What Is Inner Child Healing?
There’s a concept in psychological thought that says there’s a wounded child living in all of us. That when our emotions get the better of us, when we act out, or when we struggle with self-destructive behaviors – this is, more often than not, our unhealed inner child reacting to adult life. Therapies that work with the inner child aim to connect us with it, and to find out what hurts. By giving this wounded child space – and by witnessing their loneliness, pain, and struggle – we can begin to heal the wound. By doing so, we can free ourselves from this pain. We can overcome harmful patterns, gain more control over our emotions, and find greater levels of inner peace. For better or worse, our childhood is what formed us, and inner child healing is a beautiful framework for understanding ourselves better in adulthood.
What hurts the inner child?
The inner child, according to Carl Jung’s theory, lives in survival mode. Our internal wounded child acts out from a place of fear, because there were elements of our emotional needs that weren’t met when we were children. This can be considered a trauma, because it has left an emotional scar that gets triggered by certain situations. A break-up in adulthood might trigger an abandonment wound that was experienced as a child. Being cut up on a roundabout while driving might trigger the subconscious memory of a boundary being overstepped as a kid. Childhood traumas come in many forms, such as physical or emotional abuse, neglect, loss, bullying, or illness. Emotional neglect is a form of abandonment, called proximal abandonment, which happens when parents or caregivers aren’t able to witness and hold space for a child’s emotions. The abandonment of a parent through death, separation, illness, accident, or other circumstance can be a huge wound for a child. Other losses are also keenly felt, even if we have no memory of the one who died when we were young – perhaps a sibling, grandparent, close family friend, or even pet.
How do we work with the pain?
The issues that we experience in adulthood because of our wounded inner child are because we didn’t have the opportunity to process the wounding at the time it happened. Our pain wasn’t witnessed, acknowledged, or even noticed. We built strong defenses and coping mechanisms to survive because we were vulnerable children with no power. These coping strategies aren’t necessary as adults with agency, but the inner child clings on to them for dear life until we heal the root cause. Doing inner child healing work welcomes the part of you that is stuck in this scared and pained place. It can involve conjuring an image of your younger self at a certain age, and asking them what they need; asking them what they are scared of. It is now your responsibility as an adult to give that child what the adults at the time were unable to give them. You might visualize yourself embracing your inner child and telling them that they are ok now. That they are brave, and strong, and they will get through this. You can tell them that their pain is valid, and that they shouldn’t have had to experience what they did. You can comfort them, and help them learn to trust in the safety that you can now bring them.
Acceptance, forgiveness, and release
A big part of inner child healing is coming to terms with what happened to us as children. Some people find that what appeared to be a happy and privileged childhood might not have been quite so, and this can be disorienting and frightening in itself. But by exploring these wounds, we can begin to accept the struggles that made us who we are. We can learn important lessons and see ourselves in a new way. We can discover amazing things about ourselves that were alchemized in the pain. The healing comes when we are able to accept what happened, and forgive ourselves for the behaviors that were born out of survival. Forgiving our perpetrators – if we can acknowledge that their behavior was born from their own trauma – can free us from the emotional tie that keeps the inner child stuck in pain. This work can help us release all the emotions that have been stuck in our system since childhood, such as anger, guilt, shame, fear, and grief.
How to connect with your inner child
Inner child healing is best done with a well-versed practitioner, but it is possible to start connecting with and soothing your inner child in everyday life. You might take them out for ice cream, or sing to them. You can play with your inner child by doing something silly and joyful. You can watch your favorite childhood movies, and move your body in ways you loved to as a child – maybe it’s swimming, dancing, or doing handstands. Remember that your inner child is a beautiful, loving, fun, resilient, clever, and special person. Remember that they deserve to be loved, happy, safe, and free. And remember that you are your inner child – and that you are the one in charge now.
All of the content on our website is thoroughly researched to ensure that the information shared is evidence-based. For more information, please visit the academic journals that influenced this article: Health throughout the lifespan: The phenomenon of the inner child reflected in events during childhood experienced by older persons; Reclaiming the Inner Child in Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy: The Complementary Model of the Personality; Manifestation of Trauma: The Effect of Early Traumatic Experiences and Adult Attachment on Parental Reflective Functioning.
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