As children, we need consistency, security, safety, and healthy modeling of emotions to make sense of our internal experiences and emotional needs. Sadly, not all of us get to have those essential needs met and as a result, we start to be out of touch with our own feelings, needs, boundaries, and desires. This is where inner child work comes in.
Over time we lose our ability to build self-esteem from within and get stuck in an ever-fleeting chase of happiness and fulfillment outside of ourselves. We may have a wounded inner child that is impacting our adult lives. In this blog, we explore some of the ways you may have been impacted as a result of carrying a wounded inner child and offer some tips to start re-parenting and healing from unresolved childhood traumas.
What is the Inner Child?
We all have an inner child. The childlike part in us that resides in our unconscious realm (figuratively); the part that yearns to be loved, cared for, and accepted and continues to inform our decisions in different life areas. The concept of the inner child originated from psychologist Carl Jung in his studies on the ‘Divine Child Archetype’.
Some of the positive attributes of the inner child are characterized by curiosity, playfulness, creativity, spontaneity, and vibrancy. On the other hand, our inner child can also be prone to stubbornness, naivety, over-dependence on others, and rapidly shifting moods.
Our wounded inner child acts in or acts out on our unmet needs and unresolved traumas and may cause destructive patterns of behavior. For example, we may turn our valid and healthy emotions such as anger inward, against ourselves. In his book, “Homecoming: Reclaiming and Championing Your Inner Child”, John Bradshaw uses the acronym “CONTAMINATE” to describe the negative impacts a wounded inner child can have in our adult life.
- Offender Behaviors
- Narcissistic Disorders
- Trust Issues
- Acting out/Acting in behaviors
- Magical Beliefs
- Intimacy Dysfunctions
- Non-disciplined Behaviors
- Addictive/Compulsive Behaviors
- Thought Distortions
- Emptiness (Apathy, Depression)
Acting in behavior is where we punish and abuse ourselves emotionally, mentally, and physically by having negative self-talk, shaming and blaming ourselves for our mistakes, and amplifying our perceived flaws and shortcomings. It can also look like physically neglecting our body’s need for nurturing food, sleep, medical care, etc.
Our psyche is desperately trying to heal our old wounds that exist in the background by recreating similar relational dynamics and nervous system patterns to get different results and take care of the unfinished business. But because this is not a conscious process we end up re-injuring ourselves over and over again.
Healing Your Inner Child through Re-parenting
What does it even mean to establish a relationship with your inner child?
In our constant chase for relief from the wounded child within us, we may have turned to restrictive beliefs, destructive habits, and difficult emotions that are merely brilliant defense mechanisms that we adapted to protect the most vulnerable parts of us. To re-parent your inner child is to unburden them of the extreme thinking or roles they may have been carrying for decades. It’s also about unlocking the old frozen grief and terror that may be stored and very much present deep in our bodies.
This process will allow your inner child to go back to its natural state of wonder, creativity, playfulness, and peace. A big part of healing your inner child is grief work. Grief work is also named “original pain work”. I’m talking about the grief of the loss of the childhood you deserved to have but was taken away from you through various forms of traumatic events during childhood, abuse, or emotional neglect.
It may demand re-experiencing some of the childhood emotional wounds that we may have been avoiding for years through numbing ourselves, dissociating, being preoccupied with depression or anxiety, etc. It’s important to remember that grief is a circular healing process and not a linear journey.
“All our neuroses are substitutes for legitimate suffering.” –Carls Jung
4 Ways You Can Connect to Your Inner Child
Carry a Picture of Your Inner Child
Get a picture of yourself from childhood and keep it close. There can be something really powerful about seeing yourself as a child that can help humanize you. It can promote compassion and makes it easier to remember that you were an innocent little child and you still have that part within you even though the two of you may have been disconnected for a long time.
Make a Timeline of Your Childhood
Start by creating a timeline of major events and milestones that may have impacted your development as a child. Reflect on your childhood timeline and explore some of the questions listed below by yourself or with a trusted person, perhaps a close friend or a sibling.
You can divide your childhood into different stages, including Infant Self (0-9 months), Toddler Self (9 months to 3 years), Preschool Self (3-6 years), and School-Aged Self (6 years to puberty). Do some fact-checking if you don’t remember much. Try to be curious, compassionate, and non-judgmental about whatever information you may discover. Then you can work on connecting them to your current patterns of behavior in relationships to promote intention and awareness and rewrite some of those old narratives.
- Who did you turn to when you were hurting
- How did you know when a parental figure was mad at you? Would they yell at you and punish you? Or withhold their love and not speak to you
- Did you experience a sense of belonging with your family members
- Which emotions were more permissible? Was expressing anger or sadness tolerated
- Did your parents model a healthy display of handling conflict? Was conflict something that was avoided at all costs? Or was it an explosive incident where people got hurt
- What are some of the unhealthy ways you learned to relate to yourself? Perfectionism? Shaming yourself? How do you want to relate to yourself instead
Extend the Loving-Kindness to Yourself & Tap Into Your Inner Parent/Protector
Recognize your humanness and your inherent worth. That should be a non-negotiable. You are brilliantly imperfect. Examine different parts of you, including the inner critic, the procrastinator, or your inner perfectionist. Try to explore their function with openness, compassion, and, understanding. You can support those parts to free them from the emotional baggage and the extreme roles or beliefs they may have adapted.
Tap into your inner parent and try to relate to your inner child like a wise, gentle, loving fairy godmother/father. Tell them what they need to hear to feel safe. Imagine you want to adopt your inner child and are trying to get to know them and build a safer relationship with them.
Write to Your Inner Child
How often do you take the time to tune in and connect with your inner experiences? When was the last time you checked in with your inner child about a struggle? Are you aware of your own needs and boundaries?
Your inner child craves your love and attention. Make it a regular practice to check in and nurture your inner child. You can do inner child work on your own by writing a letter and reassuring them that you want to be there for them and protect them. Make sure to create space for creativity and playfulness in your life to make it an inner child-friendly environment! Then write a letter from your inner child to yourself using your non-dominant hand (to bypass the logical part of the brain).
You can do the inner child work by yourself or trauma informed types of therapy with the support of a mental health professional. Doing this work can create more cohesion and integration in your life and can offer a profound opportunity for growth, introspection, and improvement in your mental health.
“Until we make the unconscious conscious we call it fate and it runs your life.” – Carl Jung