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Outer Child and Childhood Abandonment

Outer Child has a field day acting out the primal fears that seep out of your oldest abandonment wounds.

Our current abandonment fears are cumulative, reaching all the way back into our long lost childhoods. The abandonment wound is universal and consists of all of the little losses, disappointments, uncertainties, disconnections, and fears we experienced from birth onward (mostly forgotten or distorted by memory). Things happening in our current life can easily push our old emotional buttons – especially ones that got installed during our past losses and abandonments – and this can really get our Outer Child going! We may not remember how these buttons got installed, but we can usually locate the button pushers – those nimble fingers belonging to our own hands or someone else’s. The tools of the program (explained in Taming Your Outer Child) are designed to help us de-activate the buttons so we can curtail Outer from acting them out in ways that interfere in our lives.

Emotional Hot Buttons

The Outer Child program deals with feelings bubbling up in the here and now whose trigger buttons got installed during your earlier emotional experiences – especially past abandonment traumas both large and small. I spent many years researching and working with young children who were in the throes of primal abandonment scenarios ranging from the ordinary – Mommy had a new baby – to the extreme – a child was sent to a foster home. What I observed had stunning implications. These children perceived all loss, disconnection, disappointment (no matter how seemingly insignificant), as abandonment. In terms of the impact on children’s development – what mattered was the degree of stress and temperament of the child.

Grasping this insight helped me see how important it was for parents, teachers, therapists, and other adults to understand children’s susceptibility to abandonment trauma, how quickly they develop highly patterned Outer Child behaviors in response to it, and what adults can do to mitigate its traumatic impact.

Children feel diminished by all loss and disconnection whether or not they had any direct involvement in the traumatic event. For example, a little girl whose mommy has died can feel personally diminished – lose self-esteem – by such a loss. Here’s how: She may know (or hope) she did nothing at all to contribute to her mother’s death, but she doubts her self-worth none-the-less. Why would a death cause a child to doubt herself? Well for one thing she sees other children all have mothers. She also knows that there’s often a reason for things and she concludes that she’s simply not special enough to have one. She observes other mothers fusing over their children, laughing at their jokes, beaming over their accomplishments, baking cookies for the class on their birthdays, picking them up from school, haranguing them about their homework, inviting friends over for play dates. But this little girl doesn’t have her mother anymore. Her assumption is that she does not rate having what the other children have – a living, breathing mother of her own – because she has unconsciously concluded she’s not entitled to one.

Molly represents a less drastic example. Her abandonment fears kicked up at school:

“The one abandonment scene that stands out is that I wasn’t good at math. I was great at reading, but not math. The other kids would be busy dividing fractions, but I would get stuck and not know what to do. I felt there was something wrong with me, something missing. For me, at an early age, this math deficit triggered abandonment fear – I was terrified that I would fail at life and somehow be left behind. Of course, on some level, I knew this to be not true because I had supportive parents. But, even into adulthood, any new learning challenge sent me into abandonment fear. I felt inadequate and vulnerable and super-sensitive. New jobs are incredibly stressful. Fearing I’ll fail and be cast out any minute really held me back. I was an underachiever.”

Children feel personally diminished by all types of experiences that cause abandonment fear, but they acquire more rational ways of looking at themselves when their minds develop more fully. Eventually they learn to distinguish things that were beyond their control. They learn to place some of their relative strengths and weakness into better perspective.

“I didn’t make it on the baseball team, but I did well in just about everything else.”
“I wasn’t great at math, but I went on to become an editor at a newspaper.”

So why then, do their old abandonment scenarios still pack such a wallop? Well, that’s where the amygdala with its fear-conditioning and the hippocampus with its memory malfunctions come in (explained in Taming Your Outer Child). They’re why Molly, an intelligent person, kept reacting to a subliminal abandonment fear that she had long since rationalized intellectually. The amygdala doesn’t answer to rational thinking. Its job is to react instantly – before you’ve had time to use your intellect – to protect you from what it perceives as a potential threat to your survival. And your hippocampus which is supposed to provide context information that would otherwise help you realize that abandonment fear is in appropriate to the situation, is down for the count (due to stress hormones and other factors).

Any old trigger will do – meeting a group of people for the first time, being assigned a new work task – anything that arouses feelings of inadequacy that in the past made you feel susceptible to being left behind. Before you’ve had a chance to use that rational mind to make a more realistic assessment of your value, your amygdala has sounded its alarm, prompting your lower brain to go into fight flight or freeze mode – all automatic Outer Child defenses.

“I would be all prepared to make a great impression and then suddenly feel inhibited. I froze.”
“When I sense rejection, I get angry and go into fight mode.”

Molly continues:

“When I’d start a new job, my abandonment fear allowed my Outer Child to gain the upper hand. Outer’s defense was to try to make me look invisible. I guess it was a kind of freezing up. So, I’d avoid eye contact with anyone in authority, which hindered my peripheral vision. I’d routinely crashing into people’s desks, door jams – anything in my path. So much for keeping a low profile. Then Outer Me would try to cover up my accidents with all sorts of diversionary tactics, like laughing at myself when I’d knock someone over, so that people wouldn’t be able to tell how embarrassed I was or that I must surely be an imposter.”

To explore more about your childhood wounds, visit outerchild.net.

  1. Sire
    April 20, 2011 at 10:02 am

    The strong behaviour and negative power of the outer child is devastating and I have done the “turn around” exercise. It seems like a good and helpful method, and I feel better afterwards about the theme I bring up in the exercise.

    One question: Do you transfer the power the outer has to the bigger you, or is it handed over to the inner child? What if you gave the outer all the positive power? Think about how useful the outer could be then with all the power and could be of help, instead of a self defeating maniac. Or do you gather all three to have the positive power together, like a team?

    Maybe I have misunderstood something in the exercise but what scenario should be the outcome?

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