Psychotherapist and author Penny Parks is one of the most inspiring women you could ever have the pleasure to meet. Her ground breaking treatment for adult survivors of child abuse, Parks Inner Child Therapy, has helped countless people. However, Penny’s own harrowing experiences of sexual abuse are little known. We are so grateful to Penny for sharing her truly incredible story and explaining why getting to know our inner child can be so healing.
Tell us a little about your childhood
I come from a very dysfunctional family! Emotional, physical and sexual abuse were rife. My father was a wife beater; my step-father was a wife and child beater and sexual abuser and then my second step-father was a sexual abuser. Mother was a self-absorbed, insecure, blaming and accusing person who could not bear to be seen as wrong. Emotional abuse was a daily event and I was the scape-goat that everyone dumped on.
From 4 to 13 we moved every 6 months up and down the west coast of America. I attended 21 different schools from 6 to 13 years old. In all, I was sexually abused by 6 different people – only one was not related to me. He was a ‘friend’ of the family.
How did you feel about yourself as a child?
I believed there was something very wrong with me and that whatever it was, it had caused all the abuse. I carried around this big secret that could never be told. Plus I was always the ‘new girl’ – extremely skinny and treated as though I was a freak.
What were the effects of your childhood experiences on your young adult self?
In many ways, I believed I was ‘bad and dirty’ and therefore I deserved whatever unkind, cruel or painful things people wanted to do to me. I often made derogatory remarks about my own looks, behaviour or intelligence to try to convince people that insults didn’t hurt me. This self abuse was my self defence.
You created your own therapy model ‘Parks Inner Child Therapy’. How do you even begin to do something so incredible?
Desperation! I was lucky to realise that the childhood abuse was why I had all the problems and low self-esteem. So I tried every idea that came to me to ‘get over it’.
There were no books on childhood abuse, so I looked for books about some of my problems. I read a book about Transactional Analysis (TA) that described the Parent, Child and Adult inner parts of people. I easily recognised all the damaged self-talk described and tried the various exercises outlined. Unfortunately, nothing in the book worked for me but I did recognise those damaged inner parts.
Over the next ten years I used my common sense, intuition and first hand knowledge to create various ways to ‘fix’ those inner parts. Some ideas were useful, some not, but I persevered until I had a basic set of letters back and forth to my Inner Child giving her information, support and love. It was a long trek with no promise of success but what choice did I have but to persevere?
At the time, (1960s and 1970s) adults who told psychiatrists that they had experienced sexual abuse were told they were fantasizing or had penis envy. Plus I didn’t have the money to pay for therapy.
You went on to help so many people. Do you think we all have a duty to each other?
I had found a way to heal myself so I wanted to share that knowledge with others. Why wouldn’t anyone wish to share such good news?
What keeps you going?
I’ve had breast cancer twice. I’ve also overcome a congenital heart defect, macular degeneration and I am the healthiest Type 1 diabetic you’re likely to meet (especially given the fact that I’ve had it more than 50 years).
I have a strong sense of, ‘I’ll fix this!’ Some people call it a positive attitude and some just call it ‘attitude’ but whatever it is I think it serves me well.
Can you explain the inner child for us?
It is simply a part of our unconscious mind where all the memories, beliefs and feelings from our childhood are stored. If our childhood was reasonably happy then those memories, beliefs and feelings blend into our adult life. However, if things were traumatic and/or unhappy those bad memories, negative beliefs and feelings do not blend. Instead they are near the surface and interfere with our decision making, self-esteem and ability to cope with life’s challenges.
It is sort of like the damaged child-part is fearfully running the show and our adult-part is unsure and restricted. The therapy model I created, Parks Inner Child Therapy, gives our child-part information, support and love. Our inner child needs these things to resolve all the unanswered issues and then change the limiting beliefs into positive ones.
The adult-part of us becomes centred and back in charge. The parent-part plays a loving supportive role, instead of being like a devil on our shoulder full of blame and accusations. The child-part feels safe and secure.
Can you give us a little suggestion of how we can communicate with our inner child?
Imagine yourself as a child about five years old. You can speak aloud, if you are alone, in your thoughts or you may wish to write to the inner child.
Speak/write with a loving, caring tone of voice and introduce yourself as the inner child’s ‘Special Person’, the grown-up they will be someday.
Say you would like to be friends and help with any questions s/he may have.
Keep in mind that the inner child is not to be blamed for anything. S/he is an innocent child who did the best s/he could in whatever circumstances there were. It is always a child’s parents who have responsibility to guide and help their child to deal with challenges; to keep aware of a child’s beliefs about self (by what they say, how confident they are), and to give plenty of information about things their child is confused about.
The child’s limiting beliefs were learned from the parents before the child was old enough to recognise the beliefs were not helpful. So, ensure you treat your inner child with respect and give caring guidance. Don’t inflict further damage by blaming the inner child for mistakes you have made as an adult. Offer your younger self and the ‘today you’ support to be all you wish to be and treat your past mistakes as learning opportunities.
My book, Rescuing the Inner Child, has samples of letters that deal with trauma but you can enjoy communication with your inner child even if trauma was not a focal point.
Do you have a voice of calm?
Yes, I call my voice of calm myMost Resourceful Self, which is a state where I feel centred, calm and make my best decisions.
Can you recommend a book? Perhaps something you go back to again and again?
In the early 70’s Dr Thomas Gordon created Effectiveness Training, a method that evolved into books designed for parents, teachers, women and leaders. These books explained how to communicate as a resourceful adult – getting the best from yourself and others.
My first experience was his book called, Parent Effectiveness Training. It was my introduction to proper parenting but I soon realised that his method was applicable to any relationship.
I read all his books and especially enjoyed a book by his wife (Linda Adams) called, Be Your Best, because it took all the books and rolled them into one. It was written in 1979 but can still be purchased on Amazon. I recommend the Kindle version for under £10, as opposed to paperbacks that are £27 to £54.
There is another paperback about Dr Gordon’s work published in the UK in 2012 called, How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk. I highly recommend this to anyone who has children or is working with them.
If you would like more information about PICT then go to www.ppfoundation.org or you can contact Penny Parks at firstname.lastname@example.org. The NSPCC also has information for adults who were abused as children.