Every child should feel safe, secure and protected. But not every child does. When our needs are not met, our safety is compromised or trauma inserts itself into our lives as a child, we carry this with us in our inner child.
What is the inner child?
Our inner child is a part of ourselves that’s been present since conception, through utero and all the developing years after where we were young and developing into tender selves: baby, infant, toddler, young child and school-aged.
Your “inner child” is a part of your subconscious that has been picking up messages way before it was able to fully process what was going on (mentally and emotionally). It holds emotions, memories and beliefs from the past as well as hopes and dreams for the future. The inner child can often recall good experiences as well as childhood fears, traumas, neglect or significant loss.
It’s important to stay connected (or reconnect) with this sensitive part of ourselves. This connection paves the way for excitement, invigoration and inspiration and without it we feel disconnected, bored and unhappy.
While we speak of the inner child in terms of a separate entity, it is part of who we are. In this way, both the pain and excitement of our inner child are manifested in our lives.
What is the role of safety?
Safety isn’t just physical, but emotional, psychological and spiritual. We feel safe within our family environment when our boundaries are respected, when our authentic selves are accepted and when we experience love from our parents and caregivers. We also need to be given the opportunity to grow and change and have all of these parameters remain constant.
Feeling unsafe as a child can look like:
- You were taught that it’s not OK to have your own opinions.
- You were punished when trying to speak up or act differently.
- You were discouraged from playing or having fun.
- You weren’t allowed to show strong emotions such as anger or joy.
- You were shamed by your parents or family members.
- You were verbally criticized/abused on a regular basis.
- You were physically punished or your physical boundaries were violated.
- You were made to feel responsible for your parents and their level of happiness.
- You weren’t given physical affection.
Safety can also be compromised by psychological, emotional or physical neglect.
How do we identify our inner child?
- Our inner child is the one that remembers that sweet smell of grandma when she leaned down to hug us.
- Our inner child remembers feeling invited to a friend’s birthday party and feeling so happy and confident.
- Our inner child remembers being ignored and bullied on the bus on the first day of school.
- Our inner child remembers feeling dumb when the teacher scoffed or when we didn’t have the answer to a “seemingly easy” question.
- Our inner child is present when we start our first job, proving your boss that you’re responsible and capable, feeling proud.
- Our inner child is present when we are teenagers, wanting so badly to belong.
- Our inner child is inside of us when we go on a quest to find love, or to find social groups to belong to.
- It’s the part that feels understood, calm, warm and fuzzy when we have good times with others.
- It’s also the part that feels crushed and betrayed when we are hurt, ignored or lied to, when someone hurts or betrays us.
It can be hard to pinpoint the exact event that is tugging at us, but we can start to notice our internal patterns that have left us a subconscious “breadcrumb trail” when we start to explore our inner world.
How do we know our inner child?
Our inner child is always communicating with us, we just need to learn to listen.
Our inner child can either be calm and content (for the most part), or it can act out and make things a bit rumbly inside, standing in the way of healthy relationships, organization skills and self-regulation.
If you’re feeling frustrated or stuck in some aspect of your life, it’s probable that your inner child is needing some attention. Stuck points can look like difficulties at work, in parenting, finding or keeping love, deepening relationships or setting boundaries.
How to know if your inner child is running the show?
You may notice that you’re experiencing fear, perfectionism, anxiety or are avoiding certain people, places or experiences. These are all ways that your inner child is attempting to feel safe. When the inner child is running the show, it’ll choose behaviors, choices and thoughts based on unconscious beliefs or memories from the past, and based on what the inner self would need to feel safe.
Often the inner child will engage in numbing of emotions so that they don’t have to feel or that they can delay feeling..
Childhood emotional wounds can make you feel like you’re walking around with a ton of bricks on your back. If your inner child is walking around with 50 lbs of pain, you may feel like you are carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders. If your inner child lived with instability, uncertainty or danger, it may hold you back from making changes. You may notice a fearful part, afraid of you trying new things, however, if you are wanting to move on with life you’ll probably feel torn.
We get stuck when two opposing parts of the inner child are trying to have their needs met.
When the inner child is running the show, you may find that several self-sabotaging indicators are present:
- People Pleasing –Always giving people what they want to please them, gain
approval and avoid conflict.
- Entertaining – Being the “life of the party” by making jokes, being a clown,
and making other people happy without being sensitive to your own needs
- Withdrawal or nonfeeling – Holding back any emotional responses to make sure no one gets to know how you feel.
- Looking good – Being sure to look good by overachieving, being perfect,
and doing only what seems to be the right thing.
- Enabling or rescuing– By always focusing your attention and energies on
the needs of others, you keep the focus off of yourself to the point that you
can’t identify anything you need to work on yourself – You are out of touch
with who you are.
- Passive aggressive – Agreeing to go along with requests or orders when
you disagree and have no plan to follow through.
- Jumping to negative assumptions – Assuming the worst about what others
think and plan to do, you give other people power over you. Many people
who have negative thinking hide their true selves to avoid conflict.
- Acting out – Being a person who draws attention to your negative behaviors, you try to hide your real self who is sensitive and needy.
You can find a middle ground, and get “unstuck” so that you can move past blockages. To cultivate the balance of creativity, flexibility, responsibility, connectivity and consistency, it’ll be important for your adult self and child self to meet and get to know each other. This is the first step to creating a collaborative team; one in which your adult needs and inner child needs are met.
How to know if your inner child has some discontent
- Feelings of shame, guilt and/or pain.
- Chronic overworking and needing to achieve (to get approval or belonging).
- Inability to be present in the moment.
- Regular anxiety and fear.
- Rigid and trying to be “perfect” (cannot handle failure).
- Difficulty noticing and celebrating “wins” in life (no win will ever be enough).
- Unhealthy relationship patterns and/or avoiding relationships and love.
- Self-sabotage and obsessive/addictive behaviors.
- Rumination and negative self-talk.
How to cultivate a relationship with your inner child
- Get in touch with your inner child by beginning a dialogue and developing a relationship
- Listen to the inner child to learn about its’ needs, pains and dreams.
Often the assistance of a certified Psychotherapist is necessary to open the door to a conversation with the inner child.
Ways to work with your inner child
- Utilize activities to start feeling (a little bit at a time) in order to undo the numbing.
- Work on reducing anxieties and fears by processing fearful memories or experiences.
- Developing healthy relationships that allow you to feel safe and steady in the world.
- Creating a warm and inviting environment.
- Create structure and nourishing self-care by creating steady patterns of feeding, sleeping, hygiene & exercise.
- Develop clear emotional, energetic, time and physical boundaries.
- Create passions and hobbies and make them part of your life.
- Shift focus from performing to doing + being + celebrating.
- Shift your inner beliefs (coaching can help with this).
How to support your inner child and increase feelings of safety
- Reflect on the timeline of your childhood
- Write a letter to your inner child
- Write a letter from your inner child
- Share your pain with a trusted person
- Loving and supportive affirmations
- Do an inner child visualization/meditation
- Be your own protector and nurturer
The pain of the Inner Child often manifests as issues in our adult lives, so getting to know this part of ourselves is pivotal for growth and happiness. Please reach out if you’d like support with any of the concepts discussed in this article.
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.