, so you would call the child protective service. I was just screaming. Something was wrong, but, because I had no ability to understand, I didn’t know what. I might have just been hungry, but I was unable to connect a particular sensation in the stomach with the need for food. I not only needed food, but I also needed someone to tell me what I needed, what it all meant, what that feeling signified. I was suspended over an Abyss and was crying to be saved.