We may ask what the inner child is. It might seem a strange concept to have a child within a grown adult. It may seem to suggest that you are not grown up. Before working on your inner child, we should understand what the inner child is.
The inner child is often seen as a ‘true self’, often hidden within adults. The Cambridge Dictionary describes the inner child as a part of the personality that still ‘reacts and feels like a child.’ While this concept may seem abstract or difficult to visualise, and there is no physical inner child, the psychological idea of the inner child is very much real. We may find ourselves acting on the pain suffered by our inner child, but how does the inner child behave?
If we experienced trauma as a child, there are wounds created that require healing. This healing can be accomplished if the child has a parent who wishes to resolve the issues that lead to the trauma. But sometimes, children have no reliable authority to parent them and treat them lovingly in the face of trauma. As a result, trauma wounds do not heal, and the problems will persist into adult life. Often, those in touch with their inner child are still dealing with a problem rooted in childhood trauma.
For some, it is easy to identify where childhood pain comes from. For example, somebody facing physical abuse as a child can see how that situation informed their emotional problems as an adult. Others find it harder to locate the source of their suffering but know it exists because they struggle with unexplained feelings, such as anger or worthlessness. There is always a source to these feelings. Both kinds of people need to understand what hurt their inner child if they want to heal.
Much like a real child, the inner child can behave in a way that we may perceive as needy because it cannot meet its own needs. Having been damaged, the inner child is especially vulnerable. The injured child may be impulsive, narcissistic, dependent, or afraid of abandonment. They struggle to regulate emotion or decipher between logic and reason. As you may expect a child to act out, an inner child is no different. Even if our inner child is healthy, we can still express our reactions to experiences in a childlike way. This can be hard to deal with, but the challenge is accepting and connecting with that part of your personality. We can all lose touch with our inner child from time to time. This can sound relatively simple and manageable, but healing the inner child can be a long, arduous process that requires guidance from a qualified therapist who can understand the nature of the inner child.
How is the inner child hurt?
Many children experience trauma, and while some of the items on this list may seem like everyday events, if a child is not helped to deal with them, it can affect their psychological development.
- Loss of a parent or guardian
- Physical abuse or neglect
- Emotional abuse or neglect
- Sexual abuse
- Serious illness
- Severe bullying
- Natural disasters
- Family breakup
- Being a victim of violence
- Substance abuse in the household
- Domestic violence in the household
- Mental illness of a family member
- Being a refugee
- Feeling isolated from their family
How does childhood trauma affect adulthood?
Minor trauma is common, meaning that even the healthiest childhood might need to be resolved through inner child work at some point. However, experiencing major trauma as a child will likely follow us into adulthood. If nobody helps us heal when we are a child, the effects will probably plague us until we resolve them using inner child work. The result of having a damaged inner child is classified as destructive behaviours, such as:
- Self-defeating behaviour
- Self-harming behaviour
- Passive-aggressive behaviour
- Violent behaviour
It is essential to recognise that once we experience trauma, it becomes a part of our history and cannot be undone. It is not a case of quickly fixing our inner child. Once we experience trauma, it can change the way we think, feel, and behave. We may not be able to fix it, but we can help it heal. Once you start to heal, the scars will fade, and we can explore healthier attitudes and lifestyles.
The concept of doing inner child work may seem pointless. Consider seeing a child suffering from a wound and choosing to ignore them. It would be to ignore the needs of an innocent dependant. How would it make the child feel? The child would continue to suffer until the wound was healed. These wounds, when experienced by the inner child, can last long into adulthood. Helping our inner child will put an end to internal suffering, helping us change maladaptive behaviours.
Why It Does Not Help to Deny the Existence of Your Inner Child
To heal our inner child, we must commit to knowing our inner child. We must accept its existence to recover it. As previously discussed, it can seem a far-off and abstract concept, but refusing to think about our inner child can lead to difficulty in changing negative feelings and behaviours. Doing inner child work, either alone or with a therapist, is a beautiful way to heal and realign ourselves with positivity in the ways we think, feel and behave.
As well as acknowledging the existence of our inner child, we must show our inner child the compassion we needed as a child. Our needs were not met in the past, whether by someone important who failed to show mercy, love or nurture or by someone who inflicted pain on you directly. One way of showing compassion is to imagine the painful situation from the inner child’s viewpoint, to gain insight into how you lacked support in the past. Therapists can also provide model compassion that makes it easier for us to express sympathy.
Loving Your Inner Child
A traumatic event can make us doubt even the most apparent sources of love in our life. If we were rarely showed care, we may have found ourselves distanced from others and believed we were unlovable. A therapist can help you learn to love your inner child by helping you identify a connection with your inner child.
One recommended aspect of healing is to play as we did as a child. It can help us feel more connected to our inner child. Try playing some games or doing activities we enjoyed when we were young. Approach them with the expectation that they are as fun now as they were back then. As you continue to play, we will find that our connection to the inner child grows and that we can gain happiness through the activities.
We must take responsibility for our inner child. We may feel anger toward those who have hurt us, but we should not expect them to help or resolve our issues. Only we can take charge of our inner child.
Children must be taught how to live successfully in the world. Our trauma illustrates how somebody failed to teach us how to nurture and care for ourselves. We will need to find the gaps in parenting that cause us trouble at present. It may seem incomprehensible to have to parent the inner child, but with the help of a licensed therapist, we can learn how to do this effectively.
A therapist will also guide us in communicating with our inner child through spoken or written words. We can do this both in a session and at home. If there is something that you want to say to the inner child, there are a variety of ways that you can express this.
Becoming a Psychological Adult
What happens when our healing is completed? We may want to learn to change certain behaviours, for which cognitive behaviour therapy can help us make those changes.
We can also work towards becoming an emotionally healthy adults. This does not mean letting go of our inner child, however. The inner child is still a part of you, and in connecting with this aspect of ourself, we can be more relaxed and find greater pleasure and joy in living our life. Adulthood often requires severe and thoughtful behaviour; now, we can take on such responsibilities while releasing our childhood trauma. When this is done, we can make decisions that are both helpful and enjoyable.
Using Therapy to Heal the Inner Child
A licensed therapist has the psychological training to guide us through healing our inner child. They can help us heal, and they can help us avoid causing our inner child any more pain. Their instruction and support can be invaluable as we work toward becoming happy, healthy adults.
Therapists use several different techniques to help identify the trauma of childhood. They can provide tools to use in sessions, such as guided imagery, art therapy, writing poetry and journaling. All of these allow the individual to visualise painful moments. Once the source of emotional pain is established, we will need to ask ourselves several questions. Who contributed to causing the pain? Did they inflict it intentionally? How did you respond to the situation or event at the time? We can also explore how the case damaged the inner child and the role that continues to play in our lives.