Healing Your Inner Child

childhood therapy trauma Jun 28, 2021

Your boss asks you to complete a new assignment by morning—so you stay up late getting it done even though you planned to spend the evening trying a new recipe. You get a sense of accomplishment from being dependable and you can’t stand the thought of disappointing your boss. Sound familiar?

You may think your reaction is based on the present moment, but these personality traits were formed when you were a child. In fact, your sense of self begins to solidify by the time you’re eight years old. When you’re negotiating your 9 PM bedtime…you’re also cementing an identity for future relationships. You’re developing an image of who you are and how other people will treat you. You’re crafting what self-love will look like decades down the road.

And it all traces back to the inner child. In a recent episode of Simplexity, psychotherapist Alyssa “Lia” Mancao and I talked about connecting with and healing your inner child. Inner who, you ask?


What Is Inner Child Work?

It’s a trendy concept across the internet these days, but “inner child work” has history. Though popularized by John Bradshaw in the 90s, the inner child concept finds its origins in Carl Jung, who recognized that each person contains “an unconscious subpersonality that consists of what a person learned and experienced in the earliest years of their life.”

Simply put, our inner child is a manifestation of our unmet childhood needs. This piece of us began developing before we even had the verbal skills necessary to communicate our desires, but our unfulfilled needs often have a real impact on our lives as adults.

We begin to form a sense of self around our childhood experiences. We rely on patterns, and so we create patterns. Essentially, as we grow older, we base our reactions to new moments of disappointment, frustration, fear, or anger on our earliest memories of these emotions. Let’s look at a few ways that might show up.


How Do We Develop Our Sense of Self?

The relationships and experiences that were modeled for us in our homes as children become primary parts of our personality, Lia explains more deeply on the podcast. We studied our caregivers—how they treated each other, spoke to us, projected their emotions onto us—and integrated what we saw into our understanding of ourselves, other people and the world. If they were loving and kind, we may feel at ease nurturing other people. If they were dismissive or neglectful, we may struggle to offer support to others. These patterns continue to surface until we acknowledge them, examine them, and decide what to keep, toss, or transform. (Spoiler: ya can’t toss the Child.)


How Do We Heal Our Inner Child?

Now that we know our inner child is a force at work on our lives, how do we reshape those pillars of identity into something healthier—without collapse?


1. Meet Your Inner Child

Step one is acknowledging your inner child. On the podcast, I share a story about visualizing young Alyson sprawled across my backseat. Your “meeting” with your inner child might not be quite so literal, but acknowledging their existence opens a path to deeper healing.


2. Have a Conversation with Your Inner Child

Next, it’s time to chat. To help with this task, bring this version of you clearly into your mind’s eye—are you wearing a favorite t-shirt? Was there a toy you always had, or a place you spent a lot of time? Pulling out a photo might help.

Consider a visualization. When you look at your inner child, what do you feel towards them, and what do they feel towards you? Pay attention to the emotions that come up and where they form in your body. Perhaps ask a few questions, like “what do you need?”

If you want a more physical route to communication, write a letter to your inner child, telling them something you wish that child would have heard when they were younger.


3. Utilize Affirmations

Once you’ve opened a dialogue with your inner child, the healing process can begin. Again, your inner child is often a reflection of how you were neglected when growing up. Now is your chance, then, to provide support for those places of neglect. Affirmations can be an excellent tool (in fact, I love them so much, I recorded my own).

Depending on the wounds you’ve uncovered, practice telling yourself and your inner child things like “I love you,” “I see you,” or “I believe you.” Maybe you need to hear “it’s okay to say no” or “I’m glad you’re here.”


4. Consider EMDR

While a lot of inner child work can be accomplished on your own, sometimes you need to lean on a professional. EMDR (eye movement desensitization & reprocessing) helps reprogram how you respond to memories. This enables you to revisit difficult situations without reacting. Lia goes into more detail about the methodology and impact of EMDR on Simplexity—you’ll have to tune in!


Keep, Toss, or Transform

You’ll know your inner child work is paying off by taking the stance of witness. You’ll be able to hit pause before reacting emotionally to small inconveniences. You’ll be able to step back and recognize when you’re working off of assumptions rather than facts.

A gentle reminder: many people face trauma brought on by everything from childhood experiences to social stratification to unacknowledged grief, so if you need support before embarking on inner child work, consider reaching out to a professional.

Somehow, despite all the goodness I’ve talked about here, we covered even more on Lia’s Simplexity episode. Check it out for more on inner child healing, attachment styles, why and how we self-sabotage, and how disenfranchised grief impacts the inner child (yeah, we covered a lot).

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