By Sarah Jeanne Browne—
“No one’s going back for that inner child. Except you.” ~Tanya Markul
Everyone has an inner child. Your inner child is You but it’s not a childlike personality you have held onto all these years. It’s your unconscious mind. It’s the You that has all those repressed memories and feelings from your childhood that resurface from time to time. Healing your inner child is essential to wellbeing and growth.
Signs Your Inner Child Might Be Trying To Reach You
According to American Psychological Association, “Research has found that relationships between parents and caregivers and youth that:
- Are warm, open, and communicative;
- Include appropriate limits, and
- Provide reasoning for rules for behavior
are associated with higher self-esteem, better performance in school, and fewer negative outcomes such as depression or drug use in children and teenagers.”
Caregiver relationships impact social, cognitive, emotional and mental health. What happens when a child doesn’t receive a supportive relationship from a caregiver? An unmet childhood need for unconditional love and safety drives your inner child the most. You are most shaped by the early years of your life with the caregivers who surround you at that time. There are triggers, trauma responses and self-protection practices that may be in play if your inner child is provoked.
If Jane goes to her husband for validation and one day, he is too busy to give her a compliment, she may feel unseen and unheard. Her inner child longing for attention may be triggered. Jane then starts a fight over something seemingly small but big to her. She feels rejected even if her husband wasn’t intending this. Such a reaction happens often when the inner child is triggered. Anger as a secondary emotion comes out.
You relive the feelings of abandonment even if you are now in a healthier relationship. Intimacy may be more difficult to master due to projection of past pain. These triggers can also be simply being overwhelmed or stress or feeling like no one appreciates you. Triggers are different for each person.
Trauma responses may also show up in the following ways:
- Not asking for help
- Saying “I’m fine” when you are not
- Feeling like a burden
Your self-protection practices might be in perfectionism, people-pleasing or power hunger as well as more. There are many ways this can manifest. You try to overcompensate for the neglect you once experienced as a child. You feel like you aren’t enough as you are, so you try even harder. Repression doesn’t help the situation. Your inner child will find a way through. It can be manifested in anxiety, depression, PTSD, emotional dysregulation, impulsivity, outbursts, difficulty functioning and withdrawal from others. If you ignore it, it just gets stronger. It’s often trying to tell you something is wrong. If it takes over your life, that’s when it’s time to reach out to a mental health professional for the best care.
Unresolved trauma can be the root of your struggles. Trauma can look like all sorts of things. According to Aundi Kolber, there’s “Big T trauma”—things like abuse, neglect, natural disaster, severe accident or experiencing a loss. Then there’s “little t trauma.” That’s when things happen that can seem as small as a paper cut (or insignificant) but over time, those cuts multiply and cause a lot of pain. Trauma is anytime your nervous system is overwhelmed and you exceed your window of tolerance for difficult emotions. Trauma can look different for each person. Therefore, comparison of trauma is an irrelevant aim. Trauma can affect your attachment styles, resulting in “attachment trauma.”
There are two types of attachment styles you have growing up—insecure and secure. Insecure looks like inconsistency and injustice. Secure is consistent and emotional support. Dr. Bruce Perry says that sometimes, you may experience patternless caregiving or care that is a mix of support and neglect.
According to Very Well Mind, “Thanks to neuroplasticity, the brain will begin to change as a person changes their behavioral patterns and beliefs. A person who is insecurely attached can build the security they need by integrating new, supportive, loving experiences into their lives.”
How To Engage With Your Inner Child
Healthline says merely acknowledging your inner child is the first step to healing and that it is “a process of self-discovery.”
Mindfully embrace the inner child with self-compassion. Mindfulness is simply being present and in tune with yourself. Sit with the inner child. Avoid judging your thoughts, but instead observe them objectively and thank them for existing. Allow them to have their space. Your inner child repressed things because it was afraid to take up space. It’s time to express that pain. It’s time to reclaim your childhood. It’s time to start again.
Some backdraft may come up when you show yourself compassion. Repressed pain may come up on the road to healing. If it is too much, try grounding. Focus on your senses to pull yourself into the present. That way, your inner child won’t take over completely without consent.
Reparent Your Inner Child
Notice then nurture the inner child. There are many exercises you can try in Dr. Stefanie Stahl’s book, The Child In You: The Breakthrough Method For Bringing Out Your Authentic Self. For example, try this memory exercise: Note how you handled life recently such as unhealthy ways or negative thoughts. Think of some events. What self-protection strategies can you observe in your behavior? Connect these to what beliefs you developed in childhood which influence those.
Notice it to change it. Figure out which negative belief stems from conditioning and childhood programming. Reshape reality through your inner adult.
Dr. Stephanie Stahl says to strengthen your inner adult by having it challenge childhood beliefs from neglect or abuse. Combat negative thoughts such as “I don’t deserve love because my parents didn’t show me it” with “I was just a child who deserved love and safety and still do.”
This is how you start to reparent yourself.
Dianna Raab, PhD, author of Writing for Bliss, says to try to write a letter to your inner child. It’s important to create a dialogue that is welcoming and warm. Show compassionate attention to yourself.
Here are prompts to get you started when addressing your inner child. Ask yourself,
- What are some things you wanted a trusted adult to tell you at that age?
- What is something kind you can say about yourself?
- How can you forgive yourself for not knowing then what you know now?
- How can you release the shame of what you’ve been through?
- What wisdom can you learn from the wounded inner child?
If anything, affirmations such as “I love you” and “I’m sorry we went through that” are extremely helpful.
Oxytocin is a hormone that is released when you feel love and safety. Its benefits are stress relief, improved immunity, sleep, relaxation and positive thinking. When a child is neglected by a caregiver, it may prohibit the release of oxytocin among other hormones such as dopamine.
According to the study, Effects of Oxytocin On Recollections of Maternal Care and Closeness, it is noted “Oxytocin is produced in the hypothalamus and released into the circulatory system, where it is involved in facilitating uterine contractions during parturition and milk ejection during lactation. Oxytocin also is released directly into the brain, where it has been shown to play a critical role in attachment bond formation and maintenance in animals.”
The good news is that there are ways to release oxytocin in the brain, and there are even studies exploring the administration of oxytocin to children to create feelings of trust and safety if deprived in some way.
You can release oxytocin as an adult and cope with your inner child in the following ways:
- Massage by yourself or someone else. For self massage- See this tutorial by Gentle Whispering ASMR for how to do so!
- Yoga—This lowers blood pressure and reduces stress.
- Bath—Soak yourself in warm water and bubbles and let your thoughts drift away.
- Weighted Blanket—It will feel like a hug!
- Listen to or make music—Create a self-care playlist.
- Meditation—A great meditation you can do is Inner Child Healing Meditation on Youtube by Relax for a While.
- Foster Connection—A support system and social activity will help you heal.
- Intimacy—Hug, cuddles or sex or anything where you express physical closeness with someone.
- Pet animals—There’s a reason there are emotional support pets. Even if you don’t get one, you can still enjoy the presence of an animal.
Eventually, you’ll embrace your inner child as a part of you unforgotten. You will realize things weren’t your fault. You had to survive by white-knuckling and other ways of forcing the inner child down. But now you can let it seek refuge. Healing isn’t an overnight thing. It’s human to sometimes have to revisit certain issues. You can focus on it bits at a time. You don’t have to solve all your childhood trauma in one sitting. But your inner child will thank you for finally letting it come to the light.