We were all children once, and that child is still living inside of us. Of course, it is not physically there (unless you are pregnant), and we are not talking about dissociative identity disorder (multiple personalities). The inner child is more like a subpersonality or the side of our character or the subconscious part of our mind. It is a part of who we are as a person.
Not a lot of people are aware of that. Most of us grow up hearing the phrases “grow up”, “you are a big girl/boy”, “you should be smarter for your age” or “don’t act childish”, etc. We’ve been told that we have to stop being kids, but that is so cruel because it actually means stopping exploring, having fun and playing, discovering the world, testing the boundaries, and creating experiences and joy. These are just little things that we, as young people, need, but it is so important to get along with feeling loved, having a safe space and fulfilling relationships with our caretakers.
When we are young, our brain starts to collect information that turns into our subconscious mind. A lot of that information comes from our parents, our family, the environment that we grow up in, and the experiences that we had. Besides that, as young kids, we have our own needs that need to be fulfilled (love, care, encouragement, etc.), so it is also recorded somewhere deep inside our minds.
As we grow up our subconscious mind works as protection and takes over a lot of space in our lives. Depending on our experiences in childhood we continue living with thought patterns and defence mechanisms of our subconscious mind that HELPS to deal with all kinds of challenges we have to face as grown-ups. The word HELP is crucial here because we don’t even notice when the inner child comes into play.
As the inner child didn’t have time or space to be a child, to learn about the world, to get his/her basic needs, and didn’t have time and space to properly heal from trauma, a lot of people grow up with wounded inner self. As their inner child is neglected, denied, betrayed, ignored, pushed away or destroyed, they take all of it to their further life. “The general idea is that we all have a childlike aspect within our unconscious mind… that can take over when you are faced with a challenge.” writes Sheri Jacobson, PhD, clinical director of Harley Therapy in London. To make it easier, imagine a six-year-old child living the life of a 40-year-old person. Imagine what kind of decisions they make, and how much responsibility they have.
A wounded inner child, like a real child, might be narcissistic, impulsive, dependent, needy and have a huge fear of being abandoned. This behaviour leads to every part of their lives as they never learned how to control their emotions healthily, they refuse to take responsibility for their lives, and they tend to act out and show their refusal.
You might also notice behaviour like:
- Self-sabotage or self-destructive acts.
- Violence and passive-aggressiveness.
- A deep belief that you are broken.
- Fear of abandonment and loss of love.
- Insecure and low-self esteem.
- Loss of self in an attempt to gain approval from others.
- Fearful of setting boundaries or saying “no”.
- Seeking instant gratification through substances, shopping, distraction, and procrastination.
The way you live right now, the person you are at this moment is deeply connected to the young version of you. Everything you’ve been through, what you wanted as a child, what you got and what you didn’t get shaped you into who you are right now. That being said, it is connected to the decisions you make, how you react to various challenges, what kind of relationships you have, and how happy or unhappy you feel.
And the wounded inner child might sneak out in the moments you do not expect. If you easily get angry about the things other people do (or don’t) or some things they say, maybe you feel unseen, not understood, or not important enough, this might be a signal of emotional or physical neglect from your caregivers. Or if you tend to rebel against the rules or act out in certain situations, maybe you were not allowed to express your curiosity and had to suppress your playfulness as a child, which leads to this behaviour now, as you want to explore the boundaries, experience the unknown or feel seen and acknowledged.
This kind of behaviour might be a sign of wounds and it might become a big obstacle in the way of creating and living a fulfilling life. But it is possible to change it. Healing your inner child is uncovering and releasing those childlike acts, the shame and judgement for feeling different emotions so that you could start making decisions and responding to challenges as an adult, not as a kid.
Please note that I am not a medical professional and this blog is based on my own experiences and discoveries. I gathered everything that I learned about self-development and self-healing. If you feel that you need more help, please, contact professionals in your area.
How to heal your inner child?
The process of healing your inner child, as with a lot of psychological processes, isn’t quick and easy and nor is extremely difficult, but… It requires a lot of patience, energy and most importantly – your willingness and commitment. Healing your inner child might be revealing and freeing, but it also might be very painful. No matter what will come along, you need to remember that you are doing it for YOU and for a better life and it’s totally worth it.
Our inner child is that little cupcake that lived on this planet years ago. It came into this world without knowing and understanding what it is, what s/he has to do, what to think and what to feel. The inner child wants the same basic things as we all want – to be loved, accepted, acknowledged, secure and happy.
Here are a few steps to start healing your inner child:
- Acknowledge your inner child.
Healing starts from acknowledging your inner child. Try to imagine yourself as a kid. Become aware of your features, look into the eyes, and acknowledge the feelings and thoughts that come into mind when you see her/him.
Try to accept the fact that there is that inner child instead of pushing it away. Connect with that little version of you.
- Create a safe space.
The wounded inner child needs a space where s/he would feel SAFE. Safe to be her/himself, safe to feel, safe to play, safe to explore, safe to learn. That space has to be fuelled with unconditional love, acceptance, patience and understanding.
Healing starts when we remove the labels, criticism, judgement and pressure. Create space where there is no need to prove something to someone, fight for your worth, or to stress about being enough. It should be a safe space to open up, to be vulnerable, to scream and cry. Tell your younger self “you are safe here”, “I’m here to take care of you” or “I am sorry that you feel this way”.
- Create a dialogue.
Talking is one of the best ways to understand the situation. When you want to heal your inner child, you need to talk with her/him, you need to understand why is s/he feeling, her/his worries and thoughts. “You can take care of your inner child by writing some dialogue from your inner child’s point of view,” says Diana Raab, PhD, who explores the concept of the inner child in her book, Writing for Bliss, which wrote on Psychology Today. “This gives a voice to your pain. Sometimes that’s all the pain needs.”
You can create a dialogue starting with these questions:
- What are you feeling right now?
- What do you need right now?
- What are you afraid of?
You might also consider writing a letter to your inner child. It might be a powerful tool to mention that you are there for him/her, that you recognize and acknowledge her/his being and that you will do everything to take care of her/him and heal the wounds.
- Listen to the inner child’s needs.
As you connect with your inner child and create a dialogue with her/him you will notice that s/he feels a lot. And your inner child has needs that were ignored or neglected or suppressed in the past. Allow the space for her/him to be heard without judgement. Listen to those needs, they are the main reason why your inner child got hurt and where the healing has to begin. Don’t forget that your inner child is vulnerable and sensitive. Pay attention to the fears and insecurities and all the joys and playfulness that come up.
The biggest issue with the wounded inner child is the sense of worth. People-pleasing, self-betrayal, self-esteem, fear of abandonment, and general anxiety start with deeply engrained thoughts of “I am not worthy”. You can also find these phrases in other words, like “My needs don’t matter”, “If I’m not good/perfect, they won’t love me”, “Their needs matter more than mine”, “I’m nothing without them”, “I don’t think I’d survive if they left me”, “I am too stupid for this job”, “I don’t have what it takes to do it”, etc.
Healing your inner child has to include re-installing the sense of worth which would let you have more strength to build new behaviours that would positively affect your life, like setting boundaries, asking for needs, trusting your intuition, feeling safe and secure to take action and creating your happiness.
- Slow change is the key.
Healing is a slow process. Creating a safe space to think about your past, feel the emotions that your inner child brings up and build up a new perception is a huge work that might get you everywhere and nowhere at the same time. But, as Dr Judith Herman says, in her work Trauma and Recovery (1992) “Recovery is not defined by the complete absence of thoughts or feelings about the traumatic experience but being able to live with it in a way that it isn’t in control of your life.” So be gentle, compassionate and patient with your journey.
Your inner child is a real part of your subconscious mind. As a child, your deepest needs are to be seen, loved, and kept safe. When these needs aren’t met, you create Inner Child wounds. A wounded inner child, it needs your love, care and compassion. Healing your inner child is uncovering and releasing those childlike acts, and painful emotions that were created by traumatic experiences and reframing your behaviour so that you could start making decisions and responding to challenges as an adult, not as a kid.
Remember to be kind to yourself.