One of the great and regular foundations of human life is the family. It’s definite that you have had a father and a mother, even though you may not have known one or other or both of them for some reason. You also had four grandparents. You might have a brother or several of them, and the same with sisters. Widening out you may have an aunt and/or an uncle, several perhaps, and some cousins. And it can spread even wider, but we won’t.
All of those are actual family, blood-tied people, people who aren’t ‘you’ but who are genetically involved with you and no doubt emotionally, geographically and relationship-wise too.
Now let’s look at the same thing but in a very different way – a way that is entirely about you and what goes on in you with your “family”. We are going to talk about these family relationships and insert the word ‘inner’ before each of them.
The idea is that our experience of belonging to real-people family members also describes what we are like inside ourselves. We bring the idea from the outside over to the inside of us. The easiest example of that, and one which is widely-used, is our own “inner child”.
This is the part of you which feels and does things which are like those of a little child. Children play, feel a sense of wonder, smile and have fun, they are themselves, love a cuddle, and importantly, they trust the people who look after them. We do realise that some children suffer terrible things but that is not what we’re dealing with here.
Your “inner child” comes to the fore when you allow yourself to do and feel some of those child-like things, when you stop thinking and being typically adult (nothing wrong with that!) and you let playfulness take over for a while. The point is that this part of your inner family is important for you – it lets you express your feelings and your love of life in an open innocent way. Some people have this part of them there a lot of the time while others may have to work hard to let it come out, let it show.
That one is fairly easy to get hold of. We’re going to look at some others in our inner family, with the idea that we can draw on each of them when that will help us. Think about the word ‘parent’ and what you associate with it. Perhaps that would include giving birth and becoming a parent, bringing up a child, taking responsibility and care, guiding, preventing, teaching, and sometimes admonishing.
Our “inner parent” seems to be that part of us which takes care over us, in many ways like our conscience. It’s not repressive, it will be attentive, supportive.
From that we can think about our “inner father” and our “inner mother” each of which is different. Of course we have our “Heavenly Father” and that great fact should not be lost sight of. When we draw on our “inner father” it may be in the area of how we manage our life, take up a new interest, balance our availability or not to others and generally think things through.
When we draw on our “inner mother” it is a very different set of provisions. This might involve noting the way we are feeling, giving ourselves adequate time to relax and enjoy what we are doing, with the occasional treat to ourselves. It also seems to suggest communication and what we would like to share with others.
If we then go up a generation we come to our “inner grandparents” and this one is fascinating. When we draw on those, it opens us to our sense of what makes us who we are, where we belong, what we feel matters and how well we really know ourselves. That part of our inner family seems to involve taking a broader view of our place in life.
And that’s probably enough to start with. We can ponder other relationships – brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles and cousins, in this “inner family” we have. That’s for you to take further.
While the whole idea of it is rather imaginative, it is a helpful way of reminding us that we are people who can make personal choices and call on other appropriate patterns of behaviour than our usual ones. It also helps us to see that we need our own balance and diversity – times to play, times to plan, times to show feelings, times to look at our place in life. Spiritual life and regeneration is about becoming different than we often think we are.