In Spielberg’s masterpiece Back To The Future, there is a scene in which Doc Watson travels far into the past. 1885 to be exact. He gets stuck there, unable to fix his broken down Delorian time machine. But he is nevertheless able to write a letter to himself, seventy years in the future. But he presumably must die and wait seventy years until he receives it.
Once he receives it, he can then make the adjustments necessary to use time travel to rescue himself.
Likewise, there is a child in each of us, a child calling out to the present, to be heard. The child is trapped in the past, and is burdened by sorrow, for he must wait many years before we get his message. The longer we wait to get help, the longer the child must wait.
Many of us are suffering through life and don’t know why. We are trapped in our own past. A child with expectation, but no vehicle for them, is stuck and cannot get out. We write letters to our future adult selves, letters which arrive as sadness and depression, letters which originally could not be given to our parents back then because of their anger or their selfishness or their unavailability.
Our minds deep down do not respect the difference of past, present, and future. In those with PTSD, nightmares continue to haunt us as though they still occur in the present. In those of us with deficits in self-esteem problems, the past still looms large.
To heal depression, and to heal most mental illnesses with roots in childhood, we must learn to time travel. How do we time travel?
1- We must speak to our inner child, who is still living in the past, stuck there like Doc Watson. “The child gives birth to the man,” said the poet Wordsworth. Our inner child is like a parent to our adult self. We must pay homage to that inner child, and allow him or her to lead us out of the past. The letters the child writes to you have meaning. Follow the meaning. To do so, begin by dropping the ‘first-person’ perspective. Let go of all sense of me, myself, and I. It stops us from progressing. Stop navel-gazing and look outward and experience your own past self as if it were a sibling or a cousin.
2- Next, we must parent ourselves. This means making the effort to time travel and go into our own past and make up for the failings of our own parents. Largely, this is an effort in renunciating… in letting go of the ways our parents failed us, and filling in the gaps and doing ourselves (with our future adult selves) what our parents could never do. It means assuaging and speaking to our inner child and leading him or her out of the past, and bring them back to the future.
“We must become a parent for ourselves, and give birth to ourselves by our own free choice of what is good.” – St. Gregory of Nyssa
3- Finally, it means having a conversation with ourselves in the present, and achieving mindfulness. Each of us is an adult and a child, all wrapped into one, and that’s why we are able to have a conversation “with ourselves” without it being considered a psychotic. Depressed people don’t have conversations with themselves. They merely take one side, the side of their bad parents, and they identify with their superego and they beat up relentlessly on their inner child. When we are able to have a conversation with ourselves, we achieve one component of what is called mindfulness.
Our unconscious mind doesn’t understand time. Past, present, and future make no sense to it.
That may seem crazy, but as a psychiatrist I find that we are often in life given a choice between being a little mystical, or crazy, and being depressed.
Is your inner child someone you’d be proud to be seen with? Jump in that Delorian, and don’t come back unless he or she comes back with you.