I believe we all have an “inner child”. Psychologists have started to coin this term as a jump off to the discussion of core emotions we may harbor from our childhood. Some of these emotions can show as a deep need we have been ignoring or even a part of ourselves that is damaged and has left us vulnerable. This can also point to the part of you that feels and reacts to life the way a child does. Everyone experiences this
Beyond going through the arduous process with a qualified professional, there are other ways you can nurture your inner child.
Damaged inner child
Many of us experience trauma at a young age but do not recognize it as such until much much later in life. If you are a parent it would be a tremendously helpful notion to realize you have the very real potential and possibility of damaging your child first. There are ways to keep an eye out for ways this could manifest through books like “The Book You Wish Your Parents Had Read (And Your Children Will Be Glad That You Did),” by Philippa Perry, or the very insightful article “Essential Secrets of Psychotherapy: The Inner Child,” by Stephen A. Diamond. Consider giving these illuminating pieces a read when you have a chance.
Let’s say you’re unsure if you have a wounded inner child. What exactly can hurt your inner child? A lot of seemingly normal childhood events can affect children in different ways than we realize. Especially if we are left to deal with these alone — emotional harm can affect your inner child.
Some familiar situations are:
- Loss of a parent or parental figure (due to work or other causes)
- Emotional/Sexual/Physical abuse
- Familial breakup
- Substance abuse in home
- Childhood friendship dissolving
- Mental illness of family member
- Lack of verbal praise or acknowledgement of accomplishments
- Bullying (inside and outside of the home)
The baggage we lug around from our childhoods can be extremely difficult to put down. Especially when the damage has been severe. You may not have had the words for these experiences but they will have been ‘logged’ in your subconscious minds and bodies. When you don’t address these harmful experiences they can present themselves in unsavory habits as adults as some of the following:
- Alcohol or drug abuse
- Binge eating
- Self harm
- Self identity crisis
- Shallow friendships/interpersonal connections
- Low self-esteem
- Improper boundaries
We have all been influenced by our environments since the time we were in our Mother’s womb.
Was your inner child wounded?
Inner child wounding, as I said is hard to identify on the surface. It manifests as us not feeling safe emotionally, physically, mentally, or even spiritually. When this happens our innocence is eroded away over time. I say these things as someone who, until a few years ago, would have said I had the idyllic childhood. I never wanted for anything but as I, and my therapist, realized my upbringing actually was quite damaging.
I was raised by a secret alcoholic, whom I blew the whistle on at age 10 (my older sister refused to speak up after I went to her initially). I witnessed regular domestic violence but thought that was the normal way adults argued — and when placed in the middle to choose sides, I dutifully did as told. I was constantly pushed to an invisible line of perfection in and outside of the classroom, which I chalked up to my parents ‘just wanting the best for me’. I watched as a parental figure began the process of hoarding in my teenage years, and had to help recoup financial losses in our family due mishandling money with overspending and excessive gambling — ending in my family’s bankruptcy…twice.
My eyes were opened as I read Aletheia Luna’s, “Feeling Safe: 25 Signs You Have a Wounded Inner Child”. She lists ten life experiences that can lead us feel unsafe in the world:
- You were taught that it’s not okay to have your own opinions.
- You were punished when trying to speak up or act differently.
- You were discouraged from playing or having fun.
- You weren’t allowed to be spontaneous.
- You weren’t allowed to show strong emotions such as anger or joy.
- You were shamed by your parents, family members, friends or classmates.
- You were verbally criticized/abused on a regular basis.
- You were physically punished, smacked or beaten.
- You were made to feel responsible for your parents and their happiness.
- You weren’t given physical affection such as hugs, kisses, and cuddles.
Shockingly, I had to admit that I scored a 9/10 using her lists. What do you score? This is the list that made me realize I had been ignoring some deeper things I had tried to explain away. In turn, I found myself not being able to erect healthy boundaries with others, falling deep into the pit of workaholism, forming numerous shallow “friendships”, amounting hundreds of thousands of dollars of credit card debt, and thrill-seeking on a regular basis.
Give your inner child a (healing) hug
As a conscious life coach, I come in contact with a lot of clients who come to uncover, they are harboring a wounded inner child. It’s not uncommon for this to be many of our shared experiences. Think back to your childhood. Are there experiences that rubbed (and continue to) you the wrong way? Did you have a memorably unpleasant interaction(s) with someone close? Is there a word or phrase that when you hear takes you back with a dreadful feeling 15, 20, or more years?
Many parents are unexpectedly faced with having a baby, they might not be equipped with all the skills necessary to provide a fully rounded, uplifting, and deeply planned raising of a child. My parents were 26 when they had me. At 26, I was only comfortable enough caring for myself and my cat — not a child.
Whether the wounding occurred from a small or large event, such as the birth of a new sibling or being abused, the healing will be beneficial to you in your current place in life. When you unconsciously carry around an unhealed inner child you ignore the fragmented part of yourself that needs the most attention. You may feel distrust for others, passive aggressive, anxiety, unable to be “real” with others, stuck, weighed down, or worse.
As an productive functioning adult in society, you owe it to yourself and others to identify, accept, and take responsibility for embracing and healing your inner child. Working on this aspect of yourself needn’t be an overwhelming or scary process. Each time I turn my attention toward this type of inner work, I find it to be wholly enlightening and liberating.
Three easy ways to reach out to your inner child
- Therapy/Counseling/Coaching — Speaking with a true third party will create a safe and supportive space where you can explore your past and current challenges openly. Along with other difficulties such as mental illness, or abuse of any kind, professional therapy can be a big help to us all. Give yourself the best chance of surpassing personal hurdles with a new set of eyes and ears that are trained to assist in this way.
- Letter writing — If you can manage to get into the right headspace, clear some time to sit and focus on contacting your inner child. Think back to what it was like for you to be a child in the place in which you grew up in. Take some pen and paper (or computer/device in airplane mode) and write a heartfelt letter to that child. Don’t be shy in expressing how you truly felt, what the world looked like to you at that time, things you missed out on that hurt you, and other feelings that you may have kept hidden during that time. After that, write a letter comforting that same child. How would you tell this child that they are going to be ok? Express the words you wanted to hear growing up. Share with your inner child how amazing and innocent they are. Most importantly, tell this child that you love them — because they are you.
- Inner child meditations — I am a heavy advocate for all things meditation. So, it shouldn’t be surprising that the simple act of following some well produced, guided inner child meditations could help you on this journey. I found this to be a very powerful way to reconnect with my inner child and get started toward the healing process. Some of my favorites are a sleep meditation one, a meditation that strengthens your sense of self and a breathing meditation for healing unchallenged childhood wounds. All of these are free and all of them are all helpful.
Inside each of us is a probably a young, ignored, suffering child. We cannot truly protect ourselves by running and hiding to forget the pain. Inner child healing work can be a beautiful way to reconnect you to your true feelings and all that humanity has to offer. This is where you will gain a glimpse of the bigger picture. Strive to check in rather than check out through trying to take shortcuts on a path that is ever-changing and unique to just you.
Everything that is light (life) must also encompass everything that is dark (trauma). This is the natural balance of order. Don’t let the darkness consume, confuse, and rob you of the happiness present now. Use that light as a guide to help you steer your journey to the highest and most vibrant ground possible.