Child parts come in all shapes and sizes – small, tall, skinny, short, chunky, pristine, messy, filthy, princess-like, raggedy, male, female, quiet, noisy, screaming, crying, silent, confused, dazed, sleepy, busy, playful, happy, sad, angry, fearful, bouncing, babyish, stiff, awkward, hurting, numb.
As different as they are, they all have similar qualities. They are typically some of the oldest, most knowledgeable members of your system.
If they are the youngest parts of your system, how can they be the oldest?
Let me explain.
For example, if you split off a 5-year-old child part when you (and the body) were a literal age 5, and you are now age 35, that child part has been around for 30 years. Even though that little one might not have aged during that time, they may very well have seen or participated in many of your life’s events over the past 30 years. Being around for 30 years means they are one of your oldest parts. They could contain 30 years worth of memories, information, emotions, relationships, etc.
Child-aged parts do not have to be split off when the body was young, but many of them were. They will be very much aware of many of your life’s events. They will remember who many of the people are, and they will know who else from your system was involved in activities of the time. They lived through all the various years, so their ability to know and remember can be impressive.
Child parts will also, of course, retain much of the trauma information from your early years of life. People are at their most natural dissociative ability when under age 7 – the same years when they are also the most physically vulnerable, small, and defenseless.
For young children, almost every single person in the whole wide world is bigger, stronger, and smarter than they are. Children are at the mercy of the adults around them, and when those adults are sadistic – cruel – vicious, children have to find a way to cope. Being physically unable to defend themselves, and typically not given the option to literally leave abusive environments, children can “leave” in their minds, even if they can’t leave with their feet.
During the crisis moments of the actual trauma, dissociative splitting is incredibly helpful. Going far away inside when you cannot go far away outside at least gives most of the person a fighting chance to be in a place to be as far away from the trauma as possible.
But it is sad, massively sad.
These child parts were split off because there was no other help for them. There was no other way out for them. There was no other safety for them. There was no other protection, no other escape for their pain, and all too often, there was no other comfort for their heartbreak and emotional conflict.
The very first time you see your child parts, they may very well be locked into the same state where they were split off. They may still be trapped in that “time zone” of the original trauma, and they may or may not know that years of time have gone by. They may present with the same injuries, messiness, blood, and gore that they experienced at the time of their trauma. Or they may manifest in metaphorical pictures of what they felt like during their trauma, or in the aftermath.
Most of a dissociative survivor’s internal kid parts were split off to deal with trauma-based situations, so unless you had a happy childhood, don’t expect to find bunches of happy child parts.
Because these little young ones are the foundation of your multiplicity, it is very important for the older leaders and hosts of the system to understand that so much of your healing revolves around meeting the needs of these children frozen in time.
Each time a little part of you had to split off and stay stuck in that their trauma, a piece of you – the overall person – was unable to grow up in a healthy, safe, productive manner. And honestly, until their young needs are met in a safe manner, the inner kids will stay there, exactly as their abusers left them.
The good news is that as you meet the needs of these child parts, they will naturally progress on their own.
Many mental health professionals use age progression techniques to “make the kids grow up quickly.” I have a different perspective on that. First of all, I do not think that snapping the fingers and magically saying (or hypnotically suggesting) that kids parts grow older means that the kids can actually get older. I am sure they will try their darndest to do that. But I doubt that they will be able to maintain that kind of suggested aging.
In my opinion, the child parts are frozen in these young ages for a reason.
They were not safe enough to move forward in life, and their entire development was arrested on the spot. Pay attention to that. Listen to them. Look at their appearance. Have empathy for their emotional state. All this information means something. They are telling you exactly where they were, what was happening, and why they are stuck there.
If a real child, in the outside world, was standing in front of you, and looked like that, what would you do for that child?
How would you help an outside child to overcome a current-day trauma?
Use those same exact skills to help your inner children.
As you tend to all their unmet needs, and give your child parts the healthy, positive, comforting response they needed at the time of their splitting, they will be allowed to move forward from the place they were stuck.
If your child parts need safety, protect them from whatever they are afraid of.
If your child parts need food, feed them.
If your child parts need a drink, give them something safe to drink.
If child parts need a chance to play, let them have fun.
If your child parts need to learn and develop their intellect, let them try new things and develop more skills.
Figure out what they have been lacking for genuine growth and development, and give it to them.
Create positive, healing experiences for your child parts. As you give them what they were missing in the first place, they will automatically, naturally grow older. They won’t stay “stuck” as they are once their needs are being met. They will progress. They will learn. They will expand their vocabulary. They will find new skills and develop greater mastery.
This creates natural age progression. Your internal child parts can mature the same as any outside child would. It is a much more realistic way of helping your inner kids to grow up. It is real. Genuine. It’s not going to fall apart at the first hint of stress.
However, growing up and maturing doesn’t automatically mean your child parts will get older.
More about that and ideas about how, where, when to do all this will be presented in future writings.
I wish you the best in your healing journey.
Copyright © 2008-2020 Kathy Broady MSW and Discussing Dissociation