Inner child healing is a process of working through unresolved childhood issues. It can be very beneficial for adults who have difficulty connecting with their emotions or who struggle with self-care. Recovery from abuse or neglect may also require inner child healing work.
We’ll dive into the concept of the inner child, how to connect with it, and then answer the big question, “What is inner child healing?“
What is the concept of the inner child?
The inner child is a concept used in psychology and popular culture to refer to a person’s earliest sense of self. It is often used in reference to trauma, abuse, or neglect experienced during childhood.
However, it doesn’t have to be.
We can do inner child work to address some of the smaller ‘t’ trauma in our lives that may impact our ability to function in healthy ways as an adult.
When we refer to our inner child, we are usually referring to an age or age range when something bad happened. That is the point in our lives we need to connect to in order to start the healing process, so the age of the inner child will look different for everyone.
Does everyone have an inner child?
The inner child is a metaphor for the part of us that is still vulnerable, hurt or wounded.
We all have an inner child, but some of us may have more work to do in order to heal our inner child than others.
How do I tap into my inner child?
There are different ways to tap into your inner child, but before we go into those, it is important to note the difficulty of this work.
Inner child work often involves dealing with big ‘T’ trauma. Things like abuse, violence, death, and other unthinkable things we may have witnessed or survived as children.
For that level of work, it is important to find a trusted therapist who specializes in trauma. Like all relationships, building trust and feeling safe in the care of a therapist takes time. Please give yourself space to get there. There is no rush on inner child healing.
For individuals doing inner child healing work on small ‘t’ trauma, you may be able to do more self-guided activities safely, but you, too, might want to consider working with a trained professional.
Methods for Connecting with Your Inner Child
The following methods come from behavioral therapist, Kati Morton, LMFT. For the most part, these are activities she does with clients in a clinical setting.
Again, I want to stress the importance of allowing trained professionals to support your journey with inner child healing.
If you’re a video person, here’s an informative clip discussing these action steps:
Write a letter to your inner child
One thing you can do to tap into your inner child is to become pen pals with him or her.
Write a letter to your inner child. I can use myself as an example. Starting in 7th grade, I was bullied. My inner child is about 12 years old, and she is who I will write to.
Kati has a wonderful recommendation for people just starting with this work, and that is to write to the child you were before the bad thing happened. This helps you get a sense of who you were.
What did you like to do? What was your personality like?
Write letters back and forth with your child self and get to know that person again. It might feel silly. It could even feel hard to do. You may have to knock down some personal defense mechanisms in order to connect with your inner child on this level.
Give yourself patience and grace. Most importantly, know when to stop and take breaks.
Have conversations with your inner child
Talk to your inner child out loud. You can do this by yourself or with a trusted therapist.
Yes, talking to yourself out loud can be awkward, especially when one of the versions of yourself is a child, but it’s a really great activity for connecting to what happened from the perspective of your inner child.
Kati talks about as adults, we sometimes look back at the events that hurt us as children and say, “Well it wasn’t that big of a deal.”
Maybe we’re right, and maybe we’re convincing ourselves that it wasn’t a big deal as a way of avoiding the pain it caused.
Inner child work aims to break down the barrier between how our adult self recalls the past and how our child self experienced it at the moment. Because as children, we are more vulnerable to external forces. We are trying to see what the world is about and when we experience difficult things, we haven’t built the coping mechanisms nor do we have the capacity to process what is happening.
When you add big ‘t’ trauma to that equation, it becomes so much heavier. Talking to the 8-year-old child who lost her father in a bad car accident as well as talking as the 8-year-old child who lost her father in a bad car accident allows you to help that part of yourself heal.
The following Ted Talk expands on this idea of healing your inner child through conversation in much more detail:
Write out your trauma like a story
Storytelling is an incredibly powerful tool for healing.
This next part can be done in a variety of ways. You can journal, retell the story to yourself, or tell it to your therapist. Regardless of the method, the concept is the same.
Tell the story of the bad thing that happened. This helps you see it more clearly. As a healing tool, you can change the narrative of this story.
Kati recommends giving your adult self the ability to become a character in this story who swoops in to save the inner child from the bad thing.
You do not want to re-traumatize yourself, so it is important to do this under the guidance of a therapist you trust and who knows you well. You want someone who recognizes the signs that you are becoming overwhelmed, or that it is too much, so they can intervene and guide you out of the exercise safely.
What is inner child healing?
Inner child healing is what happens after you learn how to identify your inner child.
It is the process you go through to heal the trauma (big or small) you experienced as a child. We do this because the impact of that childhood trauma stays with us into adulthood in the form of unhealthy behavior, poor coping mechanisms, and stunted emotional development.
Inner child healing allows us to address the problem at its true root.
Identifying and communicating with your inner child can be therapeutic in itself, but there are some day-to-day integrations you can do as well.
3 Powerful Steps for Inner Child Healing
1. Become conscious of your inner child.
The first step is acknowledging that you have an inner child and identifying who he or she is. What age is your inner child? What shaped him or her?
For some, this is obvious. There was a big trauma or bad thing that defined your life in a profound way. For others, you may need to dig a little and connect to a time when your needs weren’t being met.
Again, this is very similar to the process of connecting with your shadow self, which you can explore further here: How To Find Your Shadow Self.
2. Use triggers as a guide.
Any time you react disproportionately to something, it is important to pay attention. Triggers let us know that there is something bigger beneath the surface.
What sets you off?
Big feelings about small things are red flags. We should use them to help us heal.
I’ll give a personal example. When I ask my husband a question and he doesn’t respond because he is looking at something on his phone, I can feel my blood boil.
When I repeat myself, my voice will have a clear volume increase and edge to it. I might not even want to ask the question anymore and my brain will start to whirl with big, angry feelings. Like a child, I can feel myself shutting down.
This is a trigger. When faced with a trigger, it’s good to become curious.
Why does seeing my husband glued to his phone when I try to talk to him make me so angry? If I dig deep, I start to uncover some big feelings.
I feel ignored in those moments like I am fighting for attention. That uncovers deeper feelings of rejection and feeling ‘not good enough.’
I can take those big feelings and instead of picking a fight with my husband over something that doesn’t have to be so big, I can use the experience to heal. This takes us to the last step.
3. Ask your inner child what needs to be considered.
Once you start to see clearly what your triggers are telling you, you can tend to those needs.
If my inner child often felt rejected and unseen, I can do things to soothe myself. I can call it out.
Hey, I’m getting worked up right now because I’m feeling unseen, but I know my husband loves and respects me.
I can take some breaths and ask him again. He’ll most likely apologize for not hearing me the first time and will give me his full attention while I ask him whatever I need to ask, and it will be fine.
I can take a walk because that helps me reset and when I come back, I’m not going to care as much about the phone thing.
This is a healthier way to tackle your triggers. The alternative is to sit with those big feelings and let them stew to the point where you are now building an explosive narrative in your head about what is really happening.
Related Post: How to Deal with Emotional Triggers in Early Sobriety
Inner Child Work Is Ongoing
Now that you have a general understanding of what inner child work is and how inner child healing looks in practice, you can connect with a therapist or do some exercises on your own to start exploring your inner child more deeply.
It is important to note that inner child healing is ongoing.
We do not employ these strategies a handful of times and then become whole. Sometimes we expect healing to look like an erasure of trauma from our bodies when in reality it is more of a slow coming to peace with our past in healthy ways.
That process is slow and challenging but has tremendous payoffs. Have you done inner child healing work before? Tell us about it!