The Rebelliousness of My Inner “Brat”

You’ve heard mention of that “inner child,” the needy, vulnerable part of you that you neglect or criticize.  We therapists often talk about “the baby part of you” or “the child side of you” as a way to address dependency issues.  You know you’ve got a kid inside of you, right?

A lot of the time, mine’s a brat.  He’s very impatient, impulsive and demanding, and when he doesn’t get his way, he gets angry.  He sometimes throws a fit in there, which can be very unpleasant, usually for me alone though sometimes he can be unpleasant to unfortunate bystanders.  [Think Veruca Salt in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory:  “I want an Oompah-Loompah, Daddy.  I want an Oompah-Loompah now!”]  Managing my inner brat can be a major challenge.

Humor aside, I believe this to be a serious issue for many people, and the hardest part in therapy is getting them to realize that the reason they’re struggling is because an immature part of them — a child who can’t tolerate frustration very well and has unreasonable expectations — is having a tantrum.  Sometimes the child gets his or her way and the adult side gives in.  This can lead to impulsive, ill-considered choices followed by shame and regret.

In more serious cases, the inner child goes into a destructive rage and wrecks everything, mostly the internal landscape but often external relations as well; this can lead to symptoms of depression.  Most of my clients with this issue at first had no idea that internal rage and tantrums were the problem.  They felt only the depressive aftermath.  As I touched on in my prior post about depression, in debilitating cases, I often feel as if I’ve entered a wasteland:  the person’s mind has been utterly devastated by rage, almost as if hit by a nuclear holocaust.

Freud thought of depression as aggression turned inward against the self.  I’ve never found that way of thinking very useful in a practical way, but I do think psychic violence is at the heart of many types of depression.    Helping clients to hear and recognize the violence as it occurs is the first step; helping them to cope with it is the second and more difficult task.

Finding Your Own Way:

Are you co-habiting with a brat but you’re not sure?  Here are some places to go looking for him or her:

Bedtime – I won’t go to bed and you can’t make me!

Time to get up – I’m really tired.  I don’t want to go to work.  Leave me alone!

Mealtime – No, I will NOT eat a proper meal.  I want chocolate.

Chores – It’s so unfair that I have to do this job!  Nobody else does!

Humor aside once again, I think it’s an important area to examine, to find out what your inner brat hates and the ways he or she can be destructive when throwing a fit about it.

By Joseph Burgo

Joe is the author and the owner of, one of the leading online mental health resources on the internet. Be sure to connect with him on Google+ and Linkedin.


  1. I appreciate the wording “psychic violence”. As an integrative therapist who works with energy in my treatment with clients, I found that term to be fitting in describing what we do to ourselves. Depression, anxiety, -whatever we are dealing with- is absolutely an act of psychic violence. It is helpful for people to deeply understand that and as counselors to guide them in moving forward to change their behaviors/thought processes.


  2. I know exactly how that is- the biggest question in my mind- and a constant and serious battle is, “How do i manage this child!” Depression is difficult, especially when life is hard and concentration is key to things working well. Depression destroys concentration and then begins the downward spiral. This “inner child” is often unruly and I constantly find myself trying to make that child be quiet because I “the adult” don’t agree with this child’s wants and actions. It’s a strange inner battle I think- to disagree with yourself.

    1. Ryan, I agree that it’s a strange inner battle, but it’s crucial. The post I put up today about possible change addresses the ongoing work of managing that battle.

  3. After reading this article I found that my ‘inner brat’ runs most of my life. How do I get control over her?? Or work with her??

    1. While I think there’s value in recovering the past, we repeat the past every day in our behaviors, the ways we treat ourselves and others, how we think and feel. The person you are today is the residue of your past; learning about the past is useful but it doesn’t change anything.

  4. Analyses of this problem are all very well, but the real problem is:
    How can I deal with this?

    This is never addressed in self-help psyche pieces.


    1. Tony, I don’t believe that anyone can tell you how to deal with it. There actually is a lot of advice out there on self-help sites — about affirmations, thought-stopping, self-esteem building, etc. I don’t find them very useful. Just as any good therapist would do in face-to-face work, I can only provide insights and guidelines; if it rings true, then you need to find a way to use it on a minute-by-minute, ongoing basis. It’s something every client has to do — figure out for him- or herself how to put the insights and knowledge to work. For me, knowing about my inner brat means I’m looking for him at work all the time. Standing up to him is the real challenge and no one can tell you how to do it yourself.

  5. It helps to have your way of thinking reinforced when so much else that we hear and read speaks of “conquering” this or “overcoming” that instead of continual struggle and hard work. Thanks, Kathryn.

  6. 1. I found your blog very interesting as I worked through this in therapy myself. I agree, it is a lifelong focus one needs to maintain in order to keep ‘on track’ – however this is not always easy as life ‘gets in the way’ at times. For me, reading this has been a great reminder, and it has helped me to feel not so alone in this thinking and knowing (of my inner rebellious child) that I have as a result of the extensive psychotherapy I undertook.

    Thank you for sharing this and I look forward to reading more of your posts in the future.

  7. That same rebellious inner child has kept me alive and strong to break free of domestic abuse and societal constructs which would have deprived me of my sanity. There is so much injustice and oppression in this world that you need the willpower only that spirited child can unleash. Although he commands a high price, which I paid for dearly, he has lead me to a much better life. He has toned down his antics and resurfaces only when he smells nasty BS.

    That child is my ally, not an enemy. The adult side of me knows when to unleash the child and when to keep him reined in.

  8. I’m probably co-habiting with an inner child. If I could describe her, it would be that she’s can be really superficial – she likes pretty things, and has a short-attention span sometimes. She also gives up relatively easily and complains – I try to go to the gym, and often have to self-talk just so I can get an hour in; she’ll step on the treadmill and want to get off in 5 minutes. I often have to negotiate with her.

    One of things I think I have to work with with her is my want for dependency. I’m “only” 21, and I’m in a different country, alone, taking up grad school, doing a GA so I have money to pay my bills, rent, and tuition so I can not ask my parents for money. Personally, a part of me takes pride in that, but I think she would so much rather go home. Over these few years of my “psychological growth spurt”, I would say that I’ve gotten a stronger hold on her… before, she would fly into rages, but these days she just puts on a sad, tired face and then wants to go back to bed and cry… which we never do.

    Humor aside once again, I think it’s an important area to examine, to find out what your inner brat hates and the ways he or she can be destructive when throwing a fit about it.

    1. My inner brat would also like to be looked after. That’s a feeling I can understand.

  9. I am curious. Why is it that our inner child is a brat? What is it about how we were raised that causes this? Is it because as children we were allowed to get away with things? Do we have a low tolerance for frustration because our parents never forced us to stick with something? Are we just weak willed?

  10. Thank you for this.
    I did a lot of ‘inner child’ work over a decade ago and thought I’d pretty well integrated all of ‘her’, even those parts of her that I found frightening and/or needy and/or unappealing. But there are still times that I struggle with some… perhaps not overtly destructive, but definitely not-healthy/non-optimal behaviors that I have wanted to change but have dismally failed at making even a dent in eradicating. And that has been both puzzling and frustrating to me.
    This post made me realize there are still aspects of her I have not integrated – and that it’s because she can be such an annoying brat that, quite frankly, I haven’t WANTED those parts of her – I’ve wanted them to just go away and not even exist! Which, ironically, is a bit of brattiness in and of itself.
    I suddenly find myself understanding where some of that rebellion/brattiness is coming from: my own rejection of her (myself). I’ve known that if a child can’t get positive attention, they’ll make do with negative – because it’s still better than being invisible/treated as if they don’t exist. Yet still missed the connection – it never ceases to amaze me how self-delusional we can be!
    I don’t know what needs/desires/beliefs she represents that have been ignored, I have now apologized to her for dismissing her and not allowing her to have a voice. And, before the oh-boy-now-I-can-get-my-way smirk could fully form, told her that didn’t mean she got to be in control – I am the adult, but I WILL listen to what she has to say. I don’t know how it will all play out next time she whines or digs in her heals or throws a temper tantrum, but that’s OK – I have hope we’ll figure it out.
    Thank for being the catalyst!

  11. What do you think about developing loving kindness as an antidote to anger? I agree it is an affirmation, and it do may sound silly, but I’m finding out it is a lot of rebellion in this “sounds silly” thinking. It’s sort of “this is too silly to be possible” or better said “this is not enough smart to try out, it has to be more complicated to solve the problem”. What I do find out at the same time is, there is also resistance to do this kind of work. Resistance happens because it’s like I’m afraid what if it may work. It’s really hard to explain … it’s like this means I would really take time for myself to develop lovely feelings, and I will rather postpone it, because this is not worth doing. And that’s the main problem. I’m afraid it may work and I may actually do something to love myself and others. To cultivate good feelings for myself and others. So it doesn’t have to with affirmations being “stupid”, it rather has to do with the somehow knowing that it may work, and if it works and it is productive, then it is boring. The rebellious part wins again. :/ I’ll rather read a bunch of “self help”, but the actual motive to read is to have fun, to find affirmation of yourself, and not to really learn. But … how to get to the other side. To really develop a mindset to learn … to want to learn … that’s the question. At least for me.

  12. If it works, then I have to give up my “false self”. That’s the problem. Maybe there’s a fear of giving up this “fasad” of rebellation. Does it make sense?

  13. Hi. I recently came across this site and I absolutely love it! Keep it up! About the brat, however, do you ever encounter people who exasperate the tantrum until it turns into true despair? I sense that I do this too myself. I’ve come to recognize the child, but then instead of taking a more compassionate or rational approach to quieting him down, I essentially attempt to beat him into submission, which of course makes him go from angry “it’s not fair!” mode to a brokenand beaten boy mode. Any thoughts or suggestions?

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