What is the Inner Child?
The inner child is a younger part of ourselves that still exists within us. The inner child is the part of us that suffered trauma and abuse and wounded us in childhood. We had to learn to adapt in order to survive. There are several ways we may have learned to adapt, including:
- Stuffing our emotions because expressing our emotions was not safe or we were not allowed to feel them
- Criticizing ourselves and feeling the need to prove our worth or avoid taking up space; feeling that we didn’t have any worth
- Hiding, isolating, and finding a means to escape, such as losing ourselves in imagination or fantasy, experiencing disassociation, using reading or TV or online activities to “numb out”, or finding other forms of unhealthy coping (substances, sex, etc.)
- Rebelling in order to be seen or because it was how we were able to create community or safety with others when we didn’t feel safe in our home environment
In childhood, this younger part of ourselves often loses the ability to be his or her true self. This happens because of unmet needs that the child has attempted to meet on their own, robbing them of the ability just to be a child. The child naturally adapts in ways that they feel are necessary to get their basic physical and emotional needs met.
Younger parts of ourselves can take over to try to meet their needs through our decisions in adulthood. When we are acting in a way that is self-sabotaging or detrimental to us, a helpful tool is to ask ourselves: “How old am I feeling right now?” If we are able to recognize feeling younger than our present age, it may be the opening to identify what unmet need we are attempting to meet with our current actions. When we are able to identify an unmet childhood need, we often discover that it is actually what we need in the present moment as well.
How do I show love to myself and that younger part of me?
There are several ways you can practice showing love to the younger you to get your present needs met. Here are just a few examples:
In times of joy:
- Notice what you would enjoy or what creates excitement in you and make a BIG deal out of it. Children don’t want an “oh that’s nice,” they want a “WOW THAT’s AMAZING” response. Often our inner selves need the same – even in the little joys in life.
- Do things that you always wanted to do as a kid but never got the chance. Take dance lessons, go to the zoo, shout for joy – the possibilities are endless.
- Do something fun. Ride a bike, play a board game, jump in a puddle, roll down a grassy hill without worrying about how dirty your clothes will be afterward.
In times of difficulty:
- Write a letter to yourself providing what you believe the younger part of you might need to hear.
- Take a deep breath and go easy on yourself while still being honest with yourself. First, take the moment to understand why you are struggling and validate your understanding of that reality. Then remind yourself of the truth that may be difficult to admit because of the past wounds that are making up your reality. This could look like: “I get why you feel unworthy. There have been so many times you were taught that, but the truth is, you are so precious and valuable. You are so worthy.”
- Pay careful attention to what needs were not met as a child and do your best to meet them, even if that means asking for help from others when you are unable to meet them for yourself.
When we practice these things with our inner child, we begin to re-parent ourselves. As a parent for our inner child, we can become more in tune as to how precious that part of us is, what he or she needs and wants, and where to step in as the adult when those needs and wants aren’t actually best for us. We need to set limits for ourselves despite our preferences. For example, allowing ourselves to eat 20 cookies in one sitting is probably not a good idea even if that’s what we want: maybe we can allow ourselves to eat two cookies instead.
What if I need help connecting or I want a deeper connection?
The Survivors I workshop at Rio Retreat Center allows individuals to explore the impacts of their childhood trauma in their adulthood through connection with the inner child. We also offer Survivors II which can include continued work on childhood trauma or extend into exploring adulthood relational trauma. Both Survivor workshops encourage connection with the inner child and help participants discover tools to understand and overcome dysfunctional and maladaptive coping skills. These workshops are based on the work of Pia Mellody in her book Facing Codependence. If you are interested in this workshop, call today at 800-244-4949. For more information, you can also visit our website by clicking here.
By Joell Menefee, MPC, LAC, Rio Retreat Center, Survivors Therapist