Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Recognizing The Outer Child

While I’m talking about The Journey from Abandonment to Healing by Susan Anderson, a while back I talked about the Outer Child. Her book specifically focuses on abandonment trauma, not necessarily Borderline Personality Disorder, but as most of us have clear abandonment issues I think it’s very applicable. She hypothesizes that we have 3 parts to our personality: The Adult Self, The Inner Child, and The Outer Child. The Adult Self is that rational, functional human being that we strive for as a healthy person. The Inner Child is the vulnerable part of you that needs to be nurtured and cared for. Now, Outer Child is a little devil. I mentioned before:

Outer Child acts out your inner child's feelings - especially your abandonment feelings - without giving you, the adult, a chance to intervene. When you feel hurt, angry, or insecure, Outer acts out these feelings in ways that sabotage your relationships. Outer works like a bungling undercover agent in trying to protect (overprotect) you from abandonment. Stealthy, quick, and misguided, it intercepts love before you ever know what happened.

We all have ways of feeling about certain things that happen in our lives. These feelings often correlate to very distinct behavior, and often those behaviors are destructive. That’s the Outer Child taking over. Learning to recognize the behaviors of our individual Outer Child is one way to increase our Self-Awareness. When we understand the behaviors that come with this part of our Self that acts out, it’s easier to mitigate these behaviors and choose a healthier way to respond to situations. Even if it’s just to take a step back and not react at all.

So what does the behavior of the Outer Child look like? Here’s an inventory of 100 things that Outer Child might do, think, or feel. It’s not complete because everyone is different, but you should get the idea and begin to form a clearer picture of what your own Outer Child looks like.

1.       Outer child is selfish, controlling, self-centered part of all of us.

2.       Outer child encompasses all of the outward signs of the inner child’s vulnerability – all of the scars, the warts, the defenses that show on the outside.

3.       Outer child is developmentally around seven or eight. Self-centeredness is age appropriate for the outer child.

4.       Outer child wears many disguises, especially in public. Since other people’s out children are usually well hidden, you may think you are the only one with an outer child.

5.       Outer child is the hidden Chuckie of the personality. Even the nicest people we know can act like a seven-year-old with a full blown behavior disorder when they feel threatened enough.

6.       Outer child is developmentally old enough to have its own little executive ego (much to our chagrin). It’s old enough to forcefully exercise its will be not old enough to understand the rights and feelings of others. (Inner child isn’t old enough to have its own ego, so it has to appropriate ours).

7.       Outer child steps right in and takes over, even if we had every intention of handling a particular situation in a mature, adult manner. Outer child handles things is own way, leaving us holding the bag.  

8.       Outer child can dominate your personality if you’ve had a history of repeated abandonments. Many abandonment survivors of childhood are mostly outer child.

9.       Outer child throws temper tantrums and goes off on tirades if it feels criticized, rejected, or abandoned. If Outer seems emotionally disturbed, it’s because of what you’ve been through. Don’t blame your outer child – it doesn’t react well to blame.

10.   Outer child takes revenge against the self. It sees itself apart from self and creates a schism between Big (Adult self) and Little (Inner Child) whenever an opening presents itself.

11.   Outer child likes to blame its faults on your mate. It tries to get you to imagine that your unacceptable traits belong to your mate.

12.   Outer child doesn’t like to do things that are good for you.

13.   Outer child would rather do something that will make you fat or broke rather than thin or fiscally responsible.

14.   Outer child is a hedonist.

15.   Outer child talks about your friends behind their backs.

16.   Outer child thrives on chaos, crisis, and drama.

17.   Outer child enjoys playing the victim.

18.   Outer child distracts you when you’re trying to concentrate.

19.   Outer child loves to play martyr.

20.   Outer child is a world-class procrastinator.

21.   Outer child makes huge messes that take forever to clean up.

22.   Outer child makes you late for appointments.

23.   Outer child loses things and blames it on others.

24.   Outer child can find an excuse for anything.

25.   Outer child tries to look cool and makes you look foolish.

26.   Outer child is the yes but of the personality.

27.   Outer child is reactive rather than active or reflective. – I am much less reactive now. At least in behavior. The feelings are often still there but I am getting better at controlling the manifestation of them.

28.   Outer child explodes when it encounters difficulties with its own abilities.

29.   Outer child can never be wrong.

30.   Outer child hates asking for help. It’s stubborn, ornery, blind and pigheaded.

31.   Outer child acts like a tyrant but is secretly a coward, afraid to assert its needs.

32.   Outer child acts gracious when a friend steps on one of your toes and then holds onto the anger for the next twenty years.

33.   Outer child specializes in blame; if it has an uncomfortable feeling, somebody must be at fault.

34.   Outer child uses crying as a manipulation.

35.   Outer child criticizes others to keep the heat of itself.

36.   Outer child has a phony laugh to cover up stray feelings.

37.   Outer child acts on its own, rather than consulting us, the adult.

38.   Outer child needs total control to avoid having to feel inner child’s feelings, especially hurt, loneliness, disappointment, or loss.

39.   Outer child can’t stand waiting, especially for a significant other to return your call.

40.   Outer child doesn’t form relationships – it takes emotional hostages.

41.   Outer child doesn’t like to show its vulnerability; it keeps it injuries hidden. -- !!!!!!!!

42.   Outer child will demand, defy, deceive, ignore, balk, manipulate, seduce, pout, whine, and retaliate to gets its needs for acceptance and approval met. It doesn’t see this as a contradiction.

43.   Outer child has a favorite feeling: anger. In fact, outer child’s only feeling is anger. – Anger is my deadly sin.

44.   Outer child has a hole in its pocket when it comes to either anger or money. Both must be spent right away and damn the consequences!

45.   Outer child wants what it wants immediately. Yesterday.

46.   Outer child wants to get right in the middle of things when you try to start a new relationship. It becomes more reactive, more demanding, more needy than ever before.

47.   Outer child may be found in our mates. Sometimes we marry a person who can act out our own outer child wishes. Hopefully, our mate’s outer child doesn’t act out against us.

48.   Outer child may be found in our children’s behavior. When we get into power struggles with one of our real children, we find ourselves battling our own outer child. Sometimes we secretly encourage or real children to fulfill our outer child needs. They act out the anger we don’t want to own.

49.   Outer child goes off on a rampage if it detects even the subtlest signs of abandonment. This leaves Little in jeopardy, unprotected.

50.   Outer child strives for its own self-interest while pretending to protect Little. But your outer child wants one thing only: control.

51.   Outer child is a people-pleaser with ulterior motives. It will give others the shirt off your back. And what have you got to show for it? Nothing. You’re left cold and naked.

52.   Outer child is not old enough to care about others. Only you, the adult, can do that.

53.   Outer child tests the people it looks to for security – to the limits.

54.   Outer child tests new significant others with emotional games. Its favorite is playing hard to get.

55.   Outer child can be very cunning, putting its best foot forward when pursuing a new partner. It can act the picture of altruism, decency, kindness, and tolerance.

56.   Outer child can also be seductive, funny, charming, and full of life. When it succeeds in catching its prey, it suddenly becomes cold, critical, unloving, and sexually withholding. Outer child makes us pity the person willing to love us.

57.   Outer child is the addict, the alcoholic, the one who runs up your credit cards and breaks your diet.

58.   Outer child enjoys breaking rules. Your best friends may have very dominant outer children living within. Their rebelliousness might be what you enjoy most about them.

59.   Outer child actively ignores you, the adult, especially when you try to tell it what to do.  Outer child just goes right on doing what it wants to do. – 99% of the time I can look at my life situations, logically reason my way through the best decisions and courses of action to take, and then with full knowledge of what is best for me, go right ahead and do what I know is bad for me anyways because it’s what feels good in the moment. I do this All. The. Time.

60.   Outer child strives for independence. Maybe someday your outer child will become independent enough to leave home, but don’t count on it.

61.   Outer child gains strength during dormant periods. Then, when you feel vulnerable, your outer child acts out, jeopardizing the new relationship.

62.   Outer child tries to defeat the task of intimacy, which is to get your inner child to become friends with your mate’s inner child. Intimacy is when you nurture each other’s inner child and don’t take each other’s outer child too personally.

63.   Outer child loves to hook up with your mate’s outer child. They instantly get into power struggles. It is futile to try to control each other’s outer children. Your best bet is to find something for your outer children to do other than interfere in the relationship. If you can’t ignore them, send them out to play.

64.   Outer child has enough vanity and pride to try to conquer an emotionally dangerous love, one who is potentially rejecting, distancing, and abandoning.

65.   Outer child thinks emotionally unavailable people are sexy. – This is beyond true for me. It’s almost romantic law.

66.   Outer child is attracted to form rather than substance.

67.   Outer child wants what it wants – emotional candy. This goes against what’s good for Little, who needs someone capable of giving love, nurturance, and commitment.

68.   Outer Child seeks all the wrong people. It can’t resist a lover who won’t commit. – On some level this seems safer because there’s no real threat of true intimacy.

69.   Outer child refuses to learn from mistakes. It insists upon doing the same things over and over.

70.   Outer child developed during the rage phase of old abandonments when there was no one available to mitigate your pain.

71.   Outer child becomes most powerful when Big and Little are out of alignment.

72.   Outer child believes laws and ethics are for everyone else.

73.   Outer child obeys rules only to avoid getting caught.

74.   Outer child can dish it out but can’t take it.

75.   Outer child can be holier than thou.

76.   Outer child loves chocolate and convinces you that it’s good for your heart.

77.   Outer child beats up on other people’s inner children – especially the inner child of a significant other.

78.   Outer child bullies its own inner child. -- Big Time. I’m much worse to myself than I am to anyone else.

79.   Outer child tries to get self-esteem by proxy by chasing after someone who has a higher social status.

80.   Outer child can deliver a subtle but powerful blow if it perceives a social slight, no matter how small.

81.   Outer child covers up in public. Some people are better able to hide their outer child than others. Of course, some outer children are easier to hide than others.

82.   Outer child can’t hide from your closest family members: they know. That is what intimacy is all about: the exposure of your outer children.

83.   Outer child can express anger by becoming passive. A favorite disguise is compliance. Outer child uses compliance to confuse others into thinking that it doesn’t want control. But don’t be fooled; outer child is a control freak.

84.   Outer child finds someone to take for granted and treats them badly without having to fear rejection.

85.   Outer child expects new significant others to compensate it for all of the hurts and betrayals inflicted by old relationships dating all the way back to childhood. – This is one I have to think about. I never thought about this before but something in there rings true.

86.   Outer child protests against anything that reminds it of being on the rock (abandoned).

87.   Outer child refuses to stay on the rock. Unlike Little, Outer climbs down, picks up a hatchet, and goes on the warpath.

88.   Outer child has a chip on its shoulder, which it disguises as assertiveness.

89.   Outer child is like the annoying older brother who constantly interferes in the guise of protecting you.

90.   Outer child doesn’t obey the golden rule.

91.   Outer child obeys its own outer child rule: Get others to treat you as you want to be treated, and treat others as you feel like treating them. -- For me the opposite is true. I treat people exactly like I wish they would treat me, in hopes that they will treat me that way, but I always choose the wrong people, the emotionally unavailable people, to do this for. This results in hurtful resentment more often than not.

92.   Outer child needs to be disciplined, but don’t expect limit-setting to go smoothly.

93.   Outer child provokes anger in subtle ways, then accuses others of being abusive. Outer loves to play the indignant injured party. (Gaslighting).

94.   Outer child submits so it can seethe at being dominated.

95.   Outer child knows how to wear the white hat (play the good guy).

96.   Outer child is master at making the other person look like the bad guy.

97.   Outer child behavior ranges from mild self-sabotage all the way to criminal destructiveness.

98.   Outer child can gain control so early; the individual doesn’t develop any true empathy or compassion for himself or others. The extreme outer child is a sociopath.

99.   Outer child needs to be understood, owned, and overruled by an airtight coalition between the inner child and the adult.

100.                        Outer child holds the key to change. Inner child beholds our emotional truth, but can’t change. When you catch your outer child red-handed, wrest the key from its hands and unlock your future.

From here it’s possible to separate feelings from behavior. People often use feelings as an excuse for unacceptable behavior, but the truth of the matter is, these behaviors are almost never ok.

I’ve highlighted in green some of the Outer Child behaviors and thoughts I’ve recognized in myself over the years. They don’t all apply anymore, but I’ve noticed them at one point or another. Which ones do you see most strongly in yourself?

*Both my Inner and Outer Children like a lot of colors =P


  1. Your list has inspired me to kill my Outer Child. What's the best way?

  2. I know this is an old post. Being more avoidant PD I think my outer child spends most of its time bullying me. I'm anti-assertive and not passive-aggressive either. Mostly too passive. Although I'm learning.

    13,14,18, 20, 41, 78 most resonant.

    68 was a major problem for me, but I've defeated that one.

    Being very passive 51 resonated but it never felt angry or manipulative just sad and defeated.

    My outer child mostly manifests in 2 ways - 1. self-numbing, hedonism and avoidance of issues. 2. Ridiculous & brutal self-criticism/limiting which I feel is really my father's narcissistic indifference to my existence made into a part of my psyche. 2 almost feels like an alien invader these days.

    Remus Lupin.


Leave me a comment! It makes me feel good and less paranoid about talking to myself =)

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