Childhood trauma can leave lasting emotional scars that can impact your life in countless ways. It clings to you long after childhood. It makes you doubt relationships, unable to trust others, and even question your sense of self. Healing from childhood trauma is possible, but it can take several years of close work with your therapist to make that happen. Thankfully, there is a way to make that process faster; taking a step back and meeting your inner child will make your hard work go even further. Below, we’ll explore how to identify your inner child and how they can help you finally feel like you’re making progress.
What is the Inner Child?
To begin, the inner child is the part of you that remains childlike and vulnerable, even as you grow into an adult. Importantly, it is the part of you that holds onto your past experiences, particularly those from childhood. Even as you start to let go of your past experiences, if you haven’t worked through your trauma, the inner child can hold on to all the hurt, pain, and fear you experienced and cause it to resurface.
You may need to do some inner child work if:
- You struggle with self-esteem issues
- You experience intense emotional reactions or emotional shutdowns
- You struggle with trusting others or have intense social anxiety
- You have difficulty setting and maintaining boundaries
Identifying Your Inner Child
Identifying your inner child involves recognizing the parts of yourself that are still holding onto past pain. It involves recognizing how your past experiences may be impacting your present-day behavior and emotions. Look back on the bullet points above. Can you see how a wounded inner child might make those symptoms more apparent?
- Self-esteem issues are caused by internalizing the way you were treated as a child and carrying those learned ideas into adulthood. If you were abused, neglected, or otherwise traumatized as a child, your brain likely took that information in and interpreted it the way only a child can. It told you that adults know best and that if you are suffering, the only variable to be questioned is you and your actions. The inner child holds onto that belief as you age. You may find yourself constantly comparing yourself to others or believing that you are never good enough.
- Intense emotional reactions and/or emotional shutdowns are common in those who have experienced childhood trauma. It was your parent or guardian’s responsibility to teach you healthy ways to recognize and regulate your emotions. If you lacked that figure in your life, you may have trouble regulating your emotions on your own. Intense emotional reactions can also point you toward trauma triggers that you may not realize you had, especially if you have few memories of your childhood.
- Struggling with trusting others might be a little obvious, but social anxiety falls into this category too because your social anxiety might stem from not trusting strangers or even friends to be kind to you as the default; this is more likely if going out of your way to do something to help or please them eases your anxiety a little.
- Difficulty setting boundaries goes hand-in-hand with social anxiety. You may have a hard time saying no or maintaining boundaries that you set because your inner child expects them to react how your abuser might if you told them no.
You can also identify your inner child by thinking back to your childhood. Your experiences can manifest in several ways, but you should primarily pay attention to your emotions and behaviors. Are you struggling with emotions that might feel a little too intense for the situation? Do you occasionally behave or react in ways that are totally out of character for you, especially once you’re in therapy? These could be signs that your inner child is expressing themselves.
Healing Your Inner Child
Working with your inner child can make healing from trauma a lot less confusing because it gives you a safe, direct connection to your experiences without thrusting you back into traumatic memories. Once you’ve identified their presence, you can create a nurturing internal environment, like a little nest, that will help them (and you!) feel safer. Some ways to start that journey include:
Reparenting your inner child involves taking the role of a parent in your own life and directing it toward yourself. This is a great option because it can provide dual benefits. You will start to heal, and you can overcome any long-held grief, too. If the trauma you experienced was parental neglect or abuse, you might grieve not having the parents you wanted. What are some things your parents never did that you can finally do for yourself? It can be anything, but here are some ideas to get you started:
- Teaching yourself care tasks, including self-regulation
- Reminding yourself that self-care includes doing the things that feel hard, like showering, brushing your teeth, eating fruits and veggies, going for walks, etc. This could also look like reminding yourself that “easier” versions of these tasks are still good enough.
- Setting and maintaining boundaries with yourself
- Noticing when you are uncomfortable and taking steps to relieve the discomfort– this could be anything from having a meal to ending conversations you are not comfortable having
- Practicing self-love, which might include repeating affirmations, giving yourself compliments, and making space for yourself to exist with no pressure
Visualization and Meditation
Visualizing your inner child can also help with healing. Many Loving-Kindness meditations incorporate this practice because it can be easier to practice self-compassion towards a younger you. Additionally, visualizing the child version of yourself in combination with the reparenting tasks above can help. When you do this, you can begin to separate your memories as a child from your life now. After all, the things that happened to you in the past don’t define you now, right? The more you do this practice, the more you may be present in the world and act with your thoughts rather than the fear you learned as a child.
If you’ve never journaled before, you may find it difficult to start. Try a few of the following prompts to help you get closer to your inner child:
- Write a letter from your current self to your child self.
- Write a letter from your child self to your parents. If it feels good to do so, put everything into it and then burn it.
- Write a dialogue between yourself and your inner child
- Describe a current problem or anxiety you have from the perspective of your inner child seeking advice. Respond as your adult self, giving that advice to a friend or mentee.
- Describe one or more joys in your current life to your inner child.
- Write out a list of affirmations you can tell yourself. Some people struggle with this because many affirmations are difficult to believe. If you can’t internalize “I love myself,” and other positive messages, you can start with more neutral ones. For example: “There are days that I like myself,” “I am safe,” and “I have things around me that make me happy.”
Benefits of Healing Your Inner Child
Healing your inner child can have really incredible benefits on your emotional well-being and sense of self. By healing your inner child, you can:
- Start learning how your memories influence your thoughts and behaviors today
- Learn to recognize negative patterns and beliefs that may be holding you back
- Develop more positive self-talk and self-love
- Learn to feel more confident and self-assured
- Improve your relationships with others
Working with your inner child can be a powerful tool in healing childhood trauma. Find your inner child, take them by the hand, and create a warm, nurturing internal environment for them to heal. Give them the love you always wanted. Teach them that they deserve that love no matter how they feel, behave, or react. Using techniques like visualization, journaling, and therapy can all be effective ways to heal your inner child. Finally, make sure to get help from a licensed professional who specializes in childhood trauma. At Modern Era Counseling, all of our therapists are trauma-informed and have years of experience behind them. We are so excited to help you start on your journey toward healing! Click here or give us a call at (704) 800-4436 to get started today.