The Inner Child is a figurative and metaphorical concept that stems from Freud’s psychological theories. It is a reflection of the child you once were. We all have a history and have been influenced by our environment and the various events and people in our lives. By the time we reach the age of five, we have made subconscious decisions about how we “should” be and what we “should” do in order to feel loved and survive within our immediate environment. In turn, as we move into adulthood, we continue to form beliefs and scripts about how life should be. We literally carry these immature beliefs with us into our adulthood and allow them to run our lives and our relationships.
When you revisit these inner child beliefs you start to discover what they reveal about how you perceive yourself and the world around you. Whenever we don’t do this and continue to remain unconscious, we end up living our adult lives with the emotional maturity of a child. This is what commonly occurs within relationships. All of a sudden, our inner child starts running the show, demanding the attention, understanding and love that it didn’t receive as a child. It reacts and throws narcissistic tantrums, at times violent and impulsive, becoming incredibly needy or avoidant. Other times, suppressing or acting in insecure and passive aggressive ways as opposed to communicating and voicing our need and feelings.
This inner child is living inside an adult body, but the adult body (and its age) does not always reflect the behaviour of a mature adult. Many people in today’s world are living their lives with their inner child running the show. It is not a physical concept, because obviously you won’t have an actual child living within you, but it is metaphorically real. Carl Jung called this the Peter Pan syndrome, where you unconsciously refuse to grow up. For many, there is a four-year-old running the frame of a 40-year-old person. To be an actual adult inside and out, you will need to be able to take responsibility for all areas of your life (especially your needs and emotions), and at the same time lovingly guiding and nurturing your inner child. For the majority of adults, this is something that rarely happens. The neglect, abandonment, rejection and other various childhood traumas, angers, hurts and fears get accumulated and turn into emotional baggage that prevent us from living in an elevated space of love, where our mental, emotional and physical health and healing is possible.
There are many reasons to why our inner child gets wounded. Most of us have experienced various forms of trauma. However, trauma does not necessarily have to be as extreme as growing up in a war or being physically and mentally abused. There are many forms of trauma:
- Having unavailable parents who withheld their affection from you and didn’t emotionally encourage or support you.
- Being the recipient of inappropriate sexual behaviour, including getting subjected to pornography.
- Growing up in a home where your parents kept fighting, arguing and eventually ended up divorcing.
- Being given inappropriate or burdensome responsibilities such as looking after the family and doing most of the chores.
- Being abandoned by one or both parents.
- Being rejected by your peers.
- Not having a safe home to sleep in, or a clean hygienic environment.
- Growing up with parents who would abuse various substances, such as drugs or alcohol, to numb their emotions.
- Parents or family members who were overprotective and interfered with everything you wanted to do, which denied you of your confidence.
- Judgement of your personality, interests, passions or sexual orientation.
- Parents or family members who were excessively demanding and had high expectations or who projected their feelings in unhealthy ways (i.e. anger, verbal attacks and emotional blackmail).
- Parents or family members who humiliated you, or did not address any issues you experienced at school (such as bullying).
- Growing up with a parent who had low self-esteem and body image issues.
- Emotionally unavailable parent/parents who did not know how to hold space for your feelings.
Remaining unconscious to our inner child can contribute towards mental, emotional and even physical pain (i.e. TMS and mental health issues). It can also lead to much turmoil and self-destructive patterns of behaviour. We many end up going from one relationship to another, repeating painful behaviors or constantly getting triggered while projecting and/or suppressing our emotions and remaining completely oblivious to our deep-seated unhealed wounds. Alternatively, we end up becoming so fearful of change or ending up alone that we miserably hold on to an unhappy job or relationship that is not good for our mental, spiritual and even physical wellbeing.
Once we have become conscious of our inner child, it’s important that we listen to its feelings of guilt, shame, vulnerability, anxiety, anger and unmet needs. When we trace these feelings back to specific childhood events, we may become conscious of similar situations in our adult life that trigger the same responses within us. In order to heal our wounded inner child, we need to tune inwards ad make time to ask the following questions of ourselves:
“How do you feel?”
“How can I support you?”
“What do you need from me?
Activities such as making time to awaken that sense of childlike wonder that we used to have as children, are incredibly important for healing the inner child. By doing things that help you tap into a sense of joy, fun and play you are reinforcing the belief that you are worthy, you are safe, you are loved and you are enough.
Past trauma can cause a lot of distress. With the support of your Counsellor, you will be better able to create a safe space where you can begin to navigate your emotional turmoil and learn compassionate strategies for healing your inner child.
Sarah is a Psychotherapist, Mental Health Social Worker, Art Therapist, Artist and Writer. She is also the Practice Manager at Mental Awakening.