Meeting Your Inner Child
Written by Lauryn Evans
When was the last time you thought of your childhood self, and what came to mind? Maybe you were reminiscing about your favourite childhood shows, foods, or stories. Perhaps you thought about your childhood dreams and what you wanted to be when you were older; maybe you are still on track to achieving those childhood dreams while others never came true. Whatever you thought of when you last reminisced on your childhood, or what came to mind since you began reading this article, have you thought to ask your child self how they are doing?
We carry our child selves in our bodies, and our inner child presents themselves differently for everyone. That little voice in your head, the mannerisms we learned in childhood that we still have, or our reactions and responses to situations that are out of our control. Our inner child will come out in times that are likely subconscious to us until we seek that connection in our adult lives. Reconnecting with our inner child is a way to grow, mend, and heal.
In a previous article, I wrote about shadow work; inner child work is another way of engaging with your subconscious, and the inner child is commonly recognized as first being coined by Carl Jung. To summarize the concept of the inner child, it is an unconscious aspect of the self and consists of what one learned, experienced, and felt in the earliest years of our life. Though the inner child is unconscious, it greatly influences our mind, behaviours, emotions, and actions. The nature of the influence that the inner child has is profoundly personal and individualistic to each person.
Working with the inner child means beginning to understand their influence over our present and conscious self, as well as their interplay with other unconscious aspects of ourselves. Maybe your inner child presents itself when your friend is not listening as intently as you wanted, when you get into a disagreement at work, or when you feel as though you have been rejected. If you listen to the emotions that come, you may learn where they are rooted from. It is possible that when your friend does not listen as closely as you wanted, you feel the need to stop speaking in general because you know the feeling of not being heard. Getting into a disagreement at work, though often inevitable, may cause avoidant behaviours that you do not quite understand, other than that you cannot be near them or the conflict at hand. Yet, if we see conflict left unresolved or resolved in an immature manner as a child, then we may never learn how to resolve conflict in our own lives. When we feel rejected or are actually rejected, we can admit that it hurts and does not feel good. Are there preoccupied feelings accompanying the hurt or a fixation on wanting them to feel the same way? We must ask ourselves why this is what we feel and where it first came from.
A common answer to that question is our childhood. Inner child work and healing are commonly done by reparenting ourselves in areas we deem necessary and places our caregivers may not have been able to nurture. While the brain is rapidly developing during childhood, it is highly influential. Our environment and genetics play a large role in how our brain develops. We learn by observing, and more than likely, the people we first observed were our caregivers. We observed how they interacted with one another, engaged with us, made us feel, and what our environment looked, felt, and even smelt like. If these environments were positive, well-sustained, and overall healthy, the inner child might feel more secure in this world. On the other hand, if the environment was turbulent, toxic, and unhealthy, physically and emotionally, the inner child likely will not feel secure in this world; as an adult, this feeling may persist and exist in its own form.
We do not get a say in the life we are born into or a choice in who our caregivers are. I have always seen this as cruel. We do not even get a choice in being born, but to not get a choice in anything else seems like a flip of a coin. You either get it or you do not; frankly, there is nothing you can do about it. Many of us are lucky to be in the home of a loving family, to have had homes and even our own rooms, and never question where or when our next meal is. These are things often only treated with gratitude in retrospect because, as a child, we do not know the dark despairs in this world unless they were met early or unless they are what we were born into.
The inner child is our child self. They are how we engaged with our environment, how we felt, what we experienced, what we saw, and how we knew the world to be. Even if you were brought into a loving home with seemingly all-around capable caregivers, that does not mean the hurt you face does not matter. All families, all people, go through hard times and that still likely means that as a child, you felt a form of hurt in a way. No person is perfect, nor is any parent. While you recognize all the ways your caregiver(s) succeeded and excelled, it is also okay to recognize the areas they may have lacked in or even neglected. These two things can exist simultaneously, and it is possible to feel both. Suppose you were born into a life that began with hardship, loss, anger, disparity, or anything else you feel is along these lines. In that case, I truly hope you have gotten to experience the warmth, joy, and kindness that is in this world and in so many people, some you may not have even met yet. When we first know life to be painful, unfair or laced with loss, it can be hard not to see the world like this later in life when you are no longer a child. The world may seem dull and lack all colour, but it is possible to reconnect with these parts of yourself where these feelings are tethered to.
To reconnect with your inner child, you first must meet them. Sometimes our inner child needs first to know that they are safe, not just in the world, but with you too. We can reconnect with our inner child through things like eating your favourite childhood meal, watching your favourite childhood movie, or even doing something your child self enjoyed, like colouring or drawing. The options are endless, and it is up to you how to do so. Imagine your child self – where are they? What are they doing? What are they wearing? Are they looking at you too? This can tell you a lot and also allows you to gain familiarity with them. Introduce yourself, tell them about where you are now, what you are doing, and just talk to them. What would you want to tell your child self? With time, your inner child will also speak to you. This may seem like a bunch of nonsense, and if that is all this is to you, then that is okay too. Your inner child is always there, often influencing you in ways you did not know.
The first time I tried working with my inner child, I was unsuccessful. I did not know how to engage with a part of myself I could not see and a part of myself I was severely disconnected from. When I first tried to think of my childhood self, nothing seemed to come to mind. Honestly, I thought inner child work was a load of bullshit. I could not picture my child self, let alone what she may have been feeling or experiencing. After my unsuccessful attempt and presumptuous belief that inner child healing just simply is not something I need, I failed to recognize that maybe my inner child did not want to be seen; that it was a choice on her part and not mine. That thought weighed heavily on me for a long time. I wanted to be able to see and feel my inner child, but no matter how hard I tried, it felt unattainable. I wondered why this part of myself was inaccessible. Continuing my honesty, I still do not exactly know why this is – maybe my inner child did not feel safe with me or because being invisible eventually grew into a sense of comfort.
Meeting your inner child again after some time apart can feel strange. For me, it was like being stuck in a room with someone you have no connection to, with someone you have nothing to say to and do not even want to be around. If you had experience with inner child work before reading this, what did it feel like for you? I can only imagine the other kind of introductions others may have. I picture them as warm and gentle, similar to when you meet an old friend for coffee and catch up on one another’s lives while reminiscing on your shared time together. I like imagining it this way. I hope for someone out there, this is exactly how it was.
Inner child work not only offers us an understanding of our emotions, behaviours, or actions but also in our attachment style. According to Mary Ainsworth, in an observational study conducted in 1960, three attachment styles were identified: secure, insecure-avoidant, and insecure ambivalent/resistant (The Wave Clinic, 2020). In more recent times, four attachment styles are labelled: secure, preoccupied, anxious, and avoidant. Maybe you already know your attachment style, and if you do, you can reflect on the interplay with your inner child. If you do not know your attachment style, thankfully, there is a quiz now for everything! If attachment style and theory are something you are interested in, I strongly encourage you to read studies and written works by John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth.
Inner child work and healing is a process, like much else. It should be done when you feel safe and ready. You can try to do it yourself, or you can also do this work with a licensed professional. If you can identify with a turbulent, unhealthy, or toxic childhood dynamic in any form, I encourage you to be gentle with yourself and not push yourself beyond your threshold. A professional can help guide, support, and bring further insight into yourself and the work you are doing.
Ways to connect with your inner child:
- When you are ready, write a letter from your childhood self to your present self.
- Revisit childhood memories.
- Talk to your child self.
- Spend some time doing activities or things your child self enjoyed.
- Eat the food you loved as a child.
- Talk with a therapist.
- Journal as your child self or try out some inner child journal. prompts (pssst! There are tons on Google).
- Leave the door open and leave the light on.
When you attempt to reach out to your child self, they may not respond immediately, or things may not go as you wanted. What is important is that you put the energy forward but leave the door open and leave the light on. Let your inner child present themselves when they feel ready.
Yassin, F. (2020). What are the Different Types of Attachment. The Wave Clinic. https://thewaveclinic.com/blog/what-are-the-different-types-of-attachment/#:~:text=From%20the%20 observational%20study%2C%20 Ainsworth,%2Fresistant%20(type%20C)