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Have you ever been in a situation where you felt you were about 4 years old?

Maybe it’s when you were having a disagreement with your spouse or partner. Or maybe your supervisor was giving you some constructive feedback.

In any case, the blood rushed to your face, your stomach twisted into knots, and it seemed that you couldn’t stop shaking. You may have felt flustered, nervous, or even helpless.

And it’s not the first time this kind of thing has happened. In fact, every time you find yourself in a situation where you feel threatened, vulnerable, or ‘in the spotlight’, it’s like you’re a little kid again.

This is what we call a ‘regressed state’, a condition where our personalities temporarily revert back to an earlier stage of development. During that time, it’s as if all of our adult coping skills just fly out the window and we are literally engaging the world as a child.

How does this happen?

Imagine a little girl, let’s say she’s about 6 or 7 years old. One day, she pulls a chair over to the kitchen counter, climbs up and reaches her hand into the cookie jar. Just then, her mom or dad walks in and shouts,

What do you think you’re doing?

Maybe they go a step further and physically pull her off the counter. Maybe they give her hand a little slap.

How does this child feel?

You can imagine that she might feel confused, powerless, or even terrified. Here is this giant, god-like being, exercising absolute power over her being.

At first she freezes in fear. Then the tears come. A few minutes later, she’s forgotten all about the incident and goes about her day.

But the memory doesn’t go away.

Unless the complex emotions she experienced are processed and resolved, that reaction can become frozen in her subconscious mind. From that moment forward, whenever a similar situation comes up, the same emotional reactions-the emotional reactions and coping mechanisms of a 7 year old girl-come right along with it.

Flash forward about 25 years. This person comes into my office for hypnotherapy. She’s an adult now. She has a career, a family of her own.

It doesn’t really matter what issue she wants to work on because during the course of treatment-maybe by the second or third session-we do a memory regression in response to an emotional block that keeps coming up. Suddenly, she is re-experiencing the “Great Cookie Incident”.

When we work with memory regression and inner child work in hypnosis, we are able to attend to those situations that most need our love and healing.

In this woman’s case, I might suggest that the woman observe her 7 year old self and recognize that her reaction of paralyzing fear and hurt was an age-appropriate response. I would suggest that she enter into a dialog with her child self and possibly advocate for her, acting as an intermediary between her and the parent. She could then offer her younger self assurances that despite her fear, she survived. After all, she’s an adult now!

At this point there is often the opportunity for deep healing. She is able to release the frozen emotions of fear and powerlessness. She then gains powerful insights into how that half-forgotten experience has colored her adult relationships and perception of herself.

After a little more work and tender care, she feels different about herself. She feels a surge of confidence and a lightness of heart. Maybe she even experiences joy for the first time in years.

You may think this is just a hypothetical situation but I’ve seen this process unfold again and again. Even my own personal experience with hypnosis and inner child work followed a similar pattern of recognition, acceptance, and resolution.