Why is healing your inner child important and worthwhile work? Your inner child is real, and it can dominate your life if you don’t acknowledge and heal it. In this post, you will learn how to recognize and work with your inner child in a proactive, powerful, and transformative way so you can stop the self-sabotage, improve your relationships, and free yourself of old trauma, shame, fear, guilt, and other forms of emotional baggage.
In traditional psychology and psychotherapy, “inner child” is defined as:
an aspect of yourself you learned to suppress and stifle as you grew up.
We can expand this definition by pointing to the double nature of the inner child. The first aspect of the inner child is problematic and in need of healing. It is made up of your childhood memories, traumas, feelings, rejections, abandonments, and hurts — whether real or perceived.
Your inner child’s second aspect, though, is positive and helpful. It includes all the positive emotions you felt as a child: wonder, awe, joy, innocence, playfulness, and excitement. These are life-affirming qualities you can cultivate once you’ve done some healing work with the wounded and neglected parts of your inner child.
But how did your inner child become wounded in the first place?
There are a range of possibilities, but let’s explore two potential categories: major trauma and micro trauma.
- emotional, verbal, physical, and sexual abuse
- actual or emotional abandonment by one or both parents
- intense or persistent bullying
- childhood illness
- any other major circumstance that caused you distress during childhood.
- less intense forms of bullying or rejection
- parents’ divorce
- parents staying together miserably
- moving around a lot
- being mocked or singled out for being “different”
- subtle forms of childhood emotional neglect (i.e. being told not to be “so sensitive,” having your sensitive needs disregarded, being told to be more “extroverted,” etc).
We all experienced some form of major or micro trauma growing up — sometimes multiple kinds. This is why healing the wounded inner child is critical work for everyone. It’s especially important if you’re currently experiencing any of these signs and symptoms of your inner child being dominant and running your life:
Once you’ve identified that your inner child is running at least some part of your life, you can begin working with it.
*A caveat: this work is meant to be deep, transformative, soulful, and powerful. Some of us need assistance working with our inner child to avoid re-traumatizing ourselves. If you feel you fall into this category, stop reading here and seek assistance from a therapist, healer, or counselor. (Explore my approach as a healer if you’re interested in delving deeper with a guide by your side.)
The first step is to unblend (or separate) your real You — the You who is wise, all-knowing, and aligned — from your inner child. This is an important step because you want to do this work from an emotionally mature, healthy, solid place. To unblend these two aspects of yourself, visualize your inner child and do some intentional questioning. Ask your inner child:
- What do you look like?
- What are you feeling?
- What are your childhood memories?
- Where are you located in my body/being?
Once you’ve gotten a clear picture, you can ask even deeper questions:
- What do you fear?
- What is your primary emotion?
- What do you need to feel safe (or loved, adequate, beautiful, smart, etc)?
Your inner child will open up to you once it senses that you’re genuinely curious and that you come in peace.
The next step is to do some form of re-parenting with your child. This means that you use your Wise Self — the You who is all-knowing and infinitely loving — to “rewrite” your negative childhood memories. How does it work?
For example: ask your inner child to recall a childhood memory that contributed to it feeling wounded, ashamed, or fearful. (Note: try starting with a memory that you can handle emotionally and that won’t traumatize you.) Let’s say the memory is of you being yelled at by your mom for making a mess in the kitchen. You were six. Go into the memory as vividly as possible.
Now, ask your Wise Self to step in between your inner child and your mom. Have him address your mom:
“I know you’re trying to be a good parent, and that you’re doing the best you can. But this is not a loving way of disciplining a child. I’m taking over from here.”
Then, have your Wise Self comfort, hold, and hug your inner child. The Wise Self can lovingly address the child:
“It’s ok now. It wasn’t your fault. Your mom was doing the best she could, but it made you scared and ashamed. I’m here now and you are safe. You are lovable.”
Speaking these words of acknowledgment is *really* important. Have your Wise Self tell your inner child all the things s/he needed to hear back then but never had a chance to hear. Repeat them for as long as it’s needed.
Releasing the Burden
After re-parenting, it’s time for your Wise Self to walk your inner child through a process of unburdening. First, have your inner child identify the burden it has been carrying. It could be, as in this example, fear, shame, and guilt. Have the child locate this burden in or on its body. Where is it situated? Stomach? Back? Neck? Shoulders? Also, get a sense of what the burden looks and feels like. Have the child give it a concrete shape and texture. Is it a black rock? A sludgy blue goo? A prickly green ball? Whatever it is, identify it.
Next, ask the child if it wants to release the burden. In most cases the answer will be an emphatic YES. Have your Wise Self walk your child out of your childhood memory — you are now leaving it behind — and into a natural space. It could be the beach, a forest, or the top of a mountain. Have the child release the burden by throwing it into the ocean, burning it, burying it, or giving it up to Spirit. Whatever resonates with the child.
At this point, both your inner child and you will experience feelings of relief, peace, freedom, and possibility. However, don’t be surprised if you also feel some sense of grief, sadness, or loss. That’s ok. You probably haven’t allowed yourself to really feel those emotions for a while. Just let them come up and pass through you.
Now, For the Fun Part
At this point in your healing journey it’s time to start scheduling regular playtimes with your inner child. Yup! To cultivate its positive aspects, like creativity, spontaneity, joy, excitement, eagerness, and magic, you have to regularly connect with your inner child in a mutually beneficial way. You both get to play.
During these “play sessions,” ask your child:
- How can we play today?
- How can we be creative today?
- What new experience or adventure can we have today?
Proactively connecting with your inner child keeps it feeling loved, seen, acknowledged, and cared for. In return, you will be able to experience more of its wonderful qualities in your life.
You will feel younger. The dreams you’ve put off for years will be rekindled and you’ll have the energy and confidence to make them happen. Your relationships will improve. You will be more fulfilled at work — or you’ll find a new job better suited for you.
Inner child work is so important because:
- when your inner child is wounded and running the show, you suffer and your life is unfulfilling.
- when your inner child has been healed, nurtured, and properly integrated into your being, you are also healed and your life becomes a source of fulfillment, happiness, and freedom.
I commend you for being committed to this work! Keep at it.
To delve deeper:
Listen to my podcast episode on this topic to get more details, tips, and guidance.
Inner Work: A Spiritual Growth Podcast | Episode #30: Healing Your Wounded Inner Child