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  • Writer's pictureHelen Whitehead M.C., R.C.C.

Updated: Oct 2, 2020

You may have heard the words inner child used in a variety of ways, perhaps you’ve seen the hashtag #innerchild next to a picture of someone engaging in a fun activity, perhaps you’ve done some inner child work in counselling sessions, or perhaps you’ve rolled your eyes as you’ve scrolled past articles just like this one telling you why your inner child is a pretty big deal. Keep reading!

inner child peeking around a wall smiling

The way I like to explain it is that your inner child is the you that existed before the world taught you not to be yourself. The you that existed before your inner critic came along and told you that you’d be judged, judged by your peers, by society, and of course by social media. Wanting to connect with your inner child doesn’t make you immature or in any way unusual. It’s a super healthy thing to do and can be a way of remembering how to have fun and express ourselves creatively. For some people however, it can be much more than that.

For people who experienced trauma as a young person, their inner child may be still driving much of their distress. It doesn’t matter how many years have passed since you experienced hurt, trauma or abandonment - your younger self is still inside you and often when we have a strong (or what seems irrational) emotional reaction to a situation, one of our younger parts is in the driving seat and they are reacting because there is something about this situation that reminds them of a time they were hurt, felt pain, or felt helpless. Our younger self reminds our brain of that previous emotional pain and our limbic system, our threat detection system, reacts the only way it knows how - fight, flight, freeze, fawn. This inner child part is hyper sensitive to possible threats and was perhaps not listened to, or not believed and was maybe even pushed aside by you so that your “getting on with life” part could take over and get through whatever was happening.

If this is familiar to you, then next time you feel that emotional reaction to something, instead of negatively judging those reactions, be curious about them and ask yourself how old that part of you is and what might that part of you be trying to protect you from or be sensitive to? Take some time to acknowledge your younger self, imagine them with you and let them know you’re here to keep them safe, something perhaps no-one could do for you years ago. If they don’t listen then keep trying, imagine them as a scared little child in front of you, if they don't listen to you at first will you walk away, or will you keep trying to comfort them? After all, that child is you.

To try and build that connection, remember and list the ways that you would feel and show joy as a child. Be creative, try writing with your non-dominant hand, painting, eating messy food with your fingers, pull faces in the mirror, make animal noises, do anything that you could imagine a child would enjoy and see if you can make that connection to your own younger self. Or if the world was too threatening for you when you were small, imagine ways you might have expressed yourself if it had been safe to. Think about writing a letter to your inner child, what would you say to them? What would you want them to know?

Be curious, be compassionate and allow your younger self to shine through. It’s important for them to know that you can still feel them there.

If you have any questions about this or any other aspect of counselling please email me or visit my website:

Thanks for reading :)

Helen Whitehead

North Vancouver, BC

Registered Clinical Counsellor

#innerchild #trauma #selfdiscoverycounselling

  • Writer's pictureHelen Whitehead M.C., R.C.C.

Updated: Aug 21, 2020

Do you get anxious about social activities? Meeting certain people? Work events? Maybe even leaving the house? Anxiety is an important part of life, without it we wouldn’t be able to survive and yet when anxiety becomes a problem it can be devastating.

Let’s take a look at what can happen. For many of us, we feel anxiety about something that is perhaps a little outside of our comfort zone, like an exam or a party and that’s OK, we handle it, we maybe prepare a little more but it doesn’t actually stop us from doing whatever it is. Also in some circumstances our anxiety will fire up to warn us about something that could be harmful to us, after all, avoiding stimuli that can be dangerous is a vital survival strategy, so feeling anxious about walking down a dark street late at night is a probably a good thing right? But what can happen for some folk, especially people who have experienced trauma in the past, anxiety can take hold and every street can start to feel unsafe.

Woman sitting on window sill, trapped by her anxiety

Early experiences that caused us distress or hurt often put our brain on a higher alert for danger, for situations, feelings, or experiences that could cause us pain or be harmful. This is when we can get stuck in a loop. It goes something like this: feel anxiety - try to push it away - feel distress - avoid thing causing anxiety - feel relief - teach brain that avoidance feels good – feel anxiety – try to push it away - feel distress - avoid – and it goes on and on and on. It can get to a point where anxiety has caused our world to get really really small because that’s the only size that feels safe.

Internal Family Systems (IFS) has a really neat counselling approach toward anxiety and trauma. IFS was first introduced by Richard Schwartz and it’s based upon the notion that we all have these different inner parts that have helped us stay safe over the years. So you might have an anxiety part, an inner critic part, a depressive part, an angry part – they all have jobs to do and they all do their jobs well because they are worried about us getting hurt. This works with anxiety because if you are avoiding being out in the world then you are less likely to be hurt or in danger. Same with depression, if you are feeling so lethargic, down, unmotivated that you can barely leave the house, then boom – kept you safe. These parts of ourselves are often from childhood and they don’t realize that we are grown up, we are strong, we are resilient, and we are able to keep ourselves safe, there’s just a disconnect between what our brain (or the child parts of ourselves) thinks is necessary and what we’re actually capable of.

So what do we do? Well traditional anxiety relief therapy might tell you to find ways to distract yourself to try and bring this anxiety under control. Well newsflash, you can’t control anxiety any more than you can tell yourself to stop being depressed. What the IFS approach would suggest, is that we actually start to connect with this part of ourselves and instead of pushing it away and having it push back we actually bring it closer. We ask that part what its job is, how long has it been around for and what the part is scared might happen if it wasn’t doing its job. We thank it for keeping us safe. Through doing this you will find out what your anxiety triggers are and how to speak to that anxiety part to calm it down – often in the same way you might speak to a child who is distressed or scared. Many counsellors, myself included, are influenced by the Internal Family Systems approach. It is incredibly gentle, compassionate, trauma informed, understanding and most importantly, effective. You can watch a short video about the IFS approach to anxiety here:

Compassion is critical when working with our anxiety part, if we don’t take the time to get to know it and understand it then it’s not going to stop doing its job because, well, it works. You’re alive! You survived! Only, we want and deserve a little more than survival.

Just try the basic steps for yourself, check in with your anxiety part, ask it how long it has been around for, what its job is, and what would happen if it wasn’t there. Start to feel compassion for that part and connected to it, rather than feeling that you’re pushing it away and maybe ask it just to take a step back for a day and notice what happens for you. If you have a therapist, ask them about the Internal Family Systems approach. If you have any questions about counselling or anything discussed in this post please get in touch. Email me at

Thanks for reading :)

Helen Whitehead

Registered Clinical Counsellor

North Vancouver, BC

#anxietyrelief #internalfamilysystems #anxiety #trauma

  • Writer's pictureHelen Whitehead M.C., R.C.C.

Updated: Aug 13, 2020

Have you ever been told you have control issues? Or maybe been called a “control freak”? Hmm doesn’t feel good does it? Maybe you need to have things a certain way in your home, or stick to a certain schedule, or maybe you get frustrated when other people in your life, at home, or at work, don’t do things the way you think they should be done – you either keep biting your tongue or you get accused of being a nag. Maybe this sounds familiar, if not about yourself, then perhaps someone else in your life.

Control issues are also involved in abusive relationships, disordered eating, substance use and compulsive behaviours. This is the more serious end of the control spectrum but it’s important to mention nonetheless. For those on the less serious end of the spectrum, controlling behaviour can still cause distress, feelings of loneliness, conflict in relationships and avoidable nervous system activation.

Here's the thing, having, or constantly trying to have control over our lives and the lives of those around us, is just a tactic to feel safe and protected.

Just read that again, yes, control is just a maladaptive strategy to feel safe. It’s usually not because people actually think their way is the better way, their way is just safer for them. That control part of us is just trying to create less chance of any surprises happening, because for our emotional brain, our threat detection system, surprises can mean danger. Perhaps in the past something negative has happened that wasn’t part of “the plan” so your brain is desperately trying to stick to “the plan” to avoid that happening again. This is why some people who have experienced abuse, hurt, and helplessness in the past, find themselves needing to control everything they can in their present. It's anxiety about change.

Man needing counselling with control issues holding a puppet

The trouble is, when we exert control on our environment or on other people’s – we never heal, we get short term relief and probably don’t feel great afterwards. After all, it’s exhausting trying to get life to stick to the script and honestly, many of life's great experiences can happen off-script. By controlling everything, we never give ourselves the chance to be the real us - our true selves - and we never grow. The control part of us isn’t really us, it’s just a part of us that has adapted because of our history. (If you’d like to read more about parts work and Internal Family Systems - it’s a fascinating counselling approach - click here: (

You might be reading this and saying hey but wait I only control things because I know what I like and I know how I like things done, I’m just setting good boundaries! However, knowing what you like and where you like everything to be is great, but what isn’t great is if you are one of the people whose nervous systems get activated when things don’t go to plan and stress hormones pump through your body as if there is a threat to your safety and it's hard to move forward without constantly thinking about whatever has happened. See how you feel today when you don’t control something in your environment, are you OK with it, or is it really uncomfortable? If it's uncomfortable for you then perhaps you'd like to see if there's another way.

If this speaks to you, try today to pay attention to when your control part is activated. Notice it, smile, and maybe even have a dialogue with it, ask it what will happen if you don't act, let it know you’re aware of what’s happening. Starting small, try to relinquish a little bit of control and just notice how it feels. Maybe accept that your coffee isn’t your usual type, or use a pen all day you don't usually use, perhaps stop yourself correcting someone, or leave that backpack on the floor where someone threw it, or turn a picture on the wall so it’s a little crooked and just try and sit with it for a day. Allow your environment to be not quite right and just breathe into the discomfort that follows. Starting small is the key. Start to feel the freedom of not needing to control everything to feel safe. If you have any questions about this or any other aspect of counselling please get in touch by emailing

Thanks for reading :)

Helen Whitehead

#controlissues #internalfamilysystems #partswork #traumarecovery

thoughts from a north vancouver counsellor

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