We've all heard the expression, "The devil made me do it." But Susan Anderson sees the Outer Child as the source of our acting out and of our bad habits and of our habitual problematic behaviors, not the devil. According to her way of thinking, we should revise that expression to say, "My Outer Child made me do it." Moreover, she claims that this way of thinking about the Outer Child can help us change our behavior more effectively than psychoanalysis can or than working with the conceptual construct of the Inner Child can.
In her new book TAMING YOUR OUTER CHILD: A REVOLUTIONARY PROGRAM TO OVERCOME SELF-DEFEATING PATTERNS (Ballantine Books, 2011), Anderson urges us to work with three conceptual constructs: (1) your Inner Child (aka your Child Within), (2) your Outer Child, and (3) your Adult Self.
She assumes that her readers are familiar with the conceptual construct of the Inner Child from the work of John Bradshaw and others. Your Inner Child is the source of your emotional needs. She suggests that we imagine the Inner Child as being about five years old. I find Anderson's account of the Inner Child to be the most curious part of her thinking. Let me explain why. If the Inner Child has been bent out of shape by abandonment experiences early in life, then the Inner Child is bent out of shape by the age of five, the age Anderson suggests we use to imagine the Inner Child.
Anderson suggests that we imagine the Outer Child as being around ten to thirteen years old. The Outer Child is the source of all inappropriate acting-out behavior. Your Outer Child is the embodiment of all your defense mechanisms, she says. But defense mechanisms clearly imply that the Outer Child is bent out of shape. As Bradshaw points out in his book RECLAIMING VIRTUE: HOW WE CAN DEVELOP THE MORAL INTELLIGENCE TO DO THE RIGHT THING AT THE RIGHT TIME FOR THE RIGHT REASON (Bantam Books, 2009), we need to learn how to defend ourselves properly in certain situations in life. But by definition, defense mechanisms represent misguided defending, not the kind of proper defending that we need to cultivate.
Anderson suggests that somewhere in our teens our Adult Self emerged. She sees the task of the Adult Self as nurturing the Inner Child and parenting the Outer Child. Sounds straightforward enough, eh?
To help clarify her three conceptual constructs, Anderson discusses Freud's three-part conceptualization of id/ego/superego (pages 11-12 and 14). However, she gives no evidence of being aware that Plato also works with a three-part approach to the human psyche in two of his most famous dialogues, the REPUBLIC and the PHAEDRUS: (1) the desiring part, (2) the spirited part (as in our expression "fighting spirit"), and (3) reason. In the PHAEDRUS, Plato uses the famous imagery of a charioteer (representing reason) on a chariot (representing the human body) that is being pulled by two powerful horses (one representing the desiring part of the psyche, and the other representing the spirited part).
The Adult Self according to Anderson's way of thinking can be aligned with reason, the charioteer, in Plato's way of thinking about the three parts of the psyche. If we understand the chariot in Plato's imagery as representing the body, then we can align that part of his imagery with Anderson's discussion of our mammalian brain and brain chemistry.
Even though Anderson does not advert to Plato's imagery in the PHAEDRUS, she herself uses the imagery of a powerful horse to suggest the power of the Outer Child: "Think of your Outer Child as a horse, an untamed horse, and your Adult Self as a trainer trying to mount it. Sometimes the horse is more determined, more powerful than the trainer and you're thrown from the horse. Then Outer Child goes galloping off in his own direction" (page 9).
Anderson's description of this horse is probably best understood as the horse in Plato's imagery that represents the spirited part of the psyche. In the Homeric epic the ILIAD, Hector is known as the tamer of horses. In effect, Anderson's horse imagery suggests that all of us need to be like Hector, a tamer of horses. But Plato's imagery, as distinct from Anderson's imagery, suggests that we have two horses that we need to tame. Incidentally, Plato uses the Greek term "thumos" to refer to the part of the psyche that is rendered in English as the spirited part. For further discussion of this part of the psyche, the interested reader should see Barbara Koziak's book RETRIEVING POLITICAL EMOTION: THUMOS, ARISTOTLE, AND GENDER (Pennsylvania State University Press, 2000).
Anderson says that the Inner Child represents feelings and needs (page 13). The Inner Child can probably be understood as representing the desiring part of the psyche, according to Plato's way of thinking. But Anderson does not use Plato's imagery of a second untamed horse. But how do we even know that there is a desiring part of the human psyche, according to Plato's way of thinking, if there are no outer manifestations of our desires? It seems to me that we act out our desires at least some of the time. For this reason, I think we should keep in mind that second horse in Plato's imagery. Moreover, if the Inner Child is bent out of shape by age five from early abandonment experiences, then we should expect the Inner Child to represent another untamed horse.
However, in her zeal to concentrate on behavior, rather than feelings, she centers her attention on the Outer Child. In Plato's way of thinking about the three parts of the human psyche, the spirited part can be understood as the part that most obviously involves agency. The spirited part is Anderson's Outer Child.
In Plato's way of thinking, we need to cultivate certain key virtues: We need to cultivate the virtue of temperance to tame the untamed horse that represents the desiring part of the psyche (the bent-out-of-shape Inner Child); we need to cultivate the virtue of courage to tame the untamed horse that represents the spirited part of the psyche (the bent-out-of-shape Outer Child); and we need to cultivate the virtue of prudence to orient the reasoning part of the psyche (the emerging and developing Adult Self). We also need to cultivate the virtue of personal justice. For a discussion of the four key virtues, the interested reader should see Josef Pieper's book THE FOUR CARDINAL VIRTUES: PRUDENCE, JUSTICE, FORTITUDE, TEMPERANCE (University of Notre Dame Press, 1966).
Another way of thinking about the desiring part of the psyche (the Inner Child) is to see it as oriented toward communion, and another way of thinking about the spirited part of the psyche (the Outer Child) is to see it as oriented toward agency. In his book THE DUALITY OF HUMAN EXISTENCE: AN ESSAY ON PSYCHOLOGY AND RELIGION (Rand McNally, 1966), David Bakan works with the two orientations of communion and agency. In her big survey textbook THE PSYCHOLOGY OF GENDER, 3rd ed. (Pearson/Prentice-Hall, 2009), Vicki S. Helgeson works extensively with Bakan's conceptual constructs of communion and agency.
Another way of thinking about the desiring part of the psyche (the Inner Child) is to see it as representing what Robert Moore and Douglas Gillette refer to as the Lover archetype in the archetypal level of the human psyche. As the result of archetypal wounding early in life, the Lover archetype is usually bent out of shape in most five-year-old children. The bent-out-of-shape Lover archetype gravitates toward one bipolar opposite or the other, or fluctuates between the two bipolar "shadow" forms. Moore and Gillette claim that both male and female human persons have a Lover archetype at the archetypal level of their psyches. However, Moore and Gillette has written a book about the Lover archetype only in the male psyche, THE LOVER WITHIN: ACCESSING THE LOVER [ARCHETYPE] IN THE MALE PSYCHE (William Morrow, 1993).
Another way of thinking about the spirited part of the psyche (the Outer Child) is to see it as representing what Moore and Gillette refer to as the Warrior archetype at the archetypal level of the human psyche, which they claim both males and females have at the archetypal level of their psyches. But they have written a book only about the male psyche, THE WARRIOR WITHIN: ACCESSING THE KNIGHT [ARCHETYPE] IN THE MALE PSYCHE (William Morrow, 1992).
Another way of thinking about the reasoning part of the psyche as discussed by Plato is to see it as representing what Moore and Gillette refer to as the Magician archetype at the archetypal level of the human psyche, which they claim both males and females have at the archetypal level of their psyches. However, they have written a book only about the male psyche, THE MAGICIAN WITHIN: ACCESSING THE SHAMAN [ARCHETYPE] IN THE MALE PSYCHE (William Morrow, 1993).