Meet your outer child
by Susan Anderson —
What makes you break your diet, run up your credit card or be attracted to all the wrong people? You know these are not healthy things to do; you know you are sabotaging your own best interest, but sometimes you just cannot help it. Sometimes you want what you want and there is no reasoning with the devil on your shoulder.
Each of us has self-sabotaging tendencies, the origins of which elude us. Be confused no longer; these behaviors are attributable to a part of your personality that perhaps you did not even know you had — your outer child.
You may already be familiar with the concept of an inner child, a psychological construct developed by John Bradshaw, Charles Whitfield and others. Your inner child is your emotional core — the innocent, vulnerable, often needy part of your personality. Many of its feelings emerged at a tender young age and still reside in your psyche; others arise anew from fresh experience. Whatever the origins of its feelings, your inner child needs tending to; it needs to be heard, and it should be honored.
No less important, your outer child is a psychological concept that I have identified to describe the part of your personality that acts out your inner child’s feelings in self-defeating ways, without giving you (the adult in charge) a chance to intervene. Simply put, your outer child is responsible for your misbehavior. Think of your outer child as the impulsive and willful adolescent in you — the person who has trouble regulating behavior and resisting primal urges.
Your outer child says “yes” to a third glass of wine when you, the adult, had already decided on a two-drink limit. Your outer child decides to watch the game when you had resolved to clean out the garage. Your outer child wants what it wants and pulls out all the stops to get its own way.
As with an inner child, we all have an outer child; it is not a flaw. It is, however, the obstinate, selfish, self-centered part of us we all share — a part that until now we have failed to recognize as universal. The outer child is universal because we all have primal feelings we are barely aware of that drive our most deeply entrenched defense mechanisms and knee-jerk reactions — if we let them.
Your outer child manifests outwardly what your inner child feels inside. For instance, if your inner child’s core fear is abandonment, it is your outer child that manifests this fear with all sorts of inappropriate behaviors. When you feel insecure in a romantic relationship, the outer child acts out your vulnerable feelings in ways that can only be interpreted as desperate. You might freak out, freeze up or blow up when your date keeps you waiting more than a few minutes for a call back.
In fact, that outer child usually has a hair trigger when it comes to abandonment fear — the nerve that jangles so easily when any of us feels slighted, dismissed or rejected. Hence, waiting those few minutes for the phone to ring triggers an overriding fear that you will wind up all alone, bereft of love forever.
If you think that I am giving a name to this part of your personality in order to let you off the hook for bad behavior, think again. Being able to identify and recognize your outer child is an important step toward taming it.
I have found in private practice with clients and countless workshop attendees that being able to separate the personality in this way is the first important step toward controlling your actions and your own emotional destiny.
Susan Anderson is a psychotherapist and the author of Taming Your Outer Child and The Journey from Abandonment to Healing. The founder of the Outer Child and Abandonment Recovery movements, she has devoted more than 30 years of clinical experience and research to helping people resolve abandonment and overcome self-sabotage. outerchild.net or newworldlibrary.com.
Reprinted from AzNetNews, Volume 34, Number 2, April/May 2015.