A deeper psychological discussion of the theory behind the experimental Village and the hill storytelling approach
Most psychologists and therapists recognise inner children and the inner protector characters but they will usually call them by longer and more abstract names. For example, sub personalities, ego states, schema, life scripts. We prefer to know them and the "inner protector characters or inner selves.
Today with modern brain scans, it is possible to actually observe an individual member of this group as an actual sub brain. When the individual moves into that sub personality, and dialogues from that ego state, the same part of the brain lights up each time, indicating that in fact the sub personality is actually a set of hard-wired brain cells. That's why we can be sure that there really is a part inside you and me (and everyone else) which never grows up. Your inner child still exists as the brain cells that were connected together when you were a child.
Most professionals don't regard these collections of brain cells as real living characters with the capacity to make highly intelligent conversation. But, anyone who practices inner child work or voice dialogue knows that a two way conversation with them is an absolutely normal everyday and very rewarding experience.
Sadly, there are some professionals as well as people in the street who
still prefer not to acknowledge their existence at all. There are some who
ridicule the whole notion of having functional characters within us. And even
sadder is the fact that lots of people fear that the existence of separate
sub-personalities inside their heads would suggest they were one step away from
The truth is we could not function without our group of multiple inner sub personalities. They are healthy and essential parts of the normal psyche.
And the pity is that whoever denies their existence is stopping people from talking to their inner protector characters and preventing people from meeting, getting to know and working with some of the most important characters in their lives. That is, the characters who live and work in their own individual Inner Village.
However, about 30 years ago two outstanding psychologists, Dr Hal Stone and Dr Sidra Stone began developing some wonderful ways of resolving this. They experimented with two-way dialogue or discussions with sub-personalities which they called the "inner selves". Their work is now recognised, world wide and my work, in turn is based on their work and the techniques that they have developed. All I have done is taken their psychological descriptions, the ones they use in their training and their books and instead used everyday non-psychological words. There is an important reason why I have done this.
Despite their success in developing the voice dialog technique and using it to make changes that made a real difference in an individual's life many people still seemed to take a long time to truly "get the idea" (In my own case more than eight years.) And keep in mind that I was working with these characters every day, running training groups and seminars on the work of Dr Hal Stone and Dr Sidra Stone. I even wrote a book about their work and yet it still took me all that time to start making truly significant and positive changes in my life. Something was slowing things down too much.
Over the past 14 years I have learned much by listening to these characters who live in the Inner villages, and by the way they are wonderful teachers. Because they live and work inside us they understand and are able to explain so much about what is happening inside us. They really are worth listening to.
And as I listened to what they told me one of the things they explained is that most of them have been around since early childhood, protecting us and helping us in the best way is that they know how. However, and this is very important, most of them do not go through a growing up process. Their emotional age is generally between eight and 14 years old. Mind you they are highly intelligent, but energetically they remind me of very skilled eight to 14-year-olds who have never really matured emotionally even though they have been doing what they do for so long.
One thing the inner protector characters seem to find it hard to do is to grasp new ideas or new ways of doing things if these are only described or explained in complex abstract psychological terms.
Anyone who is listens and learns from inner protector characters (or inner selves) soon discovers that you will have little success asking them to change how they think or feel or what they do. They are more inclined to say " Thatís the way I have always done it, because that is the way it works for me." Come to think about that is a bit like lots of other eight to 14-year-olds I know. Though I have to admit that like many another 8 to14-year-old they may happily "agree" to change just to keep the peace. However, later on we notice that nothing much has altered.
So here is the problem. When it comes to wanting to make significant changes in our life it is not much use just talking about this to a sub personality if we describe the process as if it is more like an abstract theory. Theories do not mean much to the average Inner villager if their emotional age is still around eight to 14 years.
It seemed to me as though there was something we were not seeing clearly, something about these Inner protectors we did not quite understand and that they and us both needed to understand to help them help us to make changes in our life. Then one day it dawned on me, it might not be us who was having trouble understanding, it might be the villagers who were having trouble understanding us!
So, I did what I usually do when I want to know more about what is going on inside and asked some of these inner protector characters about this. Their answer left me in little doubt. Most of them experienced real difficulty because when we tried to explain things to them we used abstract, psychological descriptions, terms that an eight to 14-year-old would find hard to understand, rather than words that were familiar to them.
So, I started by confirming what I already knew about what they did to help, and
then asking about their lives as inner protector characters and about how things worked and I asked
them to tell me in pictures more about what they were doing. As they did I learned a great deal more
than I had learned in the preceding years.
}The big difference was that now I was talking their language, the language of fairy stories, legends, myths and parables, the language of eight to 14-year-old people who live in villages. (and yet people who are trying very very hard to do important jobs that really should be done by grown-ups, like protecting vulnerable inner children.)
What I noticed was that the more I talked to their inner characters like this, the faster the clients I was working with seemed able to make significant changes in their lives.
After more than five years now working with this simplified storytelling approach I am more convinced than ever that the work that Dr Hal Stone and Dr Sidra Stone developed is some of the most helpful, powerful and practical ways of understanding how our sub-personalities work.
I am equally convinced that their work is easier to share when we explain it to people as we would to young children and not to adults.
I like to describe this new technique as "The Village and the Hill" storytelling approach, to distinguish it from the classic version. And by the term "classic version" I am referring to the approach that I have used for many years and the same approach used today with considerable success by the many followers of Dr Hal Stone and Dr Sidra Stone. It is what they refer to as "the psychology of the inner protector characters" or "the psychology of the aware ego".
It works amazingly well and it is important that anyone, myself included who chooses to try an alternative approach does not see this in any way as a criticism of the classic approach. To me it is simply an alternative which appears to have some advantages, particularly if the classic approach is taking too long to get results.
The name "Inner Village" helps you visualise the kind of environment where these characters they live and work. The general term "inner protector characters" gives us the key to meeting and talking to individual characters and discovering what their job is what they do and how they live life in the individual Inner Village. And most important, allowing us to become of their role more fully, their own name (which they choose) and their a job description. This helps to 'develop their sense of character' which is exactly the same thing that happens when anyone uses Hal and Sidra Stone's Classic Voice Dialogue.
Apart from the use of non-psychological terms in the Village and the Hill storytelling approach there is some variation in my choice of which of the characters in the Village deserve the most attention and how they are grouped, compared and contrasted.
My classification of different kinds of villagers recognises some five or more clearly distinguished and quite different types, according to where they live in the Village, the difference in their focus, there energies and the way they work to provide help and protection.
The Inner Child
One particular individual in each Village stands out apart from all the others and that is the inner child. And I recommend that whenever anyone speaks or refers to their own Inner child that they a make a particular point of using that inner child's own first name. For example I always speak of my beloved inner child is "Little John" rather than just "my inner child".
It is the inner child in your Village that all the others inner protector characters are trying to look after and protect. And it is often the villagers in other people who are seeking to attack or hurt or undermine your Inner child for their own particular reasons, namely to protect or help the inner child who lives in their Village.
Hal Stone and Dr Sidra Stone were two of the very first teachers if not the first to recognise the importance of the inner child and to refer to the child and its vulnerability regularly in their work.
However I learned many other useful techniques for communicating with our inner child from people like Pia Melody and Pat Melody at "The Meadows" in Arizona.
Their techniques have also found their way into, and in some cases play a significant part, in the Village and the Hill model. I should also mention here the work of Dr John Bradshaw, Virginia Satir and many other authors and teachers who have added to our understanding of the inner child. Their work confirms that the inner child is a significant and very real part of our personality.
Another gifted teacher I trained with was Nikki Neumerof, who as far as I know has never published his work. Nikki taught me a particularly useful approach to working with what he called "negative core beliefs". This tied in closely with what the inner protector characters were telling me about life in the Village and how whatever they did was influenced by these beliefs. So that this too has become part of the Village and the Hill storytelling approach.
Other pages connected to this discussion:
Guidelines to working with Inner villagers
Life in the village
How do you measure the effectiveness of inner self work?
A fable about using fables
Earlier thoughts on reasons for experimenting with alternative approaches to voice dialogue
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