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Exploring the Inner Child

So you’ve probably heard of the "inner child" before or heard someone say “I am channeling my inner child” but what does the "inner child" actually mean? Of course it is much more exciting to become an adult, make your own choices, not have to ask for permission, and be in charge of your life. But once in a while, maybe you have a fight with a partner or someone says something to you that is hurtful, and suddenly it can feel like you are five years old again. When this happens, your "inner child" may be emotionally activated.

Everyone has an inner child. It is a representation of ourselves (especially birth to age 7) at different points throughout our childhood. This part of us is connected to the free-spirited, forgiving side of ourselves that still experiences life through the lens of joy and innocence. It also carries past wounds. These wounds could stem from physical or emotional abuse, bullying, or growing up in a broken family. We may find that the resulting pain lives with us for the rest of our lives, making itself known at the most unexpected times.

Imagine the inner child as a stored memory deep within your mind and body that creates a lens through which we actually experience our adult world. When we are children, we have physical, mental, and spiritual needs that most times our stressed out, distracted parent-figures cannot meet.

Now you may be thinking, but my childhood was the best! There was no trauma there, I only have happy memories. While you may not be wrong, everyone has experienced some sort of inner child wounding. Maybe as a toddler, you really wanted to do or say something and you were scolded, leaving you to throw a MASSIVE temper tantrum. Hello unmet needs! Or maybe as you started to grow up and go to school, you were told what to wear, say, or act. This leaves you feeling unworthy, insecure, or not good enough.

Our inner child remembers everything. He or she remembers the first day of school, getting on the bus and being teased. Our inner child remembers being left with a babysitter with tears rolling down your face as mom and dad went out for date night. They remember when you got up the courage to raise your hand in class to answer a question and the teacher scoffed when you didn’t know the correct answer. The inner child is present when we become a teenager and want to fit in or belong so badly. He or she is present as an adult when we become crushed or devastated after being hurt, lied to or ignored.

Or maybe in your early life, the relationships surrounding you weren’t secure meaning your needs weren’t met. Our adult relationships will then also be insecure causing a wounded inner child. The "inner child" is most activated when something we experience triggers our past wounding and affirms a core belief from that wounding.

Signs of wounded inner child:

  • Inability to trust

  • Insecurity/low-self esteem

  • Difficulty with feeling and expressing emotions

  • Lack of boundaries

  • Consistently betraying yourself in relationships

  • Childlike view of relationships (expecting to be saved or fixed)

The first step to healing your inner child is acknowledging there is a part of you that was wounded. Most times, our adult self will diminish the wound by saying “it’s not a big deal" or "it wasn’t that bad” as an attempt to protect ourselves.

Inner child wounds cause you to live in fear. As you begin to notice these fears in yourself, you can begin to have more compassion for all parts of yourself. You will also begin to see the scared inner child in others which allows for even more empathy.

Ways to begin healing your inner child:

  • Close your eyes, place your hand on your heart, and try to picture yourself as a child then say to him/her “I am here to protect and keep us safe now.” Practice this every day.

  • When emotionally activated or triggered, rather than sit in judgement, ask your inner child “what am I afraid of here?”

  • Write a letter to your inner child.

  • Acknowledge everything that your own inner child has witnessed and share that you are now your own wise, loving parent who will make the best choices for you.

  • Setting boundaries is so important. Remind your inner child that you can say no and that having limits is a form of self-care. Lack of boundaries or having your boundaries violated causes deep inner child wounding.

  • Spend time doing activities you loved to do as a child.

  • Revisit old childhood memories. Maybe you flip through an old photo album or go take a drive past your old home.

As you begin healing and working with your inner child, you may discover painful moments or memories. Inner child work is all about trying to nurture these emotional wounds. On the flipside, your inner child might offer you a sense of strength and hope. Maybe they remind you of the optimism, playfulness and joy you once had. If this is the case, try and channel these traits in your present life. Initially, it may feel like it hurts more than it helps, but we must feel in order to heal. Sometimes when we are stuck in negative behaviors or self-sabotaging, taking a step back is the best way to move forward.


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