There is a part of our mind that retains the sense of curiosity, awe, and innocence we had as children. It keeps us asking questions about new things, playing and seeking joy, and inspires wonder at the world around us. Our inner-child, as it’s referred to in psychology, can also hold onto the harm caused by feeling unsafe in our youth. This part of our psyche might hold onto feelings of fear, anxiety, loneliness, or insecurity we might have experienced as children, feelings that then make their way out into our thoughts, behaviors, and choices as adults. The influence of our inner child can create havoc in our lives as it takes hold in uncomfortable situations and steers our direction based on those feelings. We must learn to take over the role of caring for our inner child’s needs in order to heal and avoid letting pain from our past define our present and future.
Understanding and Acknowledgement
Those who experienced trauma and harm as children are not the only ones that might have felt unsafe when they were growing up. In fact, most people can likely look back on happy childhoods closely and see places where their needs went unmet. There is no such thing as a perfect parent. It’s the most challenging task people undertake, and in most cases, parents do the best they can with what information, education, and maturity they have. Acknowledging where parents fell short in making us feel safe isn’t a process seeking blame; it’s only for us to bring awareness to what feelings that lack of safety created. There are many different ways that a child might feel unsafe; different types of abuse or neglect such as physical or emotional, lack of positive reinforcement, not being given the space for emotional expression, experiencing criticism or shame, or being pressured to achieve at a high level or grow up quickly is just a small list of examples.
In order to connect to one’s inner child, there must be the acknowledgment of these experiences and feelings; essentially, we must admit not all of our needs were met and then take responsibility for caring for them ourselves as adults. We must become the parents that our inner child needed and still currently needs and give them a voice to express their feelings in order to ensure that we don’t expect others and the world around us to meet them.
A Relationship with Our Former Selves
How does one “re-parent” our inner child?
Open and maintain a dialogue – One suggestion is to write a letter to and a letter from your inner child. An exercise such as this can help open up the lines of communication between you and your inner child. This is one way many felt unsafe. As children, there wasn’t an open dialogue with our parents and we were left misunderstanding or misunderstood. Before we acknowledge our inner child, its important to understand one of the reasons they “act out” through us, which is because they feel unheard. If you need to, examine your childhood closely to see where this may have happened, and to recognize places your inner child felt unheard or unsafe. Connect with them to reassure them they are safe and to allow them to express their negative feelings in a safe way.
Nurture and love – Often our inner child needs love and reassurance. Speaking this way to ourselves, our inner child can help soothe negative feelings and create the feelings of safety they lacked. Guided meditations or visualizations often aid this, helping to envision yourself sitting next to yourself as a child and giving you the ability to hug and hold them. You can also indulge your inner child by playing the way they want to, go to a park or amusement park, watch a movie you loved as a child, color, or do any other activity they’d enjoy.
Words of Affirmation – There are a number of reassuring and calming things that you can speak to your inner child:
- You are safe and loved.
- I support you/I will protect you.
- It’s okay to feel sad/scared/anxious.
- It’s okay to say no.
- I love you the way you are.
- You are kind/smart/funny/important.
- I am happy you are here.
Sharing – Talking with a trusted person, be it a therapist or a friend, is exceptionally valuable to healing your inner child. Many of us have not had conversations about the difficult experiences we had as children. Some of us might not even have acknowledged that our experiences were painful; talking about these things with a trusted person can help alleviate the fear and anxiety around them.
If we have not done the work to heal our inner child, we might struggle with trusting others, constant worry or anxiety, low self-esteem, or fear of new things, which can all lead to struggles navigating the world as adults. Becoming the parent we needed as children and acknowledging the experiences we had can be challenging and painful; but, it can help us develop life skills we may be lacking, help us with emotional regulation, strengthen and improve our relationships, and nurture creativity and levity.