The Inner Child's Split Personality - and the struggle to find and release the real self

There are two levels of splitting that take place when we believe we are not OK, or good enough to be loved unconditionally.

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 I am not talking here about Multiple Personality Disorder (otherwise called Dissociative Identity Disorder), or Schizophrenia. 

I refer instead to the parts of us that have become ‘split-off ’ as a result of our childhood experiences.

We each have an inner child – which is a sub-conscious 'entity' that is part of our psyche.

It was originally shaped by our parents – and what they did and didn't do for us – and our childhood traumas, and the sense that our young immature minds made of those at the time.

There are two levels of splitting that take place when we believe we are not OK, or good enough to be loved unconditionally.

When life is confusing, scary and painful the inner child has to create a false self - because it's not safe to be real and show profound sadness, anger and underlying vulnerability.

It is painful to have to hide and it's painful to be seen. There are big risks in both.

We learn how to wear masks and behave in ways that were assigned to us (often by unspoken family expectations). 

This false-self is our best attempt at being 'acceptable' enough to be able to stay in the family unit. We were in survival mode. No point in fighting back. We were at the mercy and moods of our parents (or substitute parents).

These masks might include the ‘smiley-face-everything-is-fine-in-our family’ mask; the ‘I-feel-no-pain’ mask; and the ‘I-must-be-a-good-girl-at-all-times-and-not-be-a-burden’ mask.

We may also have a ‘role’ to play in the family unit such as the Super-achiever, the Caretaker, the Carrier of the family madness/badness, the Sick Patient, and many more besides.

All of these rob us of our authenticity and the belief that we are OK just as we are. We don’t feel wanted or valued for simply being our real self.

For too many people these ‘masks’ become stuck.

They might 'forget' they are even wearing them. They might fear ever taking off the mask and having to face, and live with, the stranger who lies beneath. Or they may have tried and failed to remove the mask - which then stays in place because of pressure from other people who want or need them to keep wearing it!

A second and deeper split occurs as a result of severe childhood trauma, abuse and abandonment - when the real self, hidden behind the false self, steps or falls back even further ... from the back-room and down into the cellar.

Insular yet safe, Scared and lonely yet alive and waiting for the day that freedom comes.

Often to be banished and forgotten about this ‘prisoner’ is condemned to a life of darkness and the struggle to survive emotionally.

The deeply split inner child feels like an ‘it’- observing the unfolding drama of life as if from a distance, without any feeling of deeper connection or real involvement.

It lives in shame of its own existence. It feels like an alien without a true personality or life of its own. It becomes the puppet for others to use, whether that be within the family, or with partners later in their life - and within their inevitably dysfunctional relationships.

It is isolated and hopeless. Believing itself to be deeply flawed and feeling the intense pain of rejection, ridicule and hostility, it knows only self-loathing and despair.

Any words of encouragement, care, or concern echo around the dank cellar in which it exists.

Nothing good can penetrate—the fear of further wounding is so great.

Exposure and shame burn like a branding iron telling all of its failure as a human being.

It abides in a prison cell of its own making, which is actually locked from the inside - or the door may be ajar but the prisoner dare not try to escape.

The dark damp prison cell is at least a familiar home, and feels like a sanctuary from further pain and distress – but the shadows shrivel the soul, and nothing can grow.

Maybe you have tried —in vain—to have a relationship with what I am here calling a ‘Cellar Dweller’.

Perhaps you have poured considerable effort and time into trying to coax them out and to help them to believe in your integrity, honesty and love ...but to no avail.

They may fear the prospect of living and dying alone, and so might form an ‘entanglement’ with someone - rather than a real emotionally intimate relationship. They are there in the flesh only.

Maybe you have got as far as marriage to such a lost soul - who went along with the arrangement in order to have some security of ongoing comfort being pushed through the bars of their inner prison.

If so, you will get little in return as they won’t know how to love, let alone how to show it in a way that reaches another’s soul. They may receive your love but not know how to give back anything meaningful of themselves.

They may talk at length without really saying anything about themselves or their innermost dreams, hopes, and needs... because they are detached from these.

They dread further rejection - yet have profoundly rejected themselves.

Very few people would settle for the meagre offerings that the Cellar Dweller might bring to a relationship. Perhaps only another deeply wounded soul would accept the daily lack of emotional expression and intimacy.

Cellar dwellers usually find another cellar dweller to have a type of ‘mutually dependant’ relationship with, devoid of real depth, intimacy or passion. They become companions from adjoining cells and they pretend that the bars are not a barrier, but of course they are.

Outwardly such a couple may appear to ‘function’ well, and may even have professional jobs, and some social status. But a ‘fly-on-the-wall’ would witness two strangers living like magnets emotionally repelling one another, and moving around without actually touching.

It seems all too obvious to the rest of us that they should simply realise that they are now an adult, and that they can change their thought processes, and consequently their feelings and behaviours.

However their detachment from life and their self-loathing is so deeply ingrained that any such wise words are wasted on them. They won't penetrate their protective armour.

Shame is called the master emotion - for its power to disintegrate our sense of Self. Shame creates the prison in which the ‘unworthy’ reside.

Like a terrified kitten who dreads the next kick, they continue to play safe or play dead, whilst still trying so hard to fool others, and themselves, into believing that they are ‘fine.

The damage caused by abusive or neglectful parents is profound. The child's life light is dimmed. Emotions seem overwhelming. Relationships are a mine field of randomly triggered explosions and implosions.

A life stunted by parents who didn't know or do any better.

It is possible that an inner child's lost life can be re-claimed and lived in emotional freedom and authenticity.

A loving light could illuminate the dark recesses and take away the heavy shadows. An imprisoned soul might be gently coaxed to come to the edge of their prison sanctuary and step out towards the light.

A prison breakout – more a breakthrough which might look at first like a nervous breakdown.

The bold escape plan requires awareness, self-empathy, self-compassion and self-forgiveness... the hardest things of all to the unworthy Cellar Dweller.

Without the first stage of awareness and insight, nothing changes.

The dutiful masks stay in place.

The compliant or rebellious roles are played out to perfection.

The lost and imprisoned inner child remains forgotten about – especially with the right sedatives and distractions.

Relationships remain chaotic or are avoided altogether.

Loneliness and despair are denied.

It's a hard choice between the continuing prison sentence of agony of isolation, and the dread of further rejection.

Yet only when we learn how to heal our inner child's emotional wounds, release ourselves from the past, and re-parent our inner child will we open the gates to a park where the happy kids are playing freely.

Maxine Harley (MSc Psychotherapy) MIND HEALER & MENTOR – where you'll find a full page of FREE RESOURCES to help you to understand the effects of your childhood emotions, and how they still impact your life; and how to S.E.L.E.C.T. Your Life – with Self-awareness – Education – Learning new skills – Emotional intelligence and balance – Control, clarity and choice – TRANSFORMATION!

You will also find 5 self-help online courses - to improve your relationship with yourself and your past, with your partner/spouse, your children, and in your work/business life - helping women to understand and manager their emotions, boundaries and behaviours - and to FEEL better, so they can BE, DO and HAVE better at home, and in their career or business! - a series of 10 self-help online workshops - of Psycho-Emotional-Education - to help you with a wide range of life difficulties (e.g. anxiety, stress, anger, depression, relationships, self-esteem and confidence, happiness, mindful living, self-awareness and development) - changing the sub-conscious belief system and S.C.R.I.P.T. (c) Sub-Conscious-Rules-Influencing-Present-Time

Maxine Harley

MIND HEALER & MENTOR - Psychotherapist (MSc), Author, Columnist & Blogger. Please see and, S.E.L.E.C.T. Your Life Company Ltd.

I help women to FEEL better - so they can BE, DO and HAVE better! As a MIND HEALER I specialise in helping women to recover from a troubled childhood and toxic parents, to heal and transcend their emotional wounds, re-parent their inner child, and make peace with their past. This enables and empowers them to become better parents, partners, professionals - and all round happier calmer people :-) As a MENTOR I offer different levels of therapeutic self development - including MINDING YOUR BUSINESS, MINDING THE GAP, and MIND MASTERY...please discover more at


Go to the profile of Kit Waldon
over 1 year ago

Thank you for this article.  This is exactly what I'm going through.  Twice in this article I was nearly brought to tears.

Go to the profile of Suzzanne Taylor
11 months ago

I've been nurturing my inner child for a long time and am in the middle of taking a course. I found your article because I've discovered what feels like two inner children within me. I was searching for any info about this. One of them, the younger one is locked in her room, a prison. She's so sweet, full of joy and laughter. Getting in touch with her is the only reason I know I am an 'OK' caring person. We talk daily now and laugh but she won't come out. It's so lonely in there. Yes, it's lonely out here too. I've opened the door in her room coaxing her to come out... she shows me there is a dark void out there (nothingness). I've walked her through it but she goes right back. I've identified as an 'it' all my life. I chose the "Super achiever" role. My self-esteem depends on what I accomplish. Part of me has had 'enough' of this type of motivation. Your article has struck a chord in me. (Progress!) In fact -- I feel blown away by it and not quite so alone after all. Perhaps I'm not a Martian after all. ❤️🙏🏻