It’s fun being an adult. You can cook whatever you want, spend your money however you please, and you never really have to ask for permission from your parents anymore.
But, every so often, something happens. Maybe a work colleague shoots a snarky comment your way or you have a squabble with a partner, and suddenly it can feel like you’re seven years old again.
When this happens, it might be your ‘inner child’ making an appearance.
We know you’ve probably heard of the term ‘inner child’ before. It’s a valuable concept from psychology, and it refers to the childlike part of your unconscious mind.
Many trace the concept of an inner child back to psychiatrist Carl Jung. Essentially, our inner child is the forgiving, free-spirited part of us that still feels and experiences life as a child. But, just as it carries the positive aspects of being a child (like innocence, joy and creativity), it also carries the wounding of our past.
These wounds might be caused by physical or emotional abuse, bullying or growing up in a broken family, for instance. And we might find that the resulting pain lives with us for the rest of our lives, sometimes popping up at the most unexpected moments.
This is where “reparenting” your inner child can do wonders. By retracing our past experiences, we can discover some of the reasons behind our current fears, phobias and life patterns. And when we begin to understand them and see them from what they are, that’s when healing can truly begin.
Instead of seeing your inner child as a separate person or personality, it’s best to think of it as a way to visualise past experiences and feelings. Your inner child is what helped shape you into the person you are today.
How can inner child work help us as adults?
When we’re dealing with issues today, it may seem counterintuitive to trawl through the past. But the truth is “reparenting” your inner child can help you:
- Uncover and heal any repressed emotions you experienced growing up.
- Identify the root cause behind any phobias or unhelpful patterns.
- Boost your self-esteem and show yourself self-compassion.
- Incorporate self-care into your day-to-day life.
- Tap into your fun, creative and playful side.
Does all therapy involve the inner child?
There’s a smorgasbord of different therapies out there, So how do you know which one is for you?
Ultimately, it all depends on what’s troubling you, your symptoms and your long-term goals.
Not all therapists prioritise the past or do inner child work. In Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, for instance, your psychologist will zone in on your current thoughts, behaviours and emotions, and explain how they’re all interconnected. This can be particularly useful if your issues are very recent (for instance, if you’re dealing with redundancy or grief) and your symptoms have just cropped up recently.
On the flipside, many people find that their issues are connected to early childhood experiences, particularly if there’s a longstanding problem that they’ve been unable to overcome. This is where inner child work is important.
Is inner child work for me?
Healing your inner child can help with a whole host of different issues. You might find it particularly useful if you had a traumatic childhood, if you constantly fall into toxic relationship dynamics or if you struggle to tap into your emotions or connect with others.
Let’s say you tend to slip into co-dependent relationships, for instance. This is where the relationship dynamic is unbalanced because one person often gives and the other takes. But, most importantly, both of you need each other to feel “whole”.
Typically codependency happens because you had overly protective or under protective parents.
Even if they meant well, overprotective parents may have held you back by mollycoddling you.. Because of this, later in life, you may have found it difficult to identify — let alone voice — your needs.
Since, you don’t trust your own judgement and need a lot of reassurance, you may be more likely to fall into co-dependent relationships. Because this dynamic seems familiar and comfortable.
On the flipside, if your parents were underprotective you may have been expected to “get on with it” and care for yourself. Because you don’t have a security net, you may feel isolated and alone. This can make codependent relationships enticing because you want to feel needed.
With this in mind, digging into your past might help you pinpoint exactly where your codependency stems from. Then, after “reparenting” your inner child, you may be able to break free from the cycle of codependency.
If you’re uncertain if inner child work is for you, that’s okay. Simply ask the therapist you’re working with, or flip through a self-help book on the subject and see if it resonates with you.
How to reparent your inner child
Not sure where to start? Inner child work can seem a bit intimidating. But the good news is that it’s a lot like self-care. Essentially inner child work is about becoming your own parent. It’s about treating yourself gently, checking in with your thoughts, feelings and needs, and healing any pain you experienced as a child.
Here are just a few ways you can break free from the wounds of your past and heal your inner child:
Speak to yourself kindly
The messages we hear (and didn’t hear) growing up can really influence who we become later in life.
Let’s say your parents placed a lot of emphasis on competition when you were a child. Maybe they constantly judged you against your siblings or peers. As an adult, you might harbour the feeling that you’re never really “good enough” — that you’re defective or lesser somehow.
Elsewhere, if your parents were emotionally absent as a child, you might find that you now gravitate towards emotionally unavailable partners as an adult. That’s because you mistake this familiar dynamic for ‘chemistry’, and the relationship feels ‘electric’.
With this in mind, if you want to heal the wounds of your past, you should speak to yourself with compassion and kindness. You need to tell yourself the messages you wanted to hear as a child.
Take a moment to imagine a younger version of yourself. Then reassure them with phrases like “I’m here for you” .“I love you” “You’re safe with me”. It might seem a bit silly, but these words of affirmation can bring you a lot of comfort and peace.
If it seems a little out there, you could even try writing your thoughts down. Jot down a stream of consciousness from your inner child’s point of view. Voice your innermost worries and pain. How does it make you feel? Do you get some relief? Sometimes, to heal, all we need is to feel heard and seen.
Spend time doing activities you enjoyed as a child
“I’m channeling my inner child,” you might shout as you jump off the swings at a park. Or maybe you get a rush of pure joy when you go rollerblading or dive into a pool with your clothes on. It might seem silly but there’s a reason why these child-like activities are so liberating.
As children, we often got the chance to do things just for fun. Things we wanted to do, rather than things we had to do. Activities that simply brought us joy, rather than something we had to profit from.
How many activities have you stopped doing simply because they’re “childish” or because “you’ve grown out of them”. How many more have you given up out of embarrassment or because they’re “not useful”. Now’s the time to try them once again.
As adults, we often feel like we have to be serious and mature. But there’s nothing quite as refreshing as revisiting the activities you loved as a child, whether that’s skateboarding, arts and crafts or drama.
Revisit childhood memories
Reminiscing about the past is a great way to get in touch with your inner child. To look back, try flipping through photo albums and childhood diaries. You might find that chatting with childhood friends and family helps bring back memories you completely forgot too.
As you explore past memories, you might discover painful moments. Inner child work is all about trying to tend to these emotional wounds. This might involve sharing them with a loved one, expressing them creatively or chatting about them with your therapist.
On the flipside, your inner child might offer you a sense of strength and hope. Maybe they remind you of the optimism, playfulness and joy you once had. If this is the case, try and channel these traits in your present life.
Tapping into your inner child can be a challenging task. But, the good news is, you don’t have to do it alone.
If connecting with your inner child triggers discomfort or painful emotions — for instance, if you’re dealing with grief, phobias, or traumatic memories — it can help to do this work alongside a therapist.
They’ll teach you different coping strategies to help you face these difficult emotions. Simply ask any potential therapists about their experience with inner child work and see if it resonates with you.
Retracing your past and healing your inner child may seem counterintuitive at times. But, sometimes, when we’re stuck in a negative spiral, taking a step back is the best way to move forward to a place of healing.