The inner child is a fragmented piece of ourselves that often develops in moments of trauma. More specifically, during trauma that isn’t acknowledged or healed properly. If the emotions or experience of a child aren’t acknowledged, it doesn’t disappear, it becomes suppressed; a fragmented piece of ourselves. To understand this a little more we can take a look at child stars. It’s often said that a child star becomes mentally and emotionally stunted at the age in which they became famous. Meaning, they stop mentally and emotionally developing along a normal trajectory. This is essentially what happens when we experience trauma as a child, only its internalized. We develop an inner child that remains at that age in which the trauma occurred. And while we do continue to develop and grow emotionally and mentally, the trajectory gets shifted. This is because that child still exists within us and can often take ahold of our mental state. Think, irrational fears, anxiety attacks and self sabotage.
The important part of inner child work is to understand that your inner child is NOT dormant. They are an active part of your mind and heavily influence how you respond to the external world. We develop irrational fears because as a child, they weren’t irrational, they were real. So much of what existed externally was so much bigger than us and we have complete dependence on adults to keep us safe. When we aren’t kept safe, those things seem really scary and dangerous. As an adult, we maintain that fear simply because we haven’t questioned it. Are pools scary, or did you develop a justified fear of pools as a child because no one made you feel safe in them.
This can then turn into avoidance of fear or pain, as if life isn’t meant to contain those feelings. This is typical when an emotion is shut down by an adult rather than being worked through with an adult. (Get over it vs. Pools can be scary, but if you are careful, pools can be fun).
As an adult, this avoidance is where our inner child lives because subconsciously we are approaching situations as that child rather than a rational adult. We are allowing our inner child to take control of our perception rather than taking control ourselves. Often times, anxiety is induced by this exact process. The inner child is active and feels responsible for taking care of adult things like paying bills and getting work done. How would an 8 year old not have anxiety with that kind of responsibility?
So the task becomes, getting to know your inner child, understanding their fears, and taking back control so they don’t have adult responsibilities anymore. The goal is really to let your inner child be a kid, the way every kid deserves. So how do we do this?
1. Get to know your Inner Child: In the Shadow Work 101 post I discussed a morning meditation that is great for getting started because it builds that relationship with your inner child.
2. Discovery: The next step is to target specific struggles, which is where you will discover that you actually have more than one inner child. You may have dozens if you never had an adult in your life that truly comforted you in distressing times. The way to target these specific struggles is to simply be mindful of your emotional state. We can sit in meditation and ask ourselves, “when was the first time I felt this emotion?” It may take time but a number will likely pop up and hopefully even a memory. At this point we gain an understanding of our inner child, which helps us to know what they need from us.
3. Take back Control: This requires an understanding of the duality of our minds to function both as our inner child and as a rational adult. We need to start becoming aware of which mind is active. If our inner child is active and taking control, we need to take control back. We need that child to know that being an adult is not their responsibility. So we want to respond to that emotional state that the child is creating, with the rational mind of an adult and provide that comfort a child needs. This is not only self soothing of the inner child, but truly standing in our own power that will allow us to feel more confident in any actions we take.
An untamed inner child can truly wreak havoc on our lives if we don't start acknowledging them. But when we do take the time to nurture that part of ourselves, the inner child can be tapped into to enhance our lives in ways we couldn't imagine. Getting in shape can be as easy as rediscovering a sport you loved as a child. Or starting a business, as easy as remembering what you loved doing as a kid. Let your inner child become your biggest asset.