Inner Child Healing

A Book Review

By: Dr. Sam Vaknin

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Burney, Robert - Inner Child Healing - Suite101, 2004

Another great self-help book by Robert Burney, author of "Codependence: The Dance of Wounded Souls". I like Burney's lucid prose, compassionate yet practical healing recipes, and experience-driven approach.

Burney is no intellectual revolutionary. He adheres to the venerable (mostly psychodynamic) tradition of attributing most of our problems as adults to faulty "intellectual programming" and to emotional wounds inflicted on us during childhood. It follows that the solution is simple: get rid of both and you are home-free. Substituting healthy conscious processes for dysfunctional unconscious ones and healing the emotional injuries one suffered in one's formative years requires access to one's "inner child".

Burney's concept of inner child, though, is far from conventional. As children, he says, we are educated by parental and societal role models (and by stereotypes) to be emotionally and intellectually dishonest. Healing, therefore, requires a lot more than structured therapy. It amounts to a paradigm shift.

Burney seeks to liberate us from "toxic shame" ("something's wrong with me", "I am bad or defective") and from our embedded tendency to repeat counter-productive patterns in our relationships (and in life, in general). Once these childhood "tapes" are erased, we are bound to feel empowered and face the world with newly-acquired objectivity. As our inner conflict abates, we are also likely to finally love ourselves and treat ourselves and others with empathy and compassion. Burney provides the reader with step-by-step guides on how to get there.

Reprogramming oneself affects one's interactions with others as well. It has a beneficial ripple effect. It benignly encourages one's family, friends, colleagues, or mere interlocutors to "grow up". Respect, dignity, altruism, and peace are natural outcomes of such a transformation.

This article appears in my book, "Malignant Self-love: Narcissism Revisited"

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This, of course, provokes many philosophical-ethical questions. For instance: who is to decide what is right and functional and what is not? Taken to the extreme, even intellectual and emotional honesty become forms of narcissism, or mere transformations of aggression. There is a lot to be said for white lies and good manners in social intercourse, for instance. And history teaches us that creativity is often driven by shame, unresolved conflicts, and pain.

Moreover, though the assertions presented in the book are plausible, there is little clinical-empirical evidence to support many of them as facts. Psychology is regarded by practitioners of the more rigorous sciences as a set of narratives, a form of therapeutic story-telling, a cultural-literary edifice, or, at best, a mere taxonomic system devoid of insight into underlying processes and "laws of nature".

This may be so. But, ultimately, the critical question is not whether the theoretical assumptions and intellectual and emotional transmission mechanisms underlying the inner child therapies are "true". What matters is whether these treatment modalities work. And anecdotal evidence suggests that they do, big time. Burney's tome is an important contribution not so much to the field - as to the tormented patient. This emphasis on alleviating suffering marks him out to be a true healer.

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