The Integrative Approach to Shadow Work
With Children and the Little Kid in Most of Us!
Author: Lynne Namka, Ed. D.
Energy Psychology is the leading edge
of new paradigm medicine – Candace Pert
What creates good self-esteem in children and adults? The psychological research shows what skills are necessary to live a happy, successful life. These life skills are being competent at what you do, stopping errors in thinking, dealing with feelings of inner distress, conflict negotiation and being connected to friends. Other research shows that having faith in something greater than yourself creates good mental health. I would add the skill of taking responsibility, cleaning up your mistakes and using self-regulatory skills to persevere when work becomes hard. All of these skills can be taught to children in therapy easily IF you make the learning fun and have a big bag of psychological tricks (techniques) to draw from.
Most children come from families where ‘Don’t talk, don’t trust, don’t feel’ is the rule. Many families are caught in emotional pain around events of which they have little or no control. There are strong family and societal laws about not feeling or expressing anger or other uncomfortable feelings. Yet we live in a world that has considerable stress and great anger. Many parents are stressed and overwhelmed by their busy work lives resulting in dysfunctional behavior, addictions and methods of discipline that depend upon threat and pain. Children get caught up in the emotional pain of those around them but do not have the understanding or skills to deal with it. They grow up coping with stress in the same unsuccessful ways that have not worked for their parents.
During neglect or trauma, the child feels out of control and is left with overwhelming physical sensation and emotions. He feels invaded but is not allowed to develop personal boundaries. Trust is broken and the child is left with unbearable affect. He is unequipped to deal with feelings of terror, shame and rage. The child guards against distressing physical sensations and negative feelings and puts up defenses to avoid feeling fragmented, and empty. He can become developmentally arrested around that time of the trauma. The more the disturbance in the early life, the more the body is energetically interrupted, the more destructive the defenses are.
Excessive emotions cause the body’s energy system to go out of balance. Children (and all of us) typically hold their breath when their emotions become too strong as a defense to shut down bad feelings. Shallow breath and contracting the body can push the feelings down but also block the flow of feelings through the psyche. The shock that comes from trauma often causes the child to hold his breath and that jams the life force. Negative thoughts, locked-in-breath and unconscious fears and defenses remain until that trauma is addressed and the breath loosened. The new Energy Psychology Techniques are so great because they help release the stuck breath while working on the issues of trauma.
Unacceptable images and unexpressed feelings are delegated to the area of the unconscious where they are stored. They become locked away in the body/mind/spirit then are acted out in inappropriate behavior. Thus the Shadow is born with the defenses and negative core beliefs becoming set in the child’s repertoire. The child carries this primitive, self-defense core of fear even into adulthood. He does not feel safe in his world and believes that he is unworthy. This Core Identity becomes a Psychological Reversal (PR) with beliefs of ‘I am not safe. I am not lovable.’ This Core Identity is like a big lens of perception by which the world is viewed. The loss of sense of self is a great loss as the child becomes separate from his parents, peers and Higher Power or God. The Shadow defenses remain lurking in the unconscious mind ready to be called into action at any resemblance of threat. (Collarbone Breathing is a great technique to work on releasing negative core beliefs.)
Integration of Standard Child Therapy Techniques with Energy Psychology Techniques
With the amount of training per year that therapists are required to attend, you can learn the different psychological theories and approaches. No one approach is consistently best when dealing with the creative minds of young children. Different situations call for different therapist approaches and styles. You can integrate the different approaches by going back and forth between them choosing which is appropriate for the child at that point in time.
Psychological Reversals (PR) are pervasive mental blocks that prevent you from experiencing healing. Often they are programmed into the child who was naive and open to condemning judgments of others. They are the dogmatic ideas, which keep you stuck, even when you want to change. Psychological Reversals are those perpetual blind spots that limit consciousness. They are ingenious reasons for staying as is!
If you give yourself permission and erase the Psychological Reversals regarding your comfort with certain techniques, you will be more likely to choose the technique that is appropriate. So check your self -limiting beliefs as a therapist! A limiting PR to tap on is sticking to one approach due to lots of training and investing into it as an exclusive identity as a therapist. Another PR to work on is the feelings of inhibition and feeling foolish getting down to the little child’s level.
Helping Children Express, Contain and Release Strong Emotions
The strong emotions of anger, fear, shame and grief are responses to threat or loss to our body, possessions, self- esteem (we feel devalued some way) or values (those beliefs that we hold dear). Anger can be a response to feeling hurt and not being able to do something about it other than act out. Anger is a normal human emotion to a stressor that threatens us in some way. Help the children talk about their hurts and they will be less angry. Sometimes knowing that someone cares about their deepest feelings helps decrease the hurt and anger.
Anger and then denial of the underlying emotions of grief, guilt and shame are common responses to threat. Yet some children become angry over small things keeping themselves and others continually upset which then keeps adults angry at them. Troubled children often have narcissistic beliefs of ‘I’m entitled to have my own way and if I can’t, I have the right to get angry.’ (Getting angry when he has to pick up his toys or doesn’t want to go to bed or when he doesn’t get his way.) Entitlement beliefs that are left unchecked can lead to selfish, antisocial behavior. Entitlement comes from a deep inner belief that the world is not fair because things are not fair at home or school or the child has been spoiled and insists that the world give him everything because his parents did. The child applies his ‘It’s not fair’ way of thinking to many situations thus almost guaranteeing that he will lose. Trying to make the world fair when it typically is not causes the child to be continually upset. (Even though I get mad too easily, I’m still an awesome kid. Even though it’s not fair, I choose to not lose my cool.)
Some children will do anything to keep from feeling their uncomfortable emotions. It is hard for some children to admit any responsibility for their part in an altercation. When scolded, they say, ‘Somebody else did it. It’s not my fault.’ This is the Blaming Part coming out. This part hates taking responsibility for their part of creating a problem. So this part looks around for someone else to blame. Some boys and girls learn to substitute angry feelings when they are scolded for doing something wrong. They get angry to head off their bad feelings of guilt. They don’t want to say they were wrong. They say, ‘I didn’t do it,’ instead of owning up and feeling better. They get angry to make the other person to back off. These common errors in thinking can be addressed with Cognitive Behavioral and Energy Psychotherapy Techniques.
Psychological research shows that human beings generally try to avoid uncomfortable feelings. Children ineffectively deal with stress and threat by these coping styles:
- Numb out or dissociate in fear.
- Deny the feelings, and suppress and hide them from themselves
- Hide the feelings from others but secretly feel them inside.
- React in anger and blame or threaten someone else.
Now we can offer children a healthier response–to stay present, label their feelings, speak out and act in appropriate, assertive ways. You can teach children the basics of what anger is and how to deal with it. The more children learn about anger in others and themselves, the less angry they become. Direct teaching about anger can show the child how to change his response from aggression to more socially acceptable ways of coping.
Children who are just learning to use language can learn to label feelings if they are taught. (‘You are mad. Tell me that you are mad. Mad, say it, mad. Use your words instead of your fists!) According to a recent research study, infants as young as 3-6 months show facial expressions of emotions and can distinguish between sad, angry and fear facial expression in adults.
Children with anxiety, depression and anger want to learn to deal with their strong feelings but do not have the tools to do so. They enjoy learning the skills of modulating and releasing their anxious, angry and depressed feelings. Their hurt, grief and shame can be brought to a conscious level where they can be recognized and labeled and then released with an Energy Psychology Technique. Children can be taught to gain personal power by affirming, cooperating, communicating and problem solving during times of conflict. Here are anger sub skills to assess and work on:
To Channel Anger Into Constructive Action
___ To identify and name feelings and use the ‘I formula’ when appropriate
___ To speak feelings appropriately when feeling threatened but refrain when it’s not safe.
___ To deal with others who discount feelings and do not want to listen.
___ To express anger in safe and productive ways that increase self esteem.
___ To change anger constructively to MAD–Make A Difference
To Release Current and Old Anger in Effective Ways
___ To displace anger symbolically when it is not safe to express it directly.
___ To use positive displacement of anger and refrain from negative displacement.
___ To use cool down thoughts or Energy Psychology Techniques to break into self-angering thoughts.
To Learn Assertive Ways of Dealing with Threat
___ To stand up and speak assertively when threatened.
___ To say No, state boundaries and Bottom Line and leave if boundaries are not respected.
___ To shield against the negative energy of name calling and ridicule.
___ To take care of self when parents fight. (It’s not my problem. It’s a grownup problem.)
___ To break into dissociative states of fear and numbing out.
___ To use techniques of self-soothing when upset. (Breathing, rubbing one’s body, rocking, etc.)
To Learn to Contain Excessive Anger
___ To learn to discriminate between big and little deals. (Don’t sweat the small stuff.)
___ To realize and accept that you don’t always get what you want. (Break into entitlement)
___ To learn to identify irrational thoughts and statements that fuel anger.
___ To break into self-angering thoughts and use cool down thoughts.
___ To learn to analyze and correct mistakes instead of beating self up.
___ To interrupt intrusive, negative thinking by using cool down words.
___ To keep cool when others are trying to push your buttons.
___ To take Time Out when overheated during an argument and then return to problem solve. To Learn to Feel Empathy and Respect Others
___ To listen to others when they are upset.
___ To recognize and refrain from actions that are hurtful to others.
___ To stop blaming others under conditions of stress.
___ To take responsibility for one’s own actions and wrong doings.
___ To refrain from sarcasm, name calling, egg ons and put-downs.
___ To see things from the other person’s perspective and treat them with respect.
___ To observe the effect of one’s actions upon others and express sorrow for hurting others.
To Observe Rather than Over React to Threatening Events (Mindfulness)
___ To learn to observe and identify body reactions, emotions and thoughts during threat.
___ To use observation of physiological cues to break into anger or fear responses.
___ To analyze the threatening event and identify and break into triggers.
___ To bridge current angers back to old unresolved childhood issues so they can be released.
___ To stay present in the threat of danger rather than lashing out or stuffing anger.
___ To change the self-angering or self-depreciating meanings given to threatening events.
___ To make self-empowering statements showing that you are in charge of your body.
Children can be taught to use their bodies as a feedback mechanism to find their feelings. Teaching children to breathe when they are frightened or angry helps them settle their strong emotions. EFT works well here: ‘Even though I hold my breath when I’m scared, I’m still an awesome kid. Even though I stop breathing sometimes to squeeze my sads, bads and mads, I CHOOSE to do belly breathing.’
Cues for Therapists and Parents – The Direct Teaching Approach
Changing parental behavior is usually necessary in helping maintain the positive changes that the child makes in therapy. I like parents to be in the session with the child so I can model appropriate ways to work with emotions. Studies suggest that children are capable of inhibiting excessive behavior when the social environment sets personal contingencies. In addition to the behavior management, positive reinforcement, contingency contracting and token systems that are taught in session, I recommend that parents take a parenting class when their first child is three and another class when the child is twelve years old to learn the skills of dealing with a teenager.
Give children ‘I believe in you’ type cues often while you teach the skills for empowerment. Key positive cues from adults tell the upset child what to do, give positive choices and teach tools for taking care of themselves. They counteract negative messages from others and remind the child to make a responsible choice to feel good about himself. They work! The constant repetition of these cues helps the child internalize these positive messages as his own. Used on a regular basis, constructive cues help children develop positive self-esteem. The combination of reflecting children’s feelings back to them and using positive cues help change children’s behavior. Kids need to hear these key phrases over and over again in order to learn to feel good about expressing their feelings.
‘Get your control. Take your power. Stop and think. Make a good choice.’ are generic therapist cues that remind children how to act in uncomfortable situations. With practice and much reinforcement, children can learn to feel pride in coping effectively with their anger and letting small incidents of threat go. Children can learn to speak feelings in the moment of heat and choose from a number of alternative responses. Share these cues with the parents of the children so that they can use them at home.
Add positive cues to your repertoire gradually by practicing one cue for several days until you hear yourself saying it automatically in response to a specific inappropriate action. Challenge parents to learn and use positive cueing of their child to choose good coping strategies. Model the cues often and ask the parent to observe and emulate you. Encourage the parents to set up practice sessions of the ‘I feel ____, when you _____’ message at home. Three year olds can learn the “I formula” by cueing and practice.
Catharsis and Non-Directive Reflecting of Feelings – The Play Therapy Approach
Carl Roger’s gift to the world was acknowledging people’s feelings when they came up in session. Repeating the child’s feelings back to him has been incorporated into Active Listening and Imago Therapy. Read the classic book, Dibs, A Search for Self by Virginia Axeline to better understand the non-directive approach, which is a major part of Play Therapy. The child who has been hurt often suppresses his feelings of insecurity and anger out of fear of retaliation or being exposed at seeming weak. Some cannot express their deep anger over a traumatic event such as physical or sexual abuse because of the deep-seated shame. Instead they focus on a minor injustice or displace their anger on someone or something else.
Catharsis and the release of strong feelings through active movement to release pent-up emotions can be helpful, but it is limited as it does not teach the child what to do in social situations. During catharsis, repeat over and over, ‘We do not hurt people. You can get your mads out here in the therapy room and leave them here.’ Anger work of a symbolic nature (play therapy, drawing pictures, story telling, doll play, pounding pillows) gives the child permission to bring the suppressed feelings up in a safe way. After catharsis, get the child to talk about his feelings, and if he cannot, verbalize them for him in a non-directive manner such as ‘You might be feeling sad.’ (I call this guess the feeling; if you get it wrong, chances are he will correct you if he feels safe.)
Helper Words for Children–the Cognitive Behavioral Approach
Self talk or Helper Words give children tools to deal with conflict in a positive way. Internalized self-statements such as ‘I can breathe. I can make peace. I can deal with this.’ and ‘I’ll chill out’ give the child opportunities to take control of his own behavior and feel good about himself. Teach a phrase and then practice it by asking the child ‘What can you say to take care of yourself? Use your self talk to tell yourself what to do.’ Helper Words can also be tapped on using the second half of the EFT Start Up formula. Here are some Helper Words to teach children.
Own Your Own Feeling Skills
- I’m in charge of my own feelings. I watch them happen and give them a name.
- I tell myself, ‘It’s okay to feel sad, hurt, scared, and angry.
- I speak my feelings instead of stuffing them so they won’t come out in yucky ways.
- I listen to my body. My body tells me how I feel.
- Feelings are meant to be felt. That’s why they are called feelings.
- I feel my feeling. I call my feelings by name. I can use EFT to release my bad feelings!
Talk about Your Feelings Skills
- I talk about my feelings. I tell the person when I feel upset.
- If he discounts what I say, I tell him that I’m disappointed that he can’t hear me.
- Not every one can listen to feelings. I find safe people I can trust to share feelings.
- Even though it is scary to talk about my feelings, I feel better when I do.
- I feel better after I tell my feelings!
Make Good Choices When Threatened Skills
- I stop and breathe to send oxygen to my body! I use my firm words to say how I feel.
- I tell the person what I want and I know I won’t always get it.
- I leave if I am not safe and I take care of myself.
- I use EFT to zap and tap my bad feelings away.
Today’s message is ‘Own your own feelings and behavior!’ This concept is a challenge for children and most adults. Teach the child that people will do things that push his buttons, but he can choose how to respond. Use praise to reinforce how being responsible for behavior and feelings creates personal power. Children love the concept of being powerful and in charge of themselves.
Shadow Work and Parts Therapy – The Jungian Psychology Approach
Using stuffed animals or puppets to represent the different parts of the personality and a lot of humor; it is quite easy to get children to describe their parts to you. Children as young as three years of age and as people old as seventy have responded well to using stuffed animals to represent the different parts of the personality. Here is what you can say to teach children about their Shadow parts:
‘You have many parts of you that come out at different times. Everyone has these parts. You have a Loving Part. You also have a Happy Part, a Playful Part and a Work Hard Part. Each part has some feelings attached to it and some behavior. If you let bad feelings hang around, you get a Sad Part, a Mad Part and a Worry Part. Everyone has a Stubborn Part and a Trouble Part. And a Judging Part and a Criticizing Part. Sometimes an ugly part gets too big and out of balance. A too big Trouble Part can make you miserable. You miss a lot of good times when your Sad Part takes over. A huge Angry Part or a Worrying Part keep you from having fun and doing well in school.’
Ask the child to choose a stuffed animal to hold and talk about. Using stuffed animals and this procedure helps build rapport and is a great as a diagnostic tool during the first session, giving you a kid-friendly framework to draw from. Presenting the unhappy parts (the Shadow Parts) in a matter-of-fact, but cheerful voice and reassuring the child that everyone has them normalizes them. Normalizing the uncomfortable emotions is an important step in helping the child accept them so they can be released. The message to the child is ‘Everybody has these parts and I can help you learn to deal with these uncomfortable emotions here in therapy.’ Knowing that someone can help them is a big relief to the child and they usually engage wholeheartedly. After identifying the Shadow Parts, the Energy techniques can be used to help the child release trauma, the accompanying feelings and errors in thinking that underneath them.
Releasing Negative Emotions and Traumas‹The Energy Psychology Approaches
Energy is the universal natural language of our body. We are energetic beings and as such use the flowing energies of our bodies and the surrounding environment for communication. The natural flowing energies of the body can get out of balance when there is emotional trauma, physical injury or ongoing stress.
The Energy Therapies are a new group of techniques that help release excess emotional charge through tapping or holding points or using shifting of the eyes. They are considered controversial because they are a radical change from ‘talk’ therapy and the research on them is just starting to come in. The Energy Therapies include Thought Field Therapy, The Emotional Freedom Technique, The Tapas Acupressure Technique, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing and Be Set Free Fast. Applied Kinesology, Heart Math and Spiritual Kinesology are some other approaches to that help shift emotions quickly.
Perhaps the greatest skill you can teach a child is to take his own power and regulate strong emotions. Self-soothing includes all the ways that you take care of yourself when you are upset and stressed. Children need to learn techniques of self-soothing so they do not seek out detrimental stress reducers like alcohol and drugs when they get older. The Energy Psychology Techniques help balance the meridians and create relaxation. Used along with standard psychological techniques for children gives therapists strong skills to help children live happier lives. The Energy Psychology Techniques are a natural with children and can be used along with the traditional methods to break into stress, troubling emotions, cognitive errors and Shadow parts of the personality.