Our inner child is a part of ourselves that’s been present ever since we were conceived, through utero, and all the developing years after when we were young and developing into tender selves: baby, infant, toddler, young child, and middle school year.
The inner child can often recall good experiences as well as childhood fears, traumas, neglect, or significant loss.
Each one of us has an “inner child” living inside. Your “inner child” is a part of your subconscious that has been picking up messages way before it was able to fully process what was going on (mentally and emotionally). It holds emotions, memories, and beliefs from the past as well as hopes and dreams for the future.
Our inner child remembers the feeling of our hearts brimming with joy and love when our dad looked at us with a glisten in his eyes or the gratitude when we shared our favorite toy with the neighbor.
It remembers feeling invited to a friend’s birthday party and feeling so happy and confident.
Our inner child is present when we start our first job, proving to our boss that we’re responsible and capable, feeling proud.
Now, our inner child can either be calm and content (for the most part), or it can act out and make things a bit rumbly inside, standing in the way of healthy relationships, organization skills, and self-regulation.
If you’re feeling frustrated or stuck in some aspect of your life, your inner child is probably needing some attention. Stuck points can look like difficulties at work, in parenting, finding or keeping love, deepening relationships, or setting boundaries.
Once the inner child knows it has your attention and you are doing your best to offer it love and provide it with its needs it’ll often be more open to you.
It may need more physical or emotional safety, more attention to the way you’re taking care (of your mind, body, or soul), healing past pains, setting boundaries in life, or shifting who you spend time with. This work will often uncover whatever is truly important.
What does a happy inner child look and feel like?
When our inner child (and our “internal family”) is calm, we get the green light to go ahead and try new things. We know we can tolerate failure or mess-ups. We can deal with minor amounts of shame without getting gobbled up with fear. We know we are steady and don’t need to act impulsively. We don’t get stuck in our pursuit to get approval from others.
If our inner child feels safe and steady, it will allow us to blossom.
If the inner child feels wobbly, as adults, we will feel insecure, disoriented, and disorganized in life. When our inner child feels steady, its anchor is deeply rooted and we feel, and come across, more clear, confident, and comfortable.
The sign of having a wounded inner child:
The sign of having a wounded inner child may include feelings of shame, guilt, and/or pain, chronic overworking and needing to achieve (to get approval or belonging), inability to be present at the moment, regular anxiety and fear, rigid and trying to be “perfect” (cannot handle a failure), difficulty noticing and celebrating “wins” in life (no win will ever be enough), unhealthy relationship patterns and/or avoiding relationships and love, rumination, and negative self-talk.
Ways to work with healing your inner child
Inside each of us, there’s an inner child that was once wounded.
To avoid the pain, we’ve tried to ignore that child, but s/he never goes away. Our inner child lives in our unconscious mind and influences how we make choices, respond to challenges, and live our lives.
If you too feel lost, lonely, small, and afraid of losing love and acceptance, you may also benefit from healing the inner child who once felt insecure and not good enough.
- Saying these things to yourself is a good start.
1. I love you.
As children, a lot of us believed that we needed to accomplish goals to be lovable. We may not have had parents who told us we deserved love, no matter what we achieved. Some of us may have had parents who considered showing love and tenderness to be a sign of weakness. But we can tell ourselves that we are loveable now.
Say it whenever you see yourself in the mirror. Say it at any random moment. Love is the key to healing, so give it to yourself.
2. I hear you.
Oftentimes when we feel hurt, we push down our feelings and try to act strong. For a lot of us, this stems from childhood, when we frequently heard, “Quit your crying, or I’ll give you something to cry about.”
But those feelings don’t just go away. They fester inside of us, affecting the choices we make as adults until we make the conscious effort to hear them.
3. You didn’t deserve this.
As children, many of us assumed that we deserved to be abused, shamed, or abandoned. We told ourselves that we were bad kids, that we did something wrong.
But that’s simply not true. In many cases, the people who wounded us simply didn’t know any other way.
A child is innocent and pure. A child does not deserve to be abused, shamed, or abandoned. It’s not the child’s fault, and though we may not have had the capacity to understand this then, now, as adults, we do.
4. Thank you.
Thank your inner child for never giving up, for getting through the tough moments in life together with you with strength and perseverance.
Thank your inner child for trying to protect you, even if her/his way was holding on to painful memories.
Your inner child doesn’t deserve your judgment. S/he deserves your gratitude and respect.
5. You did your best.
As a child, we always tried to outperform, overachieve, and meet someone else’s standard, to be “perfect.”
We were always demanding and cruel to ourselves, and no matter how well we did, we never felt it was good enough.
But we need to know that we’re doing our best and we deserve credit for that.
- Utilize activities to start feeling (a little bit at a time) to undo the numbing.
- Work on reducing anxieties and fears by processing fearful memories or experiences.
- Developing healthy relationships that allow you to feel safe and steady in the world.
- Creating a warm and inviting environment.
- Create structure and nourishing self-care by creating steady patterns of feeding, sleeping, hygiene & sex.
- Develop clear emotional, energetic, time, and physical boundaries.
- Create passions and hobbies and make them part of your life.
- Shift focus from performing to doing + being + celebrating.
- Shift your inner beliefs (what beliefs you feed yourself, therapy can help with this).
How to reach out to your inner child
“Each one of us has an inner child, or way of being,” says Dr. Diana Raab, a research psychologist, and author. “Getting in touch with your inner child can help foster well-being and bring a lightness to life.”
She explains that a healthy inner child may seem playful, child-like, and fun, while an injured or traumatized inner child might face challenges as an adult, particularly when triggered by events that bring up memories of past wounds.
Try these six strategies to reach out to your inner child:
1. Keep an open mind
It’s OK to feel a little uncertain about the idea of an inner child. But you don’t have to look at this “child” as a separate person or personality. Instead, consider them a representation of your past experiences.
For most people, the past contains a mix of positive and negative events. These circumstances help form your character and guide your choices and goals as you grow older and eventually reach adulthood.
Research Trusted Source suggests these early experiences don’t just play an important part in development. A deeper understanding of your past self could also be key to enjoying improved health and well-being later in life.
2. Look to children for guidance
Children can teach you a lot about life, from finding joy in small things to living in the moment.
If you struggle to think back to enjoyable childhood experiences, engaging in creative play with children can help rekindle these memories and put you back in touch with the enjoyment of simpler days.
Making time to play with your children doesn’t just increase your sense of playfulness and youthful expression. It also has a positive impact on their well-being, in part by contributing to the development of their inner self.
3. Revisit childhood memories
Exploring recollections from the past can also help you get in touch with your inner child.
Photos and other mementos can help you tap back into the emotional space reflected in the images and words of the past. To look back, you might try activities like flipping through photo albums and school yearbooks or rereading childhood diaries.
If your parents, siblings, or childhood friends have stories to share, these reminiscences might evoke feelings and memories you’d completely forgotten.
If you find your inner child in a place of suffering, you can help them heal. But your inner child can also lend you strength: Regaining youthful feelings of wonder, optimism, and simple joy in life can help bolster confidence and well-being.
4. Spend time doing things you used to enjoy
When getting to know your inner child, think about the things that brought you childhood joy.
As a child, you probably did plenty of things just for fun. You didn’t have to do them, you just wanted to. But you might have a hard time recalling the last time you did something in your adult life simply because it made you happy.
Creative activities like coloring, doodling, or painting can help, too. When you let your active mind rest, emotions you usually don’t consider can surface in your art, through your fingertips.
Some of these emotions might tie into buried or forgotten parts of self, such as your inner child.
5. Talk to your inner child
One of the best ways to get in touch with your inner child is to open up a conversation.
Writing can be a powerful tool for connecting with your inner child, so you don’t need to speak out loud — though you certainly can if it helps.
Writing a letter, or freewriting about childhood memories can help you explore past experiences and sort through associated emotions.
Try holding a specific thought in your head to guide your letter or journaling exercise, or use stream-of-consciousness writing to express any thoughts that come to mind.
It’s normal to feel a little nervous about what your inner child wants to share, especially if you’ve buried some negative past experiences or difficult emotions.
But think of this exercise as a way to establish and strengthen a bond between your current self and your child self.
6. Talk to a therapist
If reaching out to your inner child triggers discomfort or painful emotions, including grief, traumatic memories, and feelings of helplessness or fear visit a therapist.
If possible, seek a therapist experienced with inner child therapy. This specific approach works from the idea that mental health symptoms, relationship concerns, and other emotional distress often stem from unresolved pain or repressed emotions.
The bottom line
The inner child is the part of your psyche that still retains its innocence, creativity, awe, and wonder toward life. Quite literally, your inner child is the child that lives within you – within your psyche that is.
We must stay connected with this sensitive part of ourselves. When we are connected to our inner child, we feel excited, invigorated, and inspired by life. When we are disconnected, we feel lethargic, bored, unhappy, and empty.