25 Ways Your Inner Child Wounds Affect You (& How to Heal)
Inner child wounds will keep us from living our best life.
But what are the signs of a wounded inner child? And more importantly, how can we move in the direction of healing?
Important questions, and in this post, we’ll help you understand—
What (or who) your inner child is.
Behavior, lifestyle and relationship patterns that signal a wounded inner child.
How the inner child is wounded and how it impacts your adult life.
The path to healing.
Ready to discover a better life? Let’s start with a quick explanation of the inner child.
Who is Your Inner Child?
Our inner child is who we were when we were first cognitively able to construct internal beliefs about our world.
Between the ages of 3 months and 7 years of age, all that you experienced stayed with you, embodied in the form of your inner child. What love you received, or neglect you suffered, was taken in by that inner child and formulated into beliefs and attitudes about life and its possibilities.
Written extensively by such luminaries as Carl Jung, the inner child is a very real part of us, a much younger, innocent and playful being who constructed those beliefs as a way of making sense of the world around her.
As adults, our inner child wounds will speak through what we think, feel, and how we act. Here are a few ways they’ll show up in our daily lives.
25 Ways Inner Child Wounds Show Up in Your Life
All of us carry some inner child wounds. The world is simply too rough and random for some wounding not to happen. The question comes down to the significance of those wounds, and to what extent they interfere with your living a happy adult life.
To make things easier to grasp, we’ll examine signs of inner child wounding in--
Our emotional maturity and habitual styles of coping
Our relationship with ourselves
Our relationships with others
Our personal health
Emotional Maturity and Habitual Styles of Coping
Strong overreactions to perceived slights
Childish, impulsive outbursts or immature behavior
Gratuitous rebelliousness and conflict-seeking
Discomfort with emotional expression–from self or others
Prevailing feelings of not belonging; a sense that nobody understands us
Chronic, unexpressed anger accompanied by addictive behavior
Procrastination and forgetfulness
Sacrificing relationships for materialism & achievement
Our Relationship with Ourselves
Having a harsh, unyielding inner critic; rigid perfectionism
Holding limiting beliefs (achievement, relationships, health, happiness)
Feeling shame of one’s body and/or sexuality
A vague sense something is wrong with you
A belief that you’re unloved and unlovable
Our Relationships with Others
Sabotaging promising relationships; binding yourself to unhealthy ones
Smothering neediness, possessive jealousy, fear of being abandoned
Believing happiness can be had without being loved
Random swings between passion and detachment in a relationship
Inability to commit to relationships, promising jobs or projects
People-pleasing, excessive caretaking, inability to set effective boundaries
Extreme self-sacrifice followed by anger or passive-aggressiveness
Inability to ask for what we need
Conflict-avoidance and gaslighting
Our Personal Health
Chronic or unexplained physical ailments
Depression, anxiety, neuroses, phobias
Eating, sexual and addictive disorders, narcissism
How Was Your Inner Child Wounded?
Whether any of the 25 signs of inner child wounds ring familiar, the first step to healing is feeling compassion for yourself and your inner child.
The next steps?
Understanding where these woundings may have occurred in your life.
The Sources of Inner Child Wounds
From a caregiver who forgot to pick us up from daycare, to a babysitter who spanked us, to austere and emotionally distant parents, the source of childhood woundings can be as intentional or random as life itself.
We may have been taught not to have strong emotions, punished when we spoke up, or discouraged from being funny or spontaneous. We may have been shamed as part of child-rearing, even by well-meaning parents.
Typically, childhood woundings fall under 3 general sources--
Where the physical needs of the child aren’t met, and, conversely, where physical expression of love is not only absent but replaced with physical abuse. This can be experienced first-hand or witnessed of siblings.
Where caregivers paid inadequate attention to the emotional expressions of the child and, in some cases, even condemned or ridiculed them. Conversely, the expression of love from caregivers was absent, or worse, conditional and unpredictable.
Where the child endured name-calling, ridicule, lack of privacy and overt threats.
Other Sources of Inner Child Wounds
Inner child wounds come from other trauma as well, including--
Abuse from custodial adults, teachers, clergy, and older siblings.
Accidents experienced by the child or parent/siblings.
Living amidst (sudden) financial hardship or (prolonged) poverty.
Addictive and codependent parental relationships.
Disruptive and recurring health crises of parents or siblings.
The sudden death of a parent or sibling.
Unstable home environments (homelessness or sudden-frequent moves).
Refugee and immigrant displacement; forced separation from parents.
The dilemma of childhood wounds is this: because all of us are so dependent and impressionable in our formative years, any significant trauma or prolonged neglect can cause wounding.
A Life of Coping--How the Wounded Inner Child Affects the Present
The topic of inner child wounds has been written on extensively,
and there’s a common thread that continually comes
up— Our lives are the mirror of unconscious wounds still carried by our inner child.
Alice Miller, psychoanalyst and author of The Drama of Being a Child, pins many self-sabotaging patterns (conflict avoidance, commitment issues, limiting beliefs and more) to an unconscious conflict between adult and inner child. Says Miller—
You are continuing to fear and avoid dangers that, although once real, have not been real for a long time.
Childhood woundings cry out to us through the physical ailments we suffer as adults.
Renowned childhood trauma researcher Bessel van der Kolk, M. D., the author of N.Y. Times bestseller The Body Keeps the Score, has devoted his life to studying how children and adults adapt to trauma. And he claims many of our physical ailments-- both chronic and mysterious-- are attributable to the fact that the body keeps a record of our inner child wounds.
There is no mistaking the effects of childhood wounding in our lives. John Bradshaw, author of Homecoming, writes— Our childhood becomes the filter through which all new experiences must pass.
We can overreact to something, and later conclude that whatever triggered us wasn’t worthy of escalating it the way we did. But to the inner child, whose trauma was brought up by that triggering event, it was very significant.
Which underscores Bradshaw’s point, and why it’s worth repeating this important principle—
The infant-toddler is innately dependent on security and the love of a nurturing parent. Any aberration to that fundamental need imprints itself on the fragile psyche of the child in the form of behaviors and beliefs which allow it to cope. So long as the wounds which created those beliefs remain, so do the beliefs. Even as the child grows into and through adulthood.
And by the time we reach our eight year, Bradshaw says, many of our beliefs about life-- how the world works, what is possible for ourselves in life-- are set.
Consequently, if our mother was emotionally distant, we’ll think ourselves unlovable. A parent who struggled with depression will trigger similar responses if our partner suffers the same. The failure of a parent’s business venture, and the humiliation that came with it, creates an adult who’s perpetually financially insecure.
We recycle undesired relationships, drop out of promising commitments, repeat undesired behaviors, fall prey to addictions, and shame ourselves for each of them, because of a wounded inner child.
We find ourselves living a life of unconscious coping. And the only way out is to help our inner child to heal.
Paths to Healing The Inner Child
If what we’ve covered rings familiar, it’s possible your inner child wounds are speaking to you. The difficult truth is that your inner child will continue to call out to you, and continue to affect your life, until it experiences healing.
But it’s worth the effort, and though sometimes painful and long, the rewards of healing are an adult and inner child who are reintegrated.
Each Path Is Different
It’s important to understand that the approach to healing one’s inner child is unique to the person and source of their woundings.
For example, the victim of childhood physical neglect may possess a poor self-image as an adult. They may struggle with sexual dysfunction, eating disorders and other forms of self-harm. They’ll have a hard time maintaining personal boundaries. They’ll engage in violent behaviors and fall into addictive patterns of behavior.
Emotional neglect can manifest intimacy issues, an inability to express emotional needs, repression of feelings, shallow personal relationships, anxiety and depression.
Psychological neglect will produce patterns of deep, unexpressed anger, an unyielding harsh inner critic, neuroses and other mental illnesses, physical illnesses, and chronic difficulties in relationships.
The best therapy used is one that best matches the individual. So, let’s take a look at a variety of healing approaches that combine elements of self-care and therapeutic practice.
Approaches for Healing Your Inner Child
Before you do anything else, give yourself time in journaling, meditation or prayer, to make that connection with your inner child and the commitment to healing yourself.
Then, reach out to a counselor, life coach or therapist who can guide you through what healing strategies are right for you.
Here are just a few—
Re-parenting Your Inner Child
Through the guidance of a life coach, you’ll learn to re-parent the child you once were with the kind of love, nurturing,
guidance and discipline it didn’t receive from its natural parents.
Stephen Diamond, in Psychotherapy for the Soul, says—
In Reparenting therapy, the adult learns to relate to the inner child exactly as a good parent relates to a flesh-and-blood child. It gives love, compassion, discipline, boundaries and structure to the inner child.
The idea is to heal the inner child by giving it what indispensable elements it did not get from its natural parents--support, nurturance, and acceptance. Self-parenting can be a powerful and effective healing approach for the wounded inner child.
Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing, or EMDR, is a psychotherapeutic approach often used in treating post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression.
Indicated in instances of significant childhood trauma, EMDR has shown itself as an effective alternative therapy. It does not require the patient to talk through traumatic events, but instead, allows them to revisit past traumatic experiences in small pieces, which helps the client see it more clearly, with less stress.
Shadow work is a therapy with origins in Jungian psychology. Simply put, our shadows, or shadow self, are those parts of our unconscious selves we find negative, frightening and otherwise undesirable. This would include childhood trauma.
Shadow work engages your unconscious mind to uncover what you repress and hide from yourself. In becoming familiar with them, you are better able to work through the coping beliefs learned in early childhood, correct them, and experience healing.
Attachment theory has its origins in the works of British psychoanalyst John Bowlby, who suggested that adults exhibit one of four attachment styles learned as children—
Used in conjunction with other forms of inner child work, attachment theory helps you see how your childhood experiences formed your attachment style. This, in turn, helps you develop healthy attachments with others in your adult life.
In Attachment Theory, our adult relationship patterns are seen as the direct result of the attachment style we learned as children. If we were loved, nurtured, encouraged and given attention, we grew into adulthood securely attached. In the absence of that, we became insecurely attached.
John Bowlby, psychoanalyst and author of Attachment Theory, described four attachment styles—
(Curious where you land? Take this simple ten-minute quiz.)
This attachment style can create one-sided relationships, especially if one person has a Secure attachment style and the other is Anxious-Preoccupied.
That’s because the A.P.’s negative self-image, combined with their deep-seated fears of abandonment, create an ongoing need for a partner’s approval, support, and responsiveness.
The A.P. can be downright clingy, jealous, and possessive. Conversely, they’ll often see their partner as distant, uninvolved, and overly-independent.
Know any Ayn Rand devotees? Chances are, they have an Avoidant-Dismissive attachment style.
The Avoidant-Dismissive prides himself in his emotional self-reliance. Possessing a more-than-healthy self-image, he scorns the notion that relationships “complete” people, and consequently, is emotionally unresponsive to the needs of others. Dismissive of emotional bonding AND intimate expression, he’ll hide his true feelings and find himself uncomfortable with the same from others.
Drama. Passion. And ambiguity. That’s what marks the Fearful-Avoidant (aka “Disorganized”) attachment style. The F.A. will derive desire AND fear from a relationship. She needs intimacy and closeness, yet struggles with trust and a willingness to be vulnerable. Any sense of depending on her partner can trigger fear, and consequently, she’ll avoid going “all-in” on relationships.
If you have a Secure Attachment style, you’re comfortable with experiencing and expressing your emotions. You’re okay with the idea of being on your own, but you value intimacy with another. You depend comfortably on your partner, and you allow your partner to depend on you. To you, relationships don’t complete people, it simply allows them to grow.
The attachment style you acquired as a child isn’t a lifelong branding. By incorporating Attachment Theory into your inner child healing, you’ll ascend beyond dysfunctional attachment styles to one that is secure.
The healthy child creates as she plays. When the child experiences a disruptive or traumatic childhood, the natural creator in us has no space to develop.
Play (and art) therapy allows for a second chance, connecting with and restoring your inner child.
Alice Miller. The Drama of the Gifted Child: The Search for the True Self
John Bradshaw. Homecoming: Reclaiming and Championing Your Inner Child
Bessel van der Kolk M. D. The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma
Healing Inner Child Wounds Begins With Self-Compassion
Inner child wounds. They’re as complex and worthy of love as the person who’s reading this post. Healing is an act of self-compassion. If you’re seeing the signs of childhood wounding in your life, I hope you’ll take your first steps towards happiness.
Make that connection with your inner child, embrace it with the love it’s been missing, and lead it to the healing it’s asking for.
It’s a beautiful world, one which both of you deserve to enjoy.
Peace, and blessings to you.
If you or someone you know needs or wants guidance and support with inner child work, Christine can help. Click the button to ask a question or schedule an appointment.
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Christine Ryan, Sedona, AZ
ICP Certified Life Coach.
Certified Spiritual Response Therapy Practitioner
Conscious Connective Breathwork Practitioner
Exploring Your Passions and Soul Purpose
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