If you are familiar with developmental psychology, which is the study of how human beings evolve throughout the course of their lives, then you are aware that a significant portion of the theories center around our childhood development. This time of our lives is where the most change occurs, and as emphasized by Freud, our early experiences shape our personality and behavior in the years to come. The parenting that we receive as well as our major experiences impact our social behaviors, the way we manage our instincts and emotions, and the way we respond to others.
When you look at inner child healing in this light, it then stands to follow that there are some experiences that occurred within the span of your early childhood that may have wounded you in a way that you have carried with you longer than necessary, well into adulthood. Whether your experience was an abusive childhood, a parent passing away, or sexual trauma, your emotional wounds and unhealthy coping patterns manifest as mental conflict and emotional distress in adulthood.
In the book Reconciliation, by the wise Buddhist Thich Nhat Hanh, he states that “inside each of us is a young, suffering child and that to protect ourselves from future suffering, we all try to forget the pain.” More often than not, we will try to find coping mechanisms to bury this pain as we grow. Typically people turn to substances or sex, but there are plenty of things that can be used as a coping mechanism that may not inherently be unhealthy, like video games or gambling. Regardless of what you attempt to mask your pain with, you often just end up in deeper pain as you ignore your wounded inner child crying out for true healing.
The deeper the childhood wound, like for example those suffering from severe psychological trauma, the harder it becomes for us to release our baggage and seek out healthy relationships or coping mechanisms. You may experience chronic anxiety or depression in addition to seeking instant gratification from substances or other addictions, ongoing issues with your sleep cycle, and turbulence in your personal and professional relationships. There also may be a struggle to engage in appropriate self-care habits or self-soothing behaviors when distressed. In regards to the way we respond to other people, especially in the case of sexual trauma involved, you may fall on either end of the following spectrum: keeping yourself at a distance in order to avoid rejection or being hurt, or becoming over-sexualized and lacking appropriate boundaries, more than likely attaching sexual behavior to your sense of self-worth. Typically there is a lot of insecurity and low self-esteem in either case. If this resonates with you and you seek to connect with your inner child, know that reparenting yourself is extremely powerful, and some might even say integral, for healing from psychological trauma, dysfunctional patterns, and self-harming behaviors. Healing your inner child means that you are successfully able to connect to your needs and emotions and can communicate them clearly, you honor your boundaries and remain true to them despite conflict, and you engage in self-love and self-care practices with consistency.
A great way to begin this process is simply to check in with yourself. Ask yourself how you’re feeling and what you’re needing. Meditate and sit quietly with yourself, or journal those questions and your responses daily. Being able to communicate your emotions and needs means you must first know exactly what they are. You can also engage in making art or write a letter to your younger self. Practice appropriate boundary setting and commit only to things that feel aligned for you. Nurture your inner child by doing things you enjoyed as a child, like going to the zoo or even simply eating ninja turtle popsicles. Here are a few affirmations and prompts to get started:
I was doing the best I could at the time, and I no longer shame myself for _________
I forgive myself for _________
I am proud of myself for __________
I am unconditionally loveable and worthy
My experiences and feelings are valid
I am safe now