We all have an inner child, a part of us that was shaped by our early experiences and continues to influence our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors as adults. Many of us carry wounds from childhood that we may not even be aware of, but that affect our relationships, self-esteem, and overall well-being. Healing the inner child is a powerful process that can help us connect with our authentic selves, rediscover joy and creativity, and live more fulfilling lives.
‘We get caught in the grown-up trap and forget to have fun, embracing your inner child will reconnect you with the contentment and simplicity that you once had as a kid,’ explains Nicky Taylor, co-author of book Be More Kid.
As a therapist who has worked with many clients on this journey, I would like to share some insights and tips that I hope will inspire and support you in your own exploration.
Understanding the Inner Child
The inner child is the part of us that holds our early memories, emotions, and needs. It is the vulnerable and authentic self that is often buried under layers of protection and adaptation. Your inner child represents your earliest experiences, thoughts, feelings, and memories from childhood. It’s an emotional part of yourself that needs love, healing, and validation. Your inner child can stay emotionally stuck at the age when emotional wounds occurred if you don’t work on healing it.
In order to heal the inner child, we need to first acknowledge and honor its existence. This means being curious and compassionate towards our inner experience, rather than dismissive or critical. We can do this by paying attention to our emotions, noticing our patterns of behavior, and exploring our inner world through journaling, therapy, or other forms of self-exploration.
Identifying Childhood Wounds
Childhood wounds can take many forms, such as abuse, neglect, abandonment, betrayal, or loss. They can also result from more subtle forms of invalidation or lack of attunement from caregivers. A lot of us learned in childhood that in order to receive love and approval from our caregivers, we must be obedient, cheerful, and academically successful. This sets an expectation that we must always be positive, productive, and helpful to others in order to feel worthy. But this belief comes at a cost, leaving many individuals struggling with a sense of inadequacy. Often, these wounds are deeply rooted and may have been normalized or even denied by our family and culture. However, they can still have a profound impact on our sense of self, worthiness, and belonging. Emotional wounds can surface in different ways, such as anxiety, depression, self-sabotage, addictive behaviors, and relationship issues. One of the ways to identify emotional wounds is to start paying attention to emotional triggers or patterns that repeat in your life. Once you identify your emotional wounds, you can begin the healing process. Identifying and acknowledging these wounds is an important step towards healing them. This can involve revisiting past memories, exploring the impact of family dynamics, and recognizing how these wounds may show up in our present relationships.
The inner child holds onto these painful experiences, shaping the way we navigate our inner and outer environments. By understanding and working on healing our inner child, we can better manage our emotions, improve our relationships with others, and create a more fulfilling life.
Healing the Wounds
Healing the inner child is a gradual and non-linear process that requires patience, courage, and support. There is no one-size-fits-all formula for healing, as each person’s journey is unique. However, there are some common themes and strategies that can be helpful. Cultivating self-compassion and self-care is essential, as it allows us to soothe the wounded parts of ourselves and create a safe inner environment. Practicing mindfulness and grounding techniques can also help us stay present and regulate our emotions. Seeking therapy or other forms of support can provide a nurturing and validating space to explore our inner world and receive guidance. Finally, engaging in creative, playful, or expressive activities can help us reconnect with the joy and spontaneity of our inner child.
Integrating the Inner Child
As we heal the inner child, we gradually integrate its wisdom and gifts into our adult selves. This means embracing our authentic feelings, needs, and talents, and learning to express them in healthy ways. It also means breaking free from old patterns of self-sabotage, shame, or perfectionism, and replacing them with self-compassion and positive affirmations. Integrating the inner child may also involve making changes in our external environment, such as setting boundaries, ending toxic relationships, or pursuing new passions and goals. This process is transformative and empowering, as it allows us to reclaim our sense of agency and create a life that is aligned with our deepest values and aspirations.
Cultivating Healthy Relationships
Healing your inner child also means cultivating healthy relationships. When you heal your inner child, you become more self-aware, assertive, and compassionate towards yourself and others. You can create healthy boundaries, communicate effectively, and attract people who are aligned with your values.
5 Ways to Embrace Your Inner Child:
- Reconnect with childhood dreams
- Underthink things
- Play more
- Contentment over happiness
Reconnect with childhood dreams
Kids believe they can be anything they want to be – they have no doubts that limit them, and adults around them also encourage them to believe anything is possible and there is no limit to the imagination.
Those dreams and possibilities slowly start to fade as we grow older and are replaced with ‘have to’s’ and ‘must do’s’. Those same adults who once encouraged our dreams now tell us that we need to find something sensible to do that pays well or it isn’t possible to succeed, until we eventually forget about those dreams that we once had.
Get back in touch with the dreams you had as a kid: what were they? What was important to you about those things you used to dream about? How can you recreate something similar as an adult?
Reconnect with that unwavering belief in yourself and your possibilities. Surround yourself with cheerleaders, the people who wholeheartedly believe in you and uplift you.
Kids think in a very simplistic way. It doesn’t cross their mind that things might go wrong or fail. Obstacles simply don’t exist. If you explain why they can’t do something they will explain to you all of the ways that they can do it!
Adults often do the opposite, limiting themselves by believing their own reasons why they shouldn’t do something. If they push through those, they will often end up feeling guilty or imagining everything going wrong, which spoils their enjoyment.
Retrain your mind to focus on everything going well. To do this: think about something specific that you have coming up and imagine the scene fifteen minutes after the successful conclusion of that event. What will you see, hear, feel, be saying to yourself?
Every time you think about that event, remember that positive image – this should be the only version you imagine. Notice how positive and relaxed you now feel about that event, maybe even a little excited just like a child would be. It’s easy to embrace your inner child once you know how!
Think about how persistent a child is when they want something. They keep repeating their request until they get what they want, and they don’t care how annoying they may be. As an adult, at best we ask for something once and if our request is ignored or we don’t get the outcome that we want, we don’t feel we can ask again.
You don’t have to go to the extremes that a kid would, yet if something is important to you, adopt that kid-like determination in making it happen. Maybe look for a different approach, put yourself in the other person’s shoes and find a win-win that will be a positive outcome for both of you. It’s your life and you owe it to yourself to make it the best life that you can, even if it means being persistent about the things that are important to you.
Kids are really creative and can turn anything into a game. They love having fun and aren’t afraid to form new friendships. In contrast, adults often avoid doing tasks they don’t enjoy, rather than finding a way to enjoy them, and even procrastinate doing the things they do get pleasure from. Making new friends can also become a major hurdle as an adult.
Find creative ways to turn the tasks you don’t enjoy into a game or a friendly competition. You may be able to get them done faster when they are reframed as fun. Take the opportunity to speak to new people wherever you go. Just be yourself and enjoy the conversation for what it is, without any expectations.
Contentment Over Happiness
Kids find enjoyment in the moment, becoming absorbed in what they are doing or what they are going to be doing next. They don’t tend to think too far beyond that. Adults look outside of themselves for happiness or feel they will be happy in the future when things change, perhaps when we are more financially stable or can finally retire. We’re always thinking, “If I can just make it through x or y I can finally relax or have fun,” which can turn into a vicious cycle of always waiting for the right time to be happy. In doing so, we completely miss the opportunity to be content in the moment.
Try to keep your attention fully on what you are doing right now, in the present moment. Relish the experience of being in this moment instead of waiting to reach a destination. Instead, try to enjoy the journey of life as it comes.
Healing the inner child is a profound and liberating journey that can transform our lives in countless ways. It requires courage, curiosity, and a deep desire to connect with our authentic selves. Remember, healing your inner child is not about blaming or shaming your parents or caregivers. Instead, it’s about taking responsibility for your emotional healing, empowering yourself, and creating a better future for yourself. As a therapist, I am constantly inspired by the resilience and creativity of my clients who embark on this journey. I encourage you to take the first step towards healing your inner child today, knowing that you are not alone and that there is hope for a brighter and more fulfilling future. Remember that your inner child is a precious and deserving part of you, and that it holds the key to your true potential and happiness.