When people first come across the concept of inner child work, initially it can seem a little strange. Often though once someone understands the concept more, it’s an idea that really resonates. For some people, it can be a significant turning point in understanding who they are and taking better care of themselves.
What is an inner child?
An inner child is a psychological concept that represents the childlike aspects of our personality and emotional state. It’s a metaphorical way of describing the younger parts of us that can sometimes emerge when we are faced with stressful or traumatic situations.
What are some examples of our inner child parts being activated?
- After a long, hard day at work you notice yourself feeling grumpy and snapping at the people around you.
- You spend time with someone who reminds of your parent and become aware of wanting to shut down or withdraw from them.
- You and your friend have a disagreement about something fairly minor, but you notice yourself feeling deeply hurt and rejected.
How do you know when your inner child is activated?
It can take time to get to know what triggers your inner child. Initially you may not even be aware that your inner child is having a reaction until after you’ve reacted. This is normal. At first for most of us our inner child is hidden away and tricky to reach and get to know. This is usually because as children there may not have been space given to these more vulnerable, messy and upset parts of us, so these parts had to go underground, psychologically speaking. This can also be why we tend to feel a lot of shame, guilt or exposed when we notice ourselves connecting to thoughts, feelings or urges that feel quite young.
What is inner child work?
Inner child work involves healing emotional wounds and traumas from our childhood. It is based on the idea that our early experiences and relationships with parents, caregivers and other significant people in our lives can leave a lasting impact on our emotional and psychological wellbeing as adults. How we were taken care of by adults as children is often how we take care of ourselves as adults. For example, if the message you received at home was that strong emotions were not allowed, as an adult you are likely to feel ashamed or embarrassment when big feelings come up for you.
Inner child work involves reconnecting with the parts of yourself that might not have received the care and attention they needed when you were younger. When we care for the parts of ourselves that weren’t given the compassion that was needed, we can begin to heal some of what might have been missing in our childhood. This can help us to feel more resilient to emotional challenges as an adult and less likely to feel pulled back into the past when stressful or traumatic things happen in our lives.
How can you get to know your inner child?
Depending on your experiences as child, particularly if you experienced trauma, your inner child may be quite well hidden and reluctant to come out. Or if your inner child does emerge, it can sometimes feel overwhelming or even retraumatising. It’s for this reason that for many of us it can be helpful to do this work with the help of a psychologist or counsellor, ideally someone who works in a trauma informed way. Whichever way you go about it, it’s important to take your time and not rush the process.
How can you care for your inner child?
Reparenting is a term that is sometimes used to describe the process of taking care of the needs of your inner child in the way your parents (or other caregivers) ideally would have when you were younger.
Some examples of reparenting in inner child work include:
- Self-nurturing and self-care. Caring for yourself in a nurturing and loving way, not only when you are upset, but in everyday life. Read our blog for some self-care tips.
- Meeting unmet needs. If there is a particular unmet need (there will usually be more than one) that you had as a child, learning how to give this to yourself as an adult. For example, if your parents weren’t reliable when you needed them most, you would make it a priority to really be there for yourself at times of stress or upset.
- Setting boundaries. Part of being a good parent is setting healthy boundaries and limits to protect a child from harm. As an adult this might mean saying no to things that you know are not going to be helpful for you in the long run, even if they feel good in the moment. It might also involve setting boundaries with particular people in your life, to protect your inner child emotionally.
- Emotional support. Reparenting involves acknowledging and validating your emotions, even if they feel difficult or painful. It’s about being there for yourself emotionally and not dismissing or supressing your feelings. Read our blog about tips for coping with difficult emotions.
- Self-compassion. Self-compassion is a key component of inner child work. This involves treating yourself with the same kindness and understanding that a loving parent would. If you didn’t receive much compassion as a child, it can feel hard and even painful trying to give this to yourself as an adult. Read our blog for self-compassion tips.
- Learning to be playful again. As adults many of us have forgotten how to play. This may be more pronounced if there wasn’t really time or permission to play much as a child. One of the most satisfying ways to connect to your inner child is to play as though you were a child. This might mean doing something creative like drawing or painting, putting on some music and having a dance, making pancakes, watching a favourite kids movie, or doing something outside like building a sandcastle or jumping on a swing at your local playground.
- A gentle way to get to know your inner child better is through journalling. Spend some time reflecting on moments when you think your inner child might be triggered. What sort of situations and people tend to bring your inner child to life? What sort of thoughts, feelings and urges/behaviours come up that seem linked to your inner child? Are there particular sensations you notice in your body when your inner child is activated? Read our blog for more tips on journalling.
- Letter writing. See what it feels like to write a letter to your inner child expressing love, support and understanding. Tell them what you think they might have needed to hear when you were young. If it feels right, you might like to write a response from your inner child, allowing them to express their needs and emotions. This can be quite an emotional experience, so it can be helpful to think ahead about what you might do to take care of yourself when you finish.
With the support and guidance of a therapist, psychologist or social worker depending on what you and your inner child need, inner child work can also involve visualisations, role playing and reprocessing of memories from childhood.
Inner child work can be powerful. It can often unlock some of the stuckness we may feel in relation to being compassionate towards ourselves during difficult times. Inner child work can also be painful. It’s normal for feelings of grief and loss to come to the surface during this type of work. Depending on your history it might be safest and most effective to do this work with a trauma informed professional, because at times what emerges can feel quite overwhelming and difficult to manage on our own.
We have a number of therapists on our team who can help with inner child work drawing on different modalities including:
If you’d like to explore how inner child work might be helpful for you, give our friendly Support Team a call on (03) 9376 1958 or fill out our online booking form here and we will be in touch.