Healing your wounded inner child

Carl Jung is most commonly accredited with first identifying the child archetype, which he linked to what we learned and experienced in our earliest years. Our inner child, on a good day, is associated with our joy, playfulness, and creativity. Our inner child’s trauma is linked to our anxiety, fear, and destructive relationship patterns.

Unhealed and unacknowledged childhood trauma is a major contributor to most people’s present-day problems. Some of it can be difficult to recognise as adults, since painful childhood events may not seem threatening or problematic to our adult selves, or we may not even remember them. But as a child with limited knowledge, resources,  and independence, small things can leave us with maladaptive patterns and wounds that we carry with us subconsciously well into adulthood.

Given the impact of our developmental years on our personality, emotions, and behaviours, reparenting our inner child can be the most profound healing process we can undertake.

How to start a relationship

How does your inner child communicate with you?

Do you ever feel uninhibited desires to play, create, or explore? In those moments you want to throw off your clothes and run squealing into a sprinkler, or lose yourself in creative doodling with coloured pencils, your inner child is calling on you to give them some air time. When you feel sudden moments of irrational fear, clinginess, or resistance, your inner child is letting you know they need your protection, love, or attention.

If you remember your dreams, pay attention to babies, small children, or vulnerable animals. As someone who has never had kids but has cared for numerous animals, my inner child often appears to me as small, helpless animals that need my care. How well I’m able to do that in my dreamscapes tells me a lot about how well I’m doing with that all-important relationship.

Connect with them consciously

To develop a healthy relationship with your inner child, it’s important to acknowledge them and check in regularly. You can do this with meditation, or simply taking a moment to close your eyes and visualise them. You may be able to imagine your inner child, or simply feel their presence.

If I’m feeling overwhelming sadness, anger, or fear, I often close my eyes and whisper comforting words to my inner child, along the lines of ‘It’s okay, I love you, you’re safe, I’ve got this’. It helps to switch me back into adult mode so I can make good, rational choices about the situation I’m in, as well as soothing the intensely feeling parts of myself.

What do they need?

After connecting with your inner child and inviting them into the conversation, it’s important to listen to what they have to say.

When we have out-of-proportion emotional responses to events, it is often because we are governed by our inner child in that moment, who is reliving unhealed events from childhood.

For example: You have plans with someone you love, but they cancel at the last minute due to unavoidable and unexpected work commitments. Even if you know logically that it’s unavoidable and not personal, you may find yourself overcome by feelings of rejection and frustration, storming off, sulking, or giving them the silent treatment.

If this happens, see if you can connect this feeling to anything you felt in your childhood. Were there times you felt rejected or unloved by busy caregivers?  

What did your child self need back then?

Can you give it to yourself now?

Care for them

I find that when I conceptualise looking after myself as caring for my inner child, it becomes easier to do. I wouldn’t feed a child a high-sugar low-nutrient diet, make them work 14 hours a day, or deprive them of sleep and expect them to be high functioning and emotionally stable.

If a child I loved was feeling hurt and angry, I wouldn’t tell them to shut up because they’re being irrational and expect that to help.

Meditate on it

Sometimes when I’m frustrated, sad, overwhelmed, or just having trouble getting things done, I take a moment to sit with my eyes closed, and call a meeting with my inner parts.

I speak to them about what my needs are, and I ask them about theirs.

Sometimes some negotiation is called for. I have to promise my inner child that if she lets me focus on my work now, I’ll do something creative and fun later. This usually works, but remember: it’s important to keep the promises you make!

Of course, you don’t want to wait until your inner child is acting up before paying attention to them. Checking in regularly about their needs and desires is the best way to form a stable and mutually cooperative relationship with them.

Give them expression

No matter how old you are, it’s important to give your inner child regular time to express themselves. You may be able to tap into the best ways of doing this by remembering what you enjoyed as a child. Let yourself draw without needing to be good, play without it being a competition, create without purpose or goals or evaluation.

If you want to squeal and run through a sprinkler, don’t let anyone stop you.

Talk to a therapist

Past trauma can be highly distressing and it may not be easy or even possible to navigate yours alone. A good therapist will help you approach this in a gentle and effective way, and hold space for you when it’s too hard to manage alone. A therapist skilled in inner child work can guide you through experiential techniques to help you connect with your inner child, understand their needs, and release long-held trauma that impedes your mental and emotional wellness in the present.

If your needs for love, support, praise, or self-expression go unmet in childhood, a time when your bodies, personalities, and brain circuitry are forming, it can have lasting effects on the rest of your life. But while you can’t change your past, by nurturing, protecting, and reparenting your inner child in the present, you can change how it affects your life now.

If you want to speak to a therapist about healing your own wounded inner child, get in touch with us for a free consultation call today.