Are All Negative Emotions Traceable To The Inner Child?

Dear reader, I’d like you to test a hypothesis. It is this: all negative emotions can be traced back to the inner child.

Preliminary Remark #1: The Scope of the Hypothesis

I need to be specific about the scope of this hypothesis. Negative emotions are, in the sense in which I’m speaking of them, only ever ego-centric. Therefore, the hypothesis is not concerned with experiences of melancholy that is in concert with a deep understanding of anicca (or the impermanent nature of phenomenal reality), of poignancy (as when one sees a hawk with a young bird too quiet, though still alive in its talons), or of heartache (while in the presence of a dog that has been abused). Melancholy, poignancy, and heartache are not examples of negative emotions in the sense in which I’m speaking of them here.

Preliminary Remark #2: A Broader Metaphysical Point

Interestingly too, the Source–the ultimate nature of reality as it is in itself–is utterly without emotions. The Source, as itself, cannot experience sadness, anger, or fear. And when in The Upanishads it is said that the Source is ananda (bliss, joy, or abiding happiness), it is not implying that such is a passing phenomenon. Rather, “bliss,” “joy,” or “abiding happiness” is a linguistic approximation for the state, or stateless state, of eternal peace: wholly peace, peace without exceptions. You could say that the nature of the Source just is peace. Not for nothing, then, did the Zen Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh write of being peace.

Therefore, we’re presented with a conundrum, aren’t we? If tat tvam asi (“Thou are That” in the ultimate sense), then, by golly, where do negative emotions spring from? We already know that they must spring from the ego-self, but from what kind of ego-self exactly?

The Inner Child

I’m putting my money on what Jung called the inner child. I take it that the inner child, as an arising ego-self phenomenon, can be articulated in the following way:

  1. “I feel hurt.”
  2. AND “I am expressing this hurt in the form of… [negative emotion X].”

Take what strike me as the most common negative emotions:

–Those concerned with actual loss to the ego-self (here we think of sadness, despondency, the blues, despair, and so on).

–Those concerned with potential or perceived loss to the ego-self (fear, anxiety, nervousness, worry, etc.)

–Those concerned with some injury to the ego-self (anger, vengefulness, rage, irritation, peevishness, petulance, and so on)

–Those concerned with the ego-self’s shrinking (shutting down or checking out)

In all of these cases, I submit that the sadness, fear, anger, or shutting down can be reduced to “I feel hurt.”

So, Who Feels Hurt?

Use your “felt sense” (Gendlin) to investigate who feels hurt–who in particular. This may take some months or years of somatic investigation.

If, in the end, your inquiry chimes with mine, then you’ll find that there is a “something” that feels small and vulnerable. In fact, you’ll need to specify precisely how this something manifests. “This anger is arising from the inner child, and the inner child is, very specifically, feeling helpless or powerless as well as existentially alone.” Of course, the last sentence is trying to give a linguistic account of what can be felt more immediately and intuitively. One can “develop the knack” for intuitively feeling the inner child.

If my hypothesis is correct about how negative emotions stem from the inner child, then it becomes easier to more readily see negative emotions as “not not really real” insofar as they arise on behalf of the inner child while also welcoming the inner child and integrating it as needed. Finally, by this means one can more swiftly continue the existential inquiry into the true nature of the Self.

(Note that I’m not arguing for spiritual bypass. Quite the contrary. The inner child, to be taken seriously, is then merged with The All. In this way, the inner child is a “throughway” or “Dharma door.”)


In sum, the above psychological inquiry (“Cleaning Up”) is in the service of the existential inquiry into who you are. Seeing that the inner child is “not me, not mine” (the Buddha) but, of course, without dissociating from this process we call the inner child allows the existential inquiry to continue to unfold.

To put the point bluntly: I know who, or what, I am not. Then who, or what, am I?