Inner Child Work
by Julia Lloyd, RMHCI
Have you wondered why exploring our history and unique experiences can be a big part of therapy?
Oftentimes this is because your experiences as a child, adolescent, and young adult have created unique experiences that prompt your present responses, reactions, and perspective that influence your daily life. Some of these mindsets and behaviors can be useful, however, some can be unhelpful and even problematic.
Why is this? Our pain from the past gets wired into our nervous system, our brain, and our worldview. Our life circumstances we encountered prompted a reactions at one point; maybe you were embarrassed, hurt, shamed, judged, or confused as a child at some point, maybe you experienced complex traumatic experiences, or maybe your parents’ parenting was less than what was necessary for you to gain really important self-regulation skills, interpersonal skills, or the ability to identify and express your needs.
There is a saying, “you can’t blame everything on your parents”. This is true, but parents are human, and even with them giving their best (which is sometimes hardly the bare minimum) we lose out on aspects of our development that impacts our ability to connect with others and ourselves to the fullest extent.
How can we redefine our story and move forward from our caregivers' care or lack thereof? We can engage in inner child work and learn to re-parent ourselves. Your inner child is the child that lives within you. Even as an adult, the memory of your inner child lives inside of each of us. Our inner wounds from the past might still need healing, validation, and connection.
5 Steps for inner child work:
- Create safety for your inner child: Noticing your inner child with curiosity, not judgment, compassion, not correction, and allow yourself to engage in play! Children are curious, free, and sponges of their experiences.
- Identify inner child behaviors that are unhelpful and what probes them.
- Identify new ways of responding to things that trigger reactions. Replacement skills and behaviors are your friend.
- Become familiar with experiences of your childhood that you need to grieve. Are their losses (this can be a death, a lack of nurturing, or a trauma that robbed you of something) that need validation?
- Give yourself grace. This is a process! Think of getting to know your inner child like getting to know a new friend. It takes time! You might be a stranger now but after practice, the connection becomes more comfortable.
These are complex steps that can be helpful to work through with a therapist, however, if you're not quite ready for that step there are some books and workbooks that can be a good start.