One of the biggest challenges we face in our growth and development as adults is healing our childhood wounding. That is, the traumatic impact of both emotional and psychological wounds we incur in childhood.
This wounding is most often the result of our needs not being met by our parents. Everyone that I work with has experienced this, as I have too. It is not because our parents were terrible parents, although some people’s parents were horrible. It is that many of our parents are not perfect, they are people who were trying to work, raise children and have a life. They cannot focus all their attention on us 100% of the time. They also had their own inner child wounds and at times they were parenting from that part of themselves, not their adult parts. The trauma I am talking about that we experienced as a result of this ranges from being criticised for not getting a great test score on a test at school, to being ignored, to in some cases, emotional, physical and sexual abuse.
Trauma expert, Dr Bessel van der Kolk, whom I have had the pleasure of being taught by, says in his book “The Body Keeps the Score”, ‘Trauma causes people to remain stuck in interpreting the present in light of an unchanging past’.
We develop strategies, habits and patterns of behaviour, that are often very reactive and they become our dominant approaches to cope and live our life. Thus often repeated patterns of feedback are given, repeated incidences of relationships dynamics occurring are often a sign that you are operating from your inner child self. Anything that gets you a bit fired up or ‘triggered’ is often a good sign that old programs maybe of shame, inadequacy, abandonment, betrayal or feeling unsafe are operating. These programs always have stories attached to them that allow us to feel in control of what is actually going on. So much so, that we attract the same situations and act them out on a daily basis.
When we are unaware of these child parts of ourselves running our life we are actually walking around projecting a shadow part of ourselves onto others. Our inner narrative might be ‘the bad person who did that to me’, ‘the bad luck responsible for our suffering’. In some cases we get feedback in the workplace, giving us a sign of how others are experiencing this shadow part of ourselves - that we don’t see - and how it impacts on them. However, it can, when left unattended for a long period of time turn into symptoms, illness or disease; often in the case of repressed emotions that were not accepted as part of us as children. For example, many people have an unhealthy relationship with their own anger and struggle to express it in a grounded way as it was deemed unacceptable when they were a small child. How many toddlers having a tantrum at two years old are sent to the ‘naughty corner’? What they are actually doing when they shake their body on the floor is trying to discharge the energetic charge of anger running through them.
Why do we need to do this inner child work? I hear you ask. Well, often we don’t get a choice because we hit rock bottom. Either in terms of poor health or relationship rupture. Often in midlife, our psyche gives us a chance to heal this wounding and face our pain to prepare ourselves for a vibrant ‘third act’ after we turn 50. In her famous essay on Midlife, Brene Brown says it like this. ‘Midlife is when the Universe puts its hands on your shoulders and says “I’m not screwing around. All of this pretending and performing – these coping mechanisms that you’ve developed to protect yourself from feeling inadequate and getting hurt – has to go. Your armour is preventing you from growing into your gifts. I understand that you needed these protections when you were small. I understand that you believed your armour could help you secure all of the things you needed to feel worthy and loveable, but you’re still searching and you’re more lost than ever. Time is growing short....”
To heal your inner child, you need to bring that part of yourself to consciousness. You do this by witnessing your inner world. That is, be able to observe when you are acting out one of your habits or patterns of behaviour. Once you can do that, you work out what that behaviour is trying to gain for you; often love, safety and belonging. The next step is being able to parent yourself. This enables individuation and clear separation from the sensitive child part of you within you. The third step is learning to put some strategies in place for self care so you can regulate your nervous system and then develop new strategies to cope and thrive in the world.
This work is freeing both to you and your family system. It breaks cycles of family patterning that you have been carrying. It creates the capacity for you to witness and observe your emotions and understand in an embodied way that you are not your emotions - you are just the experiencer of them. It makes baring your emotions so much easier and gives you the ability to listen to them when they arise.
Doing the inner child work is tough. You want to do it supported by a coach or therapist and with the support of those you love around you. It will improve the quality of your relationships. It will open you up to different types of relationships and experiences in your life as you stop reacting and start creating the outcomes you want. It will allow you to have a close relationship with your body and really learn to listen to it and the innate wisdom it has within it, by listening to your emotions and learning to be with them. You will learn to appreciate your shadow and move towards self-love and self- acceptance as you learn to love all the different parts of you, good and not so good. Hopefully you learn to listen to your nervous system and really learn the meaning of ‘take care of yourself’; how to give yourself permission to rest, how to regulate yourself at a pace that is supportive of your need to recover. But most importantly, you will learn to love all the different child and adult parts of you that you discover and that you are a glorious, multi-dimensional being who is capable of living their best life and thriving in the world.
I do inner child work in my coaching - if this is something would like to explore, come have a chat with me.