There has been an increase in popularity in recent years concerning “inner child work” and “healing your inner child” in therapy. In addition to helping you overcome childhood trauma, inner child work can also help you improve your self-awareness and interpersonal relationships. But what is inner child work, and who can benefit from it?
Today we’re taking a deeper look at inner child work and answering all your questions.
Define Inner Child
As children, the world feels full of possibilities. There’s so much to see, feel, taste, touch, do, accomplish and be. But what happens as we grow? Either we’re exposed to injustices in the world or culture we grow up in, at the school we attend, in our friend group, or even at home that alters our natural desire to engage in the world this way. Our carefree and creative spirit becomes burdened by the hurts we bear when we were laughed at, invalidated, scolded, or otherwise told to be less than we are. Your inner child holds onto the trauma of those moments, just as much as it holds onto isolated moments of fear that stay with you even as an adult.
So, What Exactly is Inner Child Work?
This idea of an “inner child” is credited to Carl Jung. According to Jung, the inner child is an utterly free-spirited part of yourself, a part of you that feels and lives life like it was when you were a child. While you may live life relatively unaware of your inner child, this part of you resurfaces when conflict or challenges arise that draw on old (often unhelpful) methods of survival in order to cope.
Often, the inner child is activated when we’re faced with situations that remind us of unprocessed childhood memories, often traumatic ones. Immaturity, pain, emotional distress, and acting out behaviors color our reactions in these moments, often driving a wedge in our relationships and leading to other, unhelpful consequences. To heal our inner child, we must embrace the vulnerability and raw emotion that comes from unlocking these memories. To move forward, we must become our own parents, i.e. “re-parent ourselves.”
To heal our inner child, we must love compassionately and support ourselves unconditionally. Otherwise, our inner child will remain the decision-maker in these moments of conflict, and our previous trauma will remain unresolved or become further engrained in our habits. As part of the reparenting process when you’re doing inner child work in therapy, you will be able to understand what you did not receive from your parents (or caregivers or other adults) as a child and provide it for yourself. As a result of inner child work therapy, you will gain insight into your behavior, triggers, desires, and needs and heal old attachment wounds.
Who is Inner Child Work for?
Traumatic situations and the trauma that we experience in response are not one-size-fits-all. Many people remember abuse as children; others remember neglect, abandonment, social rejection, or anxiety around their peers. Even the smallest of events can cause trauma as a child, especially as they relate to our sense of whether or not our caregivers are reliable and can be trusted. Growing up, we are entirely reliant on our caregivers, so regardless of how minor the incident seems now, any negligence poses a massive threat to our survival. The limited perspective of children means that how we interpret these situations becomes our reality almost immediately. It’s not hard to see how these small hurts can become multiplied over the years through patterns of avoidance and our justification that we were “right not to trust others all along.”
Other lessons we learn as children also shape our current reality. Often, children are discouraged from expressing their anger or sadness but rewarded for happiness, cheerfulness, or appropriate behavior. As children, we associate praise as a sign of being lovable and accepted. Unfortunately, this also teaches us that hiding our pain will give us the necessary validation. Learning to stifle our hurts and traumatic experiences becomes unconscious due to this process, leading to automatic and impulsive responses when faced with challenging situations.
What Comes Next?
You’ve read the blogs, tips, and posts with catchy ideas. You’re taking the steps and making progress, but you crave more. You want answers about why habits have formed in your life and how you can take steps to ensure they don’t take hold again.
Healing Trauma Through Inner Child Work
There are many ways we experience trauma; sometimes, the side effects appear prominent, while sometimes, they are subtle. Substance abuse, depression, and anxiety, for instance, are some of the most prominent symptoms. However, even the most modest responses to trauma can disrupt our lives when they remain unnoticed or unaddressed.
One of these subtle symptoms is people-pleasing. To avoid conflict with the source of the threat or danger, we may change our behavior or deny our opinions or needs. Early childhood traumatic events, often perpetrated by a primary caregiver, lead to people pleasing. For example, when a child faces physical, sexual, or verbal abuse, they will often do whatever it takes to keep their abusers happy to avoid further abuse. This survival mechanism can dramatically influence their perception of the world and how it works. Whether it manifests and affects their professional or interpersonal relationships, they may continue to carry this learned behavior into their later lives.
You might benefit from inner child work if you recognize some of the following people-pleasing behaviors in yourself:
- Despite being overwhelmed, you take on additional responsibility because saying no would make you feel more guilty
- Being hesitant to say what you want or need because it may lead to negative consequences
- Thinking you are less worthy or that your needs are less significant
- When someone asks for your opinion, you feel stressed or anxious
- The idea of setting clearly defined personal boundaries makes you uncomfortable
How does Inner Child Healing Work?
Taking time to reconnect with your inner child is like the saying if you can’t beat them, join them. So have fun, make a mess, giggle, wander around, and embrace the world around you, just like a child would.
How to Summon Your Inner Child and Start Reparenting (the basics):
- Get in touch with your youthful spirit—the easiest way to do this is by spending time with children
- Let yourself get lost in creativity—Do whatever you feel drawn to at the moment, and think of the exercise as a first draft
- Nourish your inner child—eat what they enjoy, and watch their favorite movies
- Reflect on the resilience of your inner child’s spirit—Consider what you admire about your inner child; what are their strengths?
- Give praise for the things that matter—Affirm your positive attributes and efforts to work through your trauma
- Remind yourself of the good times—Let your mind wander back to positive childhood memories
- Keep an intention journal—express yourself honestly and honor your perception without needing to self-edit
- Invest in yourself—Make an appointment with a therapist trained in inner child healing!
The Benefits of Seeking Professional Help for Healing your Inner Child
It is essential to seek help healing your inner child to recognize the extent of your hurt. The inner child work process usually involves talking about your past and resolving the pain; eventually, you will feel a weight lift off your shoulders. You will begin to explain how you feel before, during, and after recollecting your life experiences, memories, and traumas. This will help you realize your boundaries and affirm them in your personal life. In addition to gaining insight into your current relationships, you will also be able to understand how your response patterns helped you survive. Also, therapy allows you to return to an authentic life by reclaiming parts of yourself that you felt you had to bury or ignore.
If you are interested in beginning inner child work or feel you or a loved one would benefit from working through childhood experiences, memories, or trauma, don’t hesitate to contact us for a free consultation! Our counseling services are available to teenagers, college students, adults, and couples! There is never a better time to reconnect with your inner child and heal from your past than now.
Therapist Recommended Reads
Gleyce Almeida-Farrell is a psychotherapist and the founder of Holistic Wellness Practice in Alpharetta, GA. She specializes in helping adults manage stress and overcome symptoms of anxiety and depression utilizing a holistic and integrative approach to mental wellness.
We offer in-person and virtual services – contact us today to learn more!