Inner Child Work: How to Heal Your Trauma & Live Your Best Life
f you’re wondering what Inner Child Work is, and how it can help you live the life you want--
You’re in the right place.
In this post, we’ll—
Explain the concept of the inner child that exists within all of us.
Discuss how inner child wounding affects us as adults.
Show you why inner child work is important, regardless of your upbringing.
Share some common signs your inner child needs healing.
Provide a glimpse of different approaches for healing your inner child.
Give you a picture of how good life can be with a happy and healthy inner child.
Ready to explore your path to a better life?
Let’s get started.
What (Or Who) Is Your Inner Child?
Let’s start with this simple but important fact—
All of us have an inner child who at some point has suffered wounds, however significant or minor.
Look at a boat from afar and you’ll see a gleaming white bow. Come closer, and you’ll see the dents, scratches, and chipped paint.
We’re that boat, tossed about in the sea of life, and no matter how we’re protected by those who love us, we’ll hit the rocks from time to time.
This doesn’t mean we’re defective, damaged goods. It simply means we’re human, with opportunities for healing.
So, with that aside, let me offer this definition of the inner child--
The inner child reflects the child we once were in both his or her ‘negative’ and ‘positive’ aspects. The inner child is the collection of all of our unmet needs, repressed childhood emotions, innocence, creativity, curiosity and joy.
Our inner child represents who we were when we were first cognitively able to construct internal beliefs about our world, and, when we were at our most defenseless, dependent and impressionable. This would be between the ages of 3 months to 7 years of age.
All things good and bad that occurred to you during that time remained with you, embodied by your inner child. In response to what love you received or neglect you suffered, your inner child formulated beliefs and attitudes about life and its possibilities.
Because they were formed at such an early age, many of those beliefs were wired subconsciously into our psyche, and these “shadows” of ourselves are reflected unconsciously in how we think, feel, and respond to others as adults.
Thus, a healthy, loving early childhood produces an inner child who speaks of a life that holds limitless promise. Conversely, a deeply wounded inner child sees life as dangerous, one requiring caution, inhibition, and a wary fear of committing to anything that might hurt us.
Most of us have an inner child that falls somewhere in between these two bookends, which is why any of us will benefit from doing our inner child work.
What is Inner Child Work, Then?
Inner child work is any form of self-discovery that helps you access the child you once were, along with the experiences and emotions that child was taught to repress. The general idea of inner child work is that if you make an effort to contact, listen to and communicate with your inner child– nurture your inner child– you can find and heal the roots of your issues as an adult.”
To be clear, the objective of your inner child work is not to vanquish an inner gremlin. Quite the contrary, it’s the process of coming into contact with our youthful self, embracing it with compassion, revisiting what traumas it may have experienced, and understanding how it formed the complex and pervasive set of beliefs that have guided your life since then.
Regardless of our experiences, it’s in doing our inner child work that we break free of the damaging effects of childhood wounding, to live happy, well-adjusted lives, pursue our passions and enjoy sustained, loving relationships with others.
Why Is Inner Child Work So Important?
We come into this world to become whole human beings, possessing strong self-worth and committed to healthy relationships.
Alas, we were also born into a difficult and indifferent world, subject to random accidents, peopled by imperfect parents and others who wielded power and influence over us. A world which wounded us through no fault of our own.
But wounds can be known and healed. Traumas can be revisited and moved on from. And the promises life held out to us, when we first arrived as infants, can be ours.
Inner child work removes the false limiting belief that what is good in life cannot happen with us. It allows us to see how we block our own happiness. It offers us the chance to experience belonging and connectedness with others, to live in uninhibited wonderment.
If the life you really want for yourself has thus far escaped your grasp, inner child healing is your reentry into a world of promise.
How is the Inner Child Wounded?
Inner Child wounding is usually the result of trauma or neglect. The sources? They’re as diverse as life itself, but the most common perpetrators of childhood wounding include--
Physical, psychological, and emotional abuse or neglect by parents, custodial adults, teachers, clergy, and older siblings.
Conditional (and unpredictable) love relationships with either or both parents.
Accidents experienced by child, parent, or siblings.
Sudden financial hardship or prolonged exposure to poverty.
Addictive and codependent relationships between parents.
Disruptive and recurring health crises experienced by parents or siblings.
The sudden death of a parent or sibling.
An unstable home environment (homelessness or sudden-frequent moves).
Prolonged exposure to familial violence.
Refugee or Immigrant displacement and related forced separation from parents.
The child is innately dependent on security and the love of a nurturing parent. Any disruption of this expectation, in any degree, will wound their fragile psyche and force the child to construct behaviors and beliefs that allow it to cope.
Those behaviors and beliefs stay with the wounded child as it grows into adulthood.
How Do I Know My Inner Child Needs Healing?
The beliefs constructed by the wounded child are extremely powerful, and difficult to change. The first step to healing, though, is understanding how those wounds show up in our adult lives.
Our Emotional Maturity and Styles of Coping
The wounded inner child often finds its voice in how we manage our feelings. This is often seen in—
Outbursts and overreactions to perceived slights.
Prevailing feelings of not belonging.
A sense that nobody understands us.
A quiet anger that smolders inside of us, which too often is medicated by one addictive behavior or another.
The child of an emotionally unavailable parent will attempt (and fail) to earn the love of their parent. And because we as children view our parents as infallible, a subconscious voice tells us that it’s our fault.
That self-blaming manifests itself as a harsh and perfectionistic inner critic, dogging our every attempt to achieve something meaningful. It will surface in the form of limiting beliefs that get in the way of meaningful relationships, career growth, even our health and prosperity.
The parental voice who told us You’re no good becomes the inner voice that says No one will ever love me. Consequently, we find it difficult to trust others, we see withdrawal as safer than commitment.
And yet, none of us live as an island, so the wounded child within us will inevitably affect those we are close to.
Our Personal and Professional Relationships
Our strong overreactions to unmet needs create wedges between us and those we love. Our childish and impulsive outbursts-- whether they’re actually meant-- complicate our relationships and distort the truest expression of who we are.
The wounded child appears in our fear of abandonment, which can either sabotage a promising relationship or chain us to an unhealthy one. It shows in our inability to commit to relationships, promising jobs or finishing that degree. It’s there in our failure to grasp our autonomy
and set effective personal boundaries.
The wounded inner child will also show itself in--
An ill-fitting immaturity that compromises personal and work relationships.
An habitual acquiescence of our needs.
Destructive self-sacrifice that’s followed by anger, resentment, and passive-aggressive behavior.
Pervasive detachment followed by smothering neediness.
Conflict-avoidance and gaslighting.
Willingly staying in one-sided relationships.
Simply put, how we manage as an adult is not far from how we managed to get by as a wounded child. And if the trauma suffered as a child is left unhealed, it may even manifest itself in depression, anxiety, and eating, sleeping and sexual disorders.
So, how do we heal the inner child? Let’s see how the work is done.
Inner Child Work—The Path to Healing
Making the Commitment
As an adult, only you can decide that your inner child’s happiness is worth the effort. But let’s begin with a few easy, simple steps--
Slow down and get away for a bit. Quiet yourself and tune in with meditation, breath work, journaling or prayer.
And then, ask yourself if you want a better life for yourself.
Chances are, you answered Yes! So, let’s walk you through the steps others take in doing their inner child work.
Developing Your Healing Network
Your first step will be to find a counselor or life coach who can guide you through the stages of healing. There are many treatment approaches, and as many life coaches who can help you with them.
Here are just a few—
Connect—Communicate—Nurture: Learning to Parent Your Inner Child
Self-parenting involves learning how to re-parent your inner child. There are three stages in the self-parenting process--
1. Identifying and Connecting With Your Inner Child
In this stage, a life coach may take you through the process of visualizing the young child version of who you are. You would see this child clearly. And the two of you would become comfortable with each other.
2. Communicating With Your Inner Child
In the communication phase, your life coach will help you understand the messages your younger self learned, beliefs you’ve spent much of your life acting out, like--
I don’t belong.
I'm not enough
I’ll never amount to anything.
Nobody can ever love me
Then, you would visualize your inner child standing before you, where you’d have the opportunity to say those same things to your inner child.
The act of repeating your inner beliefs to your inner child is an incredibly powerful experience, because it puts to lie all of the beliefs you’ve carried in life up to that moment.
Impactful healing exercises like this can be done on your own, but they’re often more effective with the guidance of a life coach who can support you in moments like these, and help you see things more clearly.
3. Re-parenting Your Inner Child
We all experience life differently. For some, whose upbringing was especially difficult, this third stage actually teaches us how to re-parent the child we once were with the kind of love, nurturing, guidance and discipline it didn’t receive from its natural parents.
In his book Psychotherapy for the Soul, author Stephen Diamond says—
In Reparenting therapy, the adult part of the personality learns to relate to the inner child exactly as a good parent relates to a flesh-and-blood child, providing love, compassion, discipline, boundaries and structure. These are — all along with support, nurturance, and acceptance — indispensable elements of loving and living with any child, whether metaphorical or actual.
Self-parenting is often an effective approach to healing the wounded inner child. But there are other Guided Therapies that have been found to be helpful, including—
Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing, or EMDR, is a psychotherapeutic therapy often used in treating post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression.
EMDR is an alternative therapy that 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 ourselves which we find negative, frightening and otherwise ‘undesirable’.
This would include childhood traumas.
Shadow work engages your unconscious mind to uncover those parts of yourself that you repress and hide from yourself. In working with your repressed shadows, you become familiar with them and better able to work through what was learned in early childhood, correct your false beliefs, and experience healing.
Attachment theory has its origins in the works of British psychoanalyst John Bowlby, who suggested that children exhibit one of four different attachment behaviors or styles—
Attachment Theory comes together with inner child work and helps us see how childhood experiences form our attachment styles, which in turn helps us develop healthy attachments with others in our adult life.
Play and Art Therapy
We are born to create. The healthy child creates as she plays. When the child experiences a disruptive or traumatic childhood environment, the natural creator in us is not given space to develop.
Play and art therapy are very effective because they allow for a second go in this critical phase of development and in connecting with and restoring our inner child.
Advanced Therapies for Extreme Trauma
It’s important to understand that the need for– and approach to– inner child work will differ in degree from one person to the next.
The best therapy used is one that best matches the individual. And where there were extreme instances of trauma as a child, the course of action to take should involve crisis counseling and serious therapy.
9 Ways Your Life Gets Better
With Inner Child Work
We’ve touched on how your inner child is wounded and how those wounds show up in your adult life.
But let’s look at how your life becomes better (and happier) as you do your inner child work.
You’re able to understand that who you are (and how you live your life) includes a part of you that’s still looking for unconditional love and support.
As you develop a kinship with your inner child, you’re acquiring an ability to regulate your emotions. You know WHY your emotions show as they do, you see
how they fluctuate, how they affect you and how your
responses impact those around you.
You’re reconnecting with your genuine self, discovering your purpose for being here and pursuing the passions you’d repressed or set aside.
You’re experiencing the gift of self-mastery, of living in the moment and accepting its outcomes, be they good or difficult.
You’re presenting to the world the version of you as creator, a person who expresses freely and plays with unlimited imagination.
Your self-talk is compassionate, loving and encouraging, and firmly your own.
Your relationships are healthy, committed, stable and consistent.
You have an entirely new sense of self-esteem and worthiness. You exhibit empathy and compassion for others.
Your ability to experience joy, spontaneity, curiosity, and unlimited, unconditional love seem boundless.
You, Your Life, and a Happy (Healed) Inner Child
So, this is Inner Child Work.
It’s a challenging road to walk, but one which offers limitless opportunities for you to discover yourself, where you’ve been, and how it brought you to where you are now.
Take the first steps to healing today. Find a life coach who can guide you through the stages of connecting and communicating with your inner child.
Give yourself space, time, and loving self-compassion as you work through things. And someday, not too far into the future, happiness and a fulfilling life will be yours.
Just as it was intended to be.
Blessings and strength 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
We are all on a unique path. I've spent over forty years of my life helping others find their way. My Life Coaching is custom tailored and based on the fundamental truth and my years of life experiences. We will work together, as a team, to create the life you want and deserve. Join me on this magical journey of development and transformation.
In my practice, I use emotional clearing and healing practices, counseling, action plans and tools to help you transformation from pain and lack to the life joy, harmony and the fulfillment you are seeking.
Blessings on your journey.