I love these nesting dolls as they provide a visual representation of how we all have younger versions of ourselves inside of us.
As we grow up and become adults we don’t leave behind our younger selves, they remain within us. All the layers of our developing selves add up to the person we become. In a good enough environment these layers or parts of us are well developed, resiliant and adaptable, creating a strong adult self.
A good enough environment offers safety, protection, boundaries and opportunities to grow well as an individual. As a child learns to become independent and resourceful, they ‘borrow’ the security, regulation and support of adults around them. They can then internalise and integrate these resources, and be able to access them to problem solve, self soothe and self regulate.
What happens then, if the environment isn’t adequate and the developing parts haven’t got the resources to thrive? They may be damaged or entirely neglected with not enough adult to borrow from. A person may look like an adult on the outside but if there are interuptions or deficits to the little selves within, it will be evident through a lack of self soothing and regulation, defensive behaviours and unhelpful coping mechanisms. I think its important to honour the defences and coping mechanisms as they once ensured survival and made the lack of adult protection, tolerable. It becomes a problem when it no longer works in adulthood and this is often the point that a person enters therapy, to seek resolve from the stuckness of ineffective behaviours and beliefs.
The parts of a person that were developmentally damaged are still there inside the adult exterior and need now, what they should have received back then; safety, recognition, protection and space to grow. The little ones inside still need assurance that they are being taken care of, but how can this happen if we can’t go back and rewrite our experiences?
We can’t re-do the actual experience of growing chronologically, however we can repeat the processes, developmentally. We can borrow the regulation of a safe other and learn what we did not have the opportunity to learn then. What does this look like? Well, as this is a therapy blog, therapy can be a place for this new experience to take place. An attuned, empathic, available therapist can provide regulation and a safe container for developmental growth to take place (I am over simplifying this process here) and over time, a persons adult self can internalise and take on the caretaking of their own child self.
As I said in the beginning, we don’t leave behind the little ones inside, they are still there. We can find them and tell them what they needed to hear then, and provide now, what they needing providing then. Our adult self can take our little self by the hand and let them know they’re not alone now. We don’t need to tell the baby inside to stop having needs, or the child to go away or the teenager to shut up. We can own all of our parts of self and embrace what each brings, given the right environment to thrive.
Up next in PART 2: The little ones inside contain our sense of play, creativity and imagination.