My inner child is a brat. Alright, I shouldn’t be so judgmental. My inner child is not healthy. Not yet, but hopefully she’ll get there someday. What she is, is Angry and Vulnerable. For as much as I hate, loathe, and detest to admitting any kind of vulnerability in real life, here is where I allow myself to admit to those facets of myself that I need to face. So what is it exactly that I’m looking at?
Someone in this mode might appear frightened, sad, overwhelmed, or helpless. This mode is like a young child in the world who needs the care of adults in order to survive but is not getting that care. The child desperately needs a parent and will tolerate just about anything ot get one.
The specific nature of the wounded Vulnerable Child depends on the schema:
Abandoned Child – the parent leaves the child alone for long periods of time.
Abused Child – the child has been hit excessively
Deprived Child – love has been withheld
Defective Child – The child has been harshly criticized.
Abandoned Child mode is especially common for someone with a Borderline Personality Disorder. By now it should be pretty obvious that abandonment issues are a major characterization of BPD and this is the aspect of the psyche that encompasses that focus on abandonment. In the Abandoned Child mode patients appear fragile and childlike. They seem sorrowful, frantic, frightened, unloved, lost. They feel helpless and utterly alone and are obsessed with finding a parent figure who will take care of them. In this mode, someone may seem like a very young child, innocent and dependent. They idealize nurturers and have fantasies of being rescued by them. They engage in desperate efforts to prevent caretakers from abandoning them, and at times their perceptions of abandonment approach delusional proportions. Something I found very interesting is, in this mode, someone with BPD usually lacks object permanence. A soothing mental image of ‘the caretaker’ cannot be held onto unless that person is physically present. The Abandoned Child lives in an eternal present, without clear concepts of past and future, increasing the patient’s sense of urgency and impulsivity.
For me the Defective Child aspect is particularly present as well. Oftentimes I’d say it’s even more prominent. I feel almost a sad resignation to my Abandoned Child, not accepting, but expecting that everyone will eventually leave. I don’t want it, but in a weird way, my expecting it prepares me for it and I can try to safeguard myself so it doesn’t devastate me as much by not allowing people so close to me. However, my feelings of defectiveness beat down on me constantly. I can’t stop functioning; therefore there is always something I could be doing better, that I’m not doing well enough. And if I’m not capable of these things, why would someone need to have me around, tying right back into my abandonment issues.
Encompassed Schemas = Abandonment, Mistrust/Abuse, Emotional Deprivation, Defectiveness, Social Isolation, Dependence/Incompetence, Vulnerability to Harm or Illness, Enmeshment/Undeveloped Self, Negativity/Pessimism.
As you can see this is a good chunk of the recognizable schemas. Since this mode encompasses so many it’s considered the core mode for schema work to focus on and ultimately it’s what therapists are most concerned with healing.
Enraged. This what the Angry Child has become. In this mode someone is likely to vent anger directly in response to perceived unmet needs or unfair treatment. When this schema is triggered someone may feel abandoned, abused, deprived, or subjugated. It’s likely that a patient might yell, lash out verbally or have violent fantasies and impulses.
The Impulsive/Undisciplined Child acts impulsively to fill needs and pursue pleasure without regard to limits or concern for others. This mode is the child in a natural state, uninhibited and “uncivilized”, irresponsible and free (think Peter Pan). The Impulsive/Undisciplined Child has low frustration tolerance and cannot delay short-term gratification for the sake of long-term goals.
I have a feeling this is the mode that provides a lot of the negative stigma surrounding Borderline Personality Disorder. The one clinicians and therapists most frequently associate with BPD, that flip into angry venting. Which is funny, because according to Young, it’s really not the mode most patients spend the majority of their time in.
More often you get a scenario where the Detached Protector or Punitive Parent mode operates to suppress feelings in order to protect the Self from letting someone into a vulnerable position, which works to block the needs and feelings of the Abandoned Child mode. Unfortunately when you do this for long enough those needs and feelings bottle up and accumulate and a growing sense of inner pressure begins to build. And build, and build… until something happens and quick as that the person may flip into Angry child mode and all of a sudden be consumed with rage. This is when all that anger is vented in inappropriate ways. Someone with BPD will act impulsively to have their immediate needs met, which makes them appear manipulative and reckless. Or they may make demands that seem entitled or spoiled and work to alienate others. These demands aren’t really coming from a sense of entitlement though. They’re just desperate attempts to have those basic emotional needs met.
When you’ve lived so long feeling deprived, being deprived, of something that should be so basic and natural, how can you not be angry about it? Especially when it all seems just out of reach. I can’t even begin to list the number of times it’s seemed like I found someone that I wanted to let in, that seemed like they wanted to be let in, only to find myself holding back, blocking my ability to form a real, solid attachment because I KNOW that if I do I’ll only be hurt again. Or I’ve chosen people that subconsciously I know can’t give me what I need because believe it or not, this is also safer than allowing someone to actually enter that place in your heart where they can do you real damage. The frustration is enormous. And infuriating. I’m furious at them for showing me a glimpse of what I actually need. They have it, shown it, but choose not to give it. Don’t I deserve it? Furious at myself for not having held back, for placing hope in someone else. It feels like my own fault for having let someone close enough that I begin to push away my protection. I blame them. I blame myself. Guilt. Anger. It’s a lot of intense emotion to have roiling beneath the surface. When you want something, but are afraid or don’t know how to get that thing it can become too much and you have to do something, anything, to reconcile all these conflicting feelings. Messy.
The trick is learning to look for what you really need in healthy places. Developing the Healthy Child that can feel loved and contented where the needs of that inner child are adequately met. But how do you get to this place? That’s the goal. One technique therapists utilize is limited Reparenting….