We all have an inner child who has been wounded by traumas. Understanding the inner child is not only possible but can create significant shifts for you as an adult.
The role of trauma
No matter how big or small, we have all experienced trauma in our lives. Specifically, the traumas of childhood imprint our lives and cause wounds that can follow us throughout adulthood if not addressed.
These traumas can vary from having your favourite stuffed toy thrown in the trash, to being abandoned by your best childhood friend, to being neglected emotionally by a primary caregiver, to being physically or emotionally abused by a family member or your parents.
Why nudge the sleeping dog?
Why not leave sleeping dogs lie, so to speak? What’s the point in dredging up events from our past?
Inner child work is a vital component of the personal growth journey because it reconnects us with a wounded element of ourselves: the child within. When we reconnect with this fragmented part of ourselves, we can begin to discover the root of many of our fears, blocks, insecurities, and sabotaging life patterns. This is where true healing and liberation happens.
Types of childhood trauma
It’s important to understand that there are many different types of childhood trauma, including both physical, sexual, emotional and mental varieties.
Also, when childhood trauma is severe or repeated enough, it can result in a Psychological condition known as Dissociative Identity Disorder characterized by differing levels of dissociation.
However not all trauma results in dissociation but can result in a wounded psyche. This can trigger issues such as depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, phobias, destructive behavioural patterns and even chronic illnesses.
Examples of childhood trauma
- Being hit or smacked by your parents/grandparents
- Having an emotionally unavailable parent who withholds affection
- Being “punished” by kicking, shaking, biting, burning, hair pulling, pinching, scratching, or “washing out the mouth” with soap
- Being the recipient of molestation, shown pornography, or any other type of sexual contact from a parent, relative, or friend
- Being the child of divorce
- Being given inappropriate or burdensome responsibilities (such as caring for your parents – parentification)
- Not being fed or provided a safe place to live from your parents
- Abandonment (your caretakers leaving you alone for long periods of time without a babysitter)
- Emotional neglect, i.e., not being nurtured, encouraged, or supported
- Being deliberately called names or verbally insulted
- Denigration of your personality
- Destruction of personal belongings
- Excessive demands
- Car accidents, or other spontaneous traumatic events
While there are many many examples of childhood trauma, this list is by no means comprehensive. This list is to give you an idea of what inner child work would deal with. It’s also important to remember that our parents are not the only ones who can provoke childhood trauma. Grandparents, siblings, extended family members, family friends, educators and childhood friends also play a part.
What is inner child work?
Inner child work, or inner child healing, is the process of connecting, contacting, understanding, embracing and healing your inner child. Your inner child represents your original self that entered this world with wonder, joy, innocence, sensitivity and playfulness. This is that part of you before conditioning and expectations and trauma.
Inner child work (or any inner work) involves creating a space where your subconscious is allowed to take the lead. Inner work is the act of going inside ourselves to explore true feelings and parts of us that may have been rejected and labelled as inappropriate or too much by others. By allowing ourselves to go within, we start peeling back our coping mechanisms (emotional numbness, addiction, etc)
When we deny and snuff out the voice of the child within we accumulate heavy psychological baggage. This unexplored and unresolved baggage causes us to experience problems such as mental illnesses, physical ailments, and relationship dysfunction.
Why is inner child healing important?
As adults, we walk around carrying wounds from our childhood, whether it’s simple or complex trauma, from emotional neglect to physical abuse. Many adults feel they’re alone with these hurts and feelings because as adults there are expectations.
Inner child healing is important because it reminds us that we’re not wrong or bad and heals the shame that comes with just having feelings.
By healing our inner child, we begin to create the safety and security our younger selves have always needed. By doing so, the positive traits of our inner child have room to shine. We unlock our natural gifts, our inner curiosity, and our limitless capacity to love.
Signs that your inner child needs healing
Feeling highly reactive
We can notice when our wounded inner child appears in our daily lives when you find yourself highly reactive to situations, suddenly feeling very detached or irritated. This often points to a trigger or event which has stimulated your inner child.
This can look like a repeat of the narrative “I don’t need anyone” or not allowing yourself to ask for help.
Destructive coping behaviours
Coping through ineffective or self-destructive patterns such as too much alcohol, shopping, cheating, gambling, food or chronic procrastination.
Poor emotional and mental health
This can show up in a multitude of ways, including:
- Feeling unmotivated
- Wanting more and more time alone or with friends (avoidance manifesting in different ways)
- Sleep difficulties
- Weight gain or loss
- Not as focused or productive at work
- Increased anxiety in different areas of life
Repeating patterns in your relationships
People with inner child wounds tend to unconsciously recreate attachment patterns they experienced as a child in their adult relationships, whether romantic or not. This means they’re essentially repeating patterns of childhood trauma.
This can look like:
- Being avoidant during conflict or when a partner brings up their feelings
- Being dismissive of a partner’s needs or your own needs in the relationship
- Gaslighting yourself into believing that there aren’t problems when there are, or vice versa
- Being anxious or fearful within the relationship; therefore, trying to please partner above all else
- Having a deep fear of being abandoned or rejected by your partner
Ways to connect with your inner child
Just to be clear, inner child work is not about becoming childish. But it is about integration, acceptance and becoming more child-like. Where childish suggests immaturity and naivety, being childlike suggests innocence and purity. It is about adopting more openness and wonder in your life.
Practice breathwork and mindfulness
Connecting to our deep breaths and physical body helps us move out of the stresses of the adult world and “fight-or-flight” sympathetic arousal, so we can be curious about the present.
Use all five senses to check in with our body. We can do this by taking three conscious deep breaths. It can help to place one hand on your belly and chest. As you settle in, focus on your senses. Note one thing you see, one thing you smell, one thing you hear, one thing you taste and one thing you feel.
Speak to your inner child
Acknowledge your inner child and let her know that you’re there for her. Treat her with kindness and respect.
Some self-nurturing things you could say to your inner child include:
- I love you.
- I’m here for you.
- I’m sorry.
- Thank you.
- I forgive you.
Make a habit of talking to your inner child. You could also communicate through journal work by asking your inner child a question, then writing down the response in a journal.
Practice mirror work
Also known as mirror gazing this technique is a simple but powerful way to reconnect with your inner child. This is a superb healing path to take alongside the previous point (or speaking to your inner child) as it allows you to open your heart in an extremely direct way.
To try this practice, ensure that you have some privacy. Find a mirror, place a gentle hand on your heart, and gaze softly at yourself. Do this for at least five minutes.
You’ll notice that thoughts and even unexpected emotions come to the surface at first. Just let them pass. Don’t attach to them. See them as clouds in the sky. And remember, it’s okay to hold yourself, especially if feelings of grief emerge.
Once you sense the presence of your inner child emerge in your eyes, say something kind and loving to this vulnerable part of you: For example, “I see you”, “I’m so proud of you”, or “You are special to me”.
Notice what feelings arise inside of you. Most essentially, take this as a key opportunity to practice self-love and compassion – particularly if difficult or intense feelings arise.
To finish this practice, give yourself a hug, and let your inner child know anything else on your heart and mind. Journal about your experience.
Do an inner journey
One of the most powerful ways to reconnect with your inner child to heal childhood traumas, is to do an inner journey.
For beginners, I recommend two types of inner journeys: those done through meditation, and those done through visualization.
To do these inner journeys, it’s important that you first gain the trust of your inner child through the previous activities. Once you have developed a strong connection to your inner child, you can then ask her to reveal what earlier life circumstances created the trauma you’re struggling with today.
The intention of journaling is to create a safe space for you (and in this case, your inner child) to express yourself honestly without the expectations of the outside world. It can look like sitting down and simply asking your inner child how they’re feeling today. The key is honoring your inner child’s perception of their own experiences without filtering or correcting them.
If you’d like guidance in creating that safe space, here are self-parenting journaling prompts to start you off.
As children, we perceived the world very differently from our adult selves. Because of this, many of the things we presently assume never hurt us as children may have left deep scars. This is why it’s important to never make assumptions about your inner child.
Through inner child work, you can learn to grieve, heal, and resolve any sources of trauma you’ve been unconsciously holding on to for years. This can liberate you to live a life of true adulthood, emotional balance and well-being.
If you would like support with working with your inner child, please connect with me here.
Katrina Murphy is a Professional Intuitive Mindset and Confidence Coach in Ontario, Canada, serving clients across Canada and internationally. Katrina helps professionals to change the relationship that they have with themselves so they can reconnect both in their relationships and at work. She’s been featured in various publications and is the creator of the Power-Passion-Purpose Framework.