Welcome to Your Outer Child
What makes you break your diet, or run up your credit card, or be attracted to all the wrong people? You know these aren’t healthy things to do, you know you’re sabotaging your own best interest, but sometimes you just can’t help it. Sometimes you want what you want and there’s 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! I’m here to tell you that these behaviors are attributable to a part of your personality that perhaps you didn’t 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, 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’d 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. Outer Child is universal because we all have primal feelings we are barely aware of but 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, Outer 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, Outer Child usually has a hair trigger when it comes to abandonment fear—the nerve that jangles so easily when any of us feel 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.
Lest you think that I’m giving a name to this part of your personality in order to let us all 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 with my work in private practice with clients and with 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.
I initially coined the term Outer Child for my book Journey from Abandonment to Healing (2000). I didn’t introduce the concept and a list of Outer Child traits until nearly the end of the book, but Outer Child somehow managed to take center stage. Almost immediately after publication I began hearing from readers wanting more information about how to tame their wayward Outer Children. I have spent the past decade applying this tool to a broader range of issues and clinically testing exercises I’ve adapted to overcome Outer Child’s most entrenched behaviors, a program you’ll read about in the following pages and chapters.
YOU DON’T HAVE TO BE THAT PERSON
Think of the things you yearn for—to have a happier love life, to break free of debt, to achieve greater recognition in your field—and consider all the impulsive little things you do that actually hinder your progress toward those goals. Your Outer Child represents that hindrance; it’s all the counterproductive habits and tendencies that keep you forever wanting to achieve, but always falling short.
Let’s say your Inner Child feels a little anxious in a social situation and urgently wants you to make a good impression. Your Outer Child acts out your nervousness, insisting on making its own impression. It might share information that’s way too personal for cocktail party banter, or express an opinion with the kind of vehemence best reserved for competitive debate. So much for that good impression.
One of Outer’s favorite ploys is procrastination. It creates as much sabotage by what it doesn’t do as by what it does, gumming up the works with indecision and passivity. For instance, it ignores you when you tell it what to do, like “Go to the gym.” Instead Outer just goes right on eating potato chips and lounging in front of the TV. Outer Child is the guy who talks constantly about how he’s going move to a cattle ranch out west, but never gets around to it. You don’t have to be that person. You can do something to tip the balance in favor of your Adult Self when those internal power struggles arise.
The concept of the Outer Child is a revolutionary self-awareness tool that lets you look at your own behavior from a powerful new perspective. It reveals the third dimension of your personality: the self-rebellious dimension. In exploring this new dimension, you gain access to a part of yourself that was operating undercover, until now.
Those of you familiar with the terms Id, Ego, and Superego may wonder how the concept of an Outer Child fits in. They’re closely related, though Outer Child is a newly identified component of the psyche, one that expands Freud’s theory of the Id by taking it into the behavioral realm. We’ll explore this relationship in more detail in the next chapter.
For now, I want to reassure you that you can redress and redirect your Outer Child’s subterfuge; it doesn’t have to hold you back any longer. Whether Outer Child has been preventing you from sticking to a diet, curbing your spending, overcoming performance anxiety, ending procrastination, improving a relationship, becoming a better parent, or reaching your potential, you can finally create the change you’ve always dreamed of.
In the interest of full disclosure, it’s important to know that your Outer Child isn’t going to give up its power over you without a fight. Which is why the program I created offers powerful tools for overcoming its resistance. Outer Child doggedly fights change—especially change directed at its favorite bad habits. It balks at doing the right thing and hankers after precisely those things that are bad for your health, reputation, marriage, career, figure, or bank account.
That’s because Outer is a glutton for immediate gratification and adept at foiling your best laid self-improvement plans by cleverly substituting self-indulgence for self-nurturance. The difference between the two is vast, but Outer, a master of rationalization, does its best to confuse them. Self-nurturing is taking action to truly benefit your life. Outer prefers self-indulging, in other words, momentary feel-good things like buying an extravagance on credit, or taking another nap—things that are easy to rationalize in the short run, but sabotage your goals and dreams in the long run. You will learn exercises throughout this book to help you delay gratification, remain goal-directed, and guide your behavior in the direction of your highest potential.
OUTER CHILD AS LOVE ADDICT
So who, exactly, can benefit from this program? For starters, many of the people who read my first book on abandonment. I mentioned above that a lot of your self-sabotaging behaviors hearken back to unresolved abandonment issues. Depending on your earlier losses, heartbreaks, and disappointments, Outer Child can wreak havoc in romantic situations by acting too needy. When you become unsure of your partner’s love, you grow these enormous emotional suction cups that are irresistibly drawn to your lover. You frantically try to hide them lest they scare her away, but to no avail; new emotional suction cups keep surfacing, making it increasingly difficult to appear self-contained. The Outer Child program shows you how to redirect that neediness at yourself—so that you, and not an unwitting partner, become ultimately responsible for fulfilling your deepest emotional needs.
Outer Child has lots of other relationship issues. One of its patterns is so prevalent that in one of my books I coined a special term for it: abandoholism—addiction to the emotional drama and love chemicals of abandonment. Abandoholics are exclusively attracted to people who are unavailable. Their Outer Children only feel passion when in “pursuit mode”—when they are trying to win over someone’s love. This puts many an otherwise secure marriage (in which partners sometimes take each other for granted) in the doldrums and has many a single person chasing after hard-if-not-impossible-to-get lovers. There are those who are well aware of the fact that they’re love addicts and would readily admit they “get a high on abandohol” and complain that “otherwise life feels too humdrum.”
Abandoholic Outer Children are addicted to the biochemistry of abandonment, which is why they suddenly feel no chemistry when a previously unavailable romantic interest actually does become available. Learning to tame your Outer Child helps you uncross your brain wires so that you can feel love and passion without having to chase an emotional challenge.
WHEN OUTER CHILD TAKES CONTROL
Outer Child specializes in power and control. Its primary adversary is your Adult Self. When you try to achieve a goal, Outer Child can act like an oppositionally defiant 10-year-old. Outer is bent on wearing you down, on getting you to fall back into one of your old habits, addictions, or compulsions. That’s why awareness alone isn’t enough to stop it. You’ll need my program’s specialized tools to learn how to take the reins securely into your own hands.
Outer Child has been known to grab control of the celebrity spotlight. We’ve all witnessed some of our most honored officials, athletes, and movie stars whose Outer Children got caught in the act of philandering, using steroids or other drugs, perpetrating financial scandals, or shouting “politically incorrect” epithets in public—all examples of their Outer Children breaking through their public personas and gaining control.
Speaking of control . . .
Beware: Outer can catch you off guard and take control when you least expect it, especially when you are angry. Outer overreacts to anger. Sometimes it overreacts by underreacting. This is because many people are too insecure to risk expressing direct anger toward someone (like their boss or lover); they fear losing that person’s acceptance. Outer can act out your fear and lack of assertiveness by getting you to take your anger out on yourself. One of my workshop attendees described just such an episode:
The other day when I failed to speak up for myself for the millionth time, I started slamming things around the kitchen. I accidentally broke a dish I really liked. That was my good old Outer Child acting-out in its usual self-destructive way.
In other cases, Outer takes your anger out on innocent bystanders and makes you look like a monster. As one workshop attendee put it, “When my Outer Child is cranky, it tries to bite someone’s head off.”
Outer’s control issues really kick up in relationships: When Outer Child gets into power struggles with other people’s Outer Children, watch out. Outer Children tend to battle one another for control and wrangle over “who’s right.” They also take one another as emotional hostages, demanding reparations for hurts and betrayals inflicted by old relationships, dating all the way back to childhood. (If only you could send your respective Outer Children out to play—or to Outer Childcare!—so that the Adults could work things out rationally and fairly.) The Outer Child program I will offer in this book shows you how to nip these Outer Child shenanigans in the bud and untangle the interference. My program provides a powerful new model for couples counseling as well.
Your Outer Child doesn’t just try to bully your partner or other people; it bullies you: When your Adult Self is too weak and your Outer Child is too strong (as it is for many of us), Outer can become so powerful that it completely controls the person.
Some people, like this former client, are almost all Outer Child:
I ate what I wanted, even though I got fat and lost my looks. I drank want I wanted, even after I got arrested a few times for drunk driving. I spent what I wanted, even though I eventually foreclosed on my mortgage.
Think of your Outer Child as a horse—an untamed horse—and your Adult Self as a trainer trying to mount it. Sometimes the horse is more determined, more powerful than the trainer and you’re thrown from the horse. Then Outer Child goes galloping off in his own direction. The Outer Child program in this book educates you about the creature you’re trying to control, offers tools for the job and lots and lots of opportunities to practice using these tools so that eventually you’ll be the one in control.
OUTER CHILD UNDERCOVER
Outer’s maneuvers can be subtle. It wears many disguises. It slyly masquerades as free will, while leaving you, the Adult, in shackles. It poses as your ally, but is really distracting you from attending to your true needs.
Since Outer Child is an outward manifestation of your emotional self, some of its characteristics are on prominent public display, out in the open for others to see. We don’t mind owning up to some of these behaviors, but there are others we don’t like to acknowledge. It’s far easier to identify those in other people. Take self-centeredness for example: Outer loves to project this less-than-stellar trait onto others, usually behind their backs. (“I can’t stand the way she grabs center stage; it’s always all about her. I never get a chance to say anything.”) Gaining Outer Child awareness allows us to own up to our own self-centeredness and transform it into a positive force.
Think of it this way: Outer is you on autopilot. Its mission—to hijack your Adult Self’s best interests—keeps you forever stuck in old patterns. Outer is always waiting in the wings to spring one of its knee-jerk, defensive strategies, especially when you’re trying to change.
Excerpted from Taming Your Outer Child by Susan Anderson. Copyright © 2011 by Susan Anderson. Excerpted by permission of Ballantine Books, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.