Updated: Oct 2
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!
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.
Thanks for reading :)
North Vancouver, BC
Registered Clinical Counsellor