Artwork by Alexander Milov / image by just_shot_of_jameson
The way we are raised and the experiences we have during childhood create imprints that have a lasting impact on our lives.
These imprints influence and color the lens through which we interpret and experience the world. If our goal is to create greater awareness, it’s vital to uncover and heal the wounded inner child within us.
The inner child is the spontaneous, energetic, creative and playful aspect of our personality. It is the part of us that wants to shine through and fully embrace life.
These aspects can get shut down with childhood wounding.
The truth is that this ‘inner child’ remains with us throughout our lifetime. Through your own observation process, you can uncover this ‘inner child’ in yourself and others.
A great deal of the healing processes and the development of an integrated psyche require inner child work.
In every adult there lurks a child – an eternal child, something that is becoming, is never completed and calls for unceasing care, attention and education. That is the part of the human personality which waits to develop and become whole. ~ Carl Jung
It is easy to fool the intellect or numb the emotions with medication, but as Dr. Bassel Van Der Kolk says, the body keeps a record of our inner child wounds. Unresolved emotional trauma will find a way to creep into our lives until such time as we deal with and resolve these patterns.
With practice, we can see that our wounded inner child is not only us.
Our wounded inner child may represent several generations.
Our mother may have suffered throughout her life.
Our father may have suffered.
Perhaps our parents weren’t able to look after the wounded inner child in themselves.
So when we’re embracing the wounded inner child in us, we are embracing all the wounded inner children in our past generations.
This practice is not a practice for ourselves alone, but for numberless generations of ancestors and descendants.
~ Thich Nhat Hanh
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Some Common Indicators of Unresolved Trauma With the Inner Child
- Any form of addiction (overeating, alcoholism, sex, drugs, consumerism, gambling, workaholism, etc…)
- Need to always be in control, lack of trust in life and people
- “Never enough syndrome” or narcissistic personality disorder – ongoing need to be admired and validated by others
- Fears of abandonment
- Difficulty and confusion knowing what you want or how you feel
- Fear of trying something new
- Difficulty setting boundaries – having a hard time saying no
- Fear of anger
- Difficulty expressing your emotions
- Paranoia and disruptive thought patterns – inability to differentiate between facts and assumptions.
- Getting Triggered and defensive – misinterpreting and seeing the world through the lens of your inner child wounds or insecurities, which causes you to become emotionally volatile and ungrounded in your thinking
- ‘People pleaser’ syndrome
- Anxiety in social interactions
- Overly competitive
- Need to have things your way, or else you will quit
- Fear of making mistakes
- Feeling guilty if you don’t conform to your parents’ ideals
- Lack of healthy discipline – procrastination, inability to focus and finish tasks
Types of Inner Child Wounds
How the Wounded Inner Child Affects Our Relationships
Our wounded inner child will go as far as to influence the type of relationships we attract into our life. These relationships generally mirror the original wounds from our childhood.
In dysfunctional families – secrecy, resentment, numbing of emotions, aggressiveness, control and withdrawal become your first points of reference for future relationships.
We subconsciously recreate and attract these unhealthy dynamics until such time we resolve these patterns. The way out of these dynamics is through inner work that involves developing greater awareness and embracing our pain.
In order to do this, we have to be willing to give up any facade we put in place as a coping mechanism and access vulnerability. Here are some examples of how the wounded inner child affects our relationships:
Projection of Our Disowned Parts
Depending on the degree of awareness, the projection will manifest in a variety of different forms. Projection happens when we externalize our disowned traits onto others.
For example, a person might not be able to recognize that the aversion they feel towards someone is just a mirror that is reflecting back to them the aspects which they have rejected within themselves.
Conversely, a person might feel magnetically drawn to someone that embodies a positive aspect that they have disowned in themselves. The next time when you feel a strong judgment or attraction towards someone, ask yourself the question:
Is there something in this person that I rejected in myself?
If there were emotions or situations that were too difficult to process in our childhood, we might have developed a coping mechanism of disconnecting from ourselves. Instead of feeling, we learn to disconnect and numb our emotions.
This can happen when you’re in a situation you don’t like and instead of being present, you escape the situation by ‘zoning out’. Physically you are present, but mentally and emotionally, you are not there.
This can cause difficulty later in relationships, particularly if you want to create closeness. In order to create closeness, you have to be present and emotionally attuned.
Harmful Behaviour Towards Others or Yourself
We tend to do unto others that which was done onto us. We enter into the role of perpetrator or victim. If we don’t express harmful behavior onto others, it can take the form of punishment towards ourselves.
This punishment can manifest itself as addictions that are harmful to our body and mind, entering into abusive relationships, eating disorders or outright physical harm onto ourselves e.g. punching or cutting ourselves.
When we feel rejected or do not have unconditional love mirrored to us in our early years of development, it can spawn narcissistic tendencies later in life.
To please narcissistic parents’ expectations for a child’s behavior and personality can turn into an impossible task. The child of a narcissistic parent is constantly criticized, belittled or only praised for high achievements and being compliant.
This child grows into an adult with low self-esteem who overcompensates for it by seeking external validation and self-worth through achievement and success.
It is also a child who grows to believe that the world is a harsh and hostile place. Adult narcissists are infused with feelings of shame, rage and distrust. They become emotionally cold and believe that the only way to have their needs met is through manipulating others.
As you can imagine, this can lead to many dysfunctions in relationships later in life. Dysfunctions such as using other people’s vulnerabilities as ammunition, a lack of empathy, an inability to take responsibility for one’s mistakes and manipulation tactics.
Children who were raised by narcissistic parents can also develop into codependents. Underlying both a narcissist and a codependent is the belief that connection can only be achieved by presenting a false identity or through manipulating others.
Deep down, they believe that they are not worthy of love. Where the two differ is that a codependent becomes overly focused on the needs of another, whilst a narcissistic person becomes overly involved with themself.
A codependent person depends upon another or something external to meet their needs in an unhealthy/indirect way.
For example, a person becomes a perpetual victim in order to get sympathy or attention. Or they may meet their need for feeling good and validated by constantly playing the role of ‘rescuer’ in a relationship.
We could say that codependent people derive their self-esteem from feeling ‘needed’ or by ‘sacrificing’ themselves to help others. The irony is that even if they present their actions as ‘self-sacrificing’, their underlying motives are still self-centred.
Trust Issues And Fear of Intimacy
The development of trust begins to form in the first 15 months of life. The ability to trust forms in the bonding process between caregivers and the infant. This bonding starts with physical contact. It then extends to how your emotional and physical needs are tended to.
If you have your needs covered during this vulnerable period of life, your ability to trust the world will outweigh your mistrust. For example, having somebody to soothe you when you cry or feed you when you’re hungry develops trust that we can count on the world. Trust that the world is friendly and not a hostile place.
If these needs are not met during this vulnerable period, then the opposite will be true. We will feel let down and guarded. This process also influences our ability to learn. Learning is a process of exploration. We can only learn if we feel safe exploring the world.
Mistrust is also created during childhood if parents violate the personal truth of a child and disguise it under the pretense that they are acting for the child’s ‘own good’.
It is important to remember that parents who do this aren’t usually aware that they are acting in their own best interest and not in the child’s interest.
If mistrust is created in childhood, then it makes it difficult for us to believe that people have our best interest at heart later in life. We may push others away, although deep down, we crave connection.
Enmeshment/ Loss of Self
Enmeshment is a consequence of trauma that occurred in childhood when our sense of self wasn’t acknowledged. Many parents seek validation through their children. If a child has opposing desires to the parent, then it may be met with disapproval or withdrawal.
Any behavior that parent (s) considers improper threatens their security and sense of identity. In other words, parents don’t respect child’s personal boundaries.
This can result in you believing that the only way for someone to love you is by abandoning yourself. You play a certain role that will make you more lovable.
You feel responsible for other people’s feelings. In order to meet the need for connection, you give up your personal truth. You become a chameleon, constantly changing your colors depending on who you are dealing with. As a result, you don’t feel loved for who you truly are.
Fear of Abandonment
Abandonment trauma can happen through physical absence as well as physical presence/ emotional neglect. Trauma caused by emotional neglect is oftentimes far more painful than actual physical absence.
If we experienced abandonment trauma, we might become overly attached to our relationship. Attached to such an extent that we won’t be able to leave someone even if that person is emotionally, mentally or physically abusive.
Fear of abandonment can also manifest as building walls around ourselves so no one can hurt us again.
Reaching our physical maturity does not immediately imply that we have reached our mental or emotional maturity. Emotional immaturity can manifest as having to depend on the opinions of others to feel a sense of self-worth, not having healthy boundaries or lack of attunement with our emotions.
Parents who are out of touch with their own emotions cannot model healthy emotional intelligence to their children. As a result, these children grow into adults who have no idea how to deal with emotions.
In order to reach full maturity, it is important to reparent the aspects of our wounded inner child. We need guidance to learn how to recognize and meet our emotional needs in a healthy way.
Some Tips On Healing the Wounded Inner Child
1. Get an Early Photo of Yourself
Get a photo of yourself, preferably a photo of yourself before the age of seven years. You can put this photo in your wallet or on your desk so that it can be a reminder of the child that lives in you.
It can also serve as a reminder to pay more attention to your inner voice.
Could you cultivate more loving and nurturing thoughts towards yourself?
Guided meditation or doing the activities that you used to love as a child can be another way you get in touch with your inner child.
2. Write a Letter to Your Inner Child
Love and acknowledge this part of yourself – your inner child within, in the form of writing. Express the intention to do your best in order to heal his or her wounds.
Allow yourself to grieve, feel anger or any other emotion that may arise when reconnecting with your painful childhood memories. Children are sometimes shamed for crying or being angry. This blocks the energy in the body.
Sadness is an energy that can allow us to heal. Anger can allow us to understand when our boundaries have been violated. Every emotion is valid and has its purpose.
In order to reconnect with our inner child, we need to re-experience emotions that we suppressed.
3. Get Your Wounded Inner Child Needs Met as an Adult in a Healthy Way
For example, if you felt neglected as a child by your parent(s), you can find a supportive group of friends who accept you for who you are.
Sometimes it can be sufficient to meet your inner child’s needs through inner journey work. When you discover moments where you felt let down as a child, you can visualize your adult self protecting your inner child and accommodating his or her needs.
4. Become Attuned With Your Emotions and Learn How to Release Them.
For more information on how to become more attuned with your emotions, you can check this article.
5. Integrate Your Disowned Parts
Pay close attention to yourself – especially to your triggers and to the areas where you have strong judgements.
What is it in this person that I judge?
Could it be that I judge the same aspect within myself?
Our inner child is the spontaneous, energetic, creative and playful aspect of us. No one had a perfect childhood. Everyone bears the unresolved unconscious patterns of their ancestral lineage.
When our inner child becomes wounded by trauma or loss, it continues to have a ripple effect on our adult life. By reconnecting with and healing our wounded inner child, we can get more in touch with our true essence. This naturally leads to more authentic expression, freedom and inner peace.