We all have an inner child. This is the former, younger self that was harmed in some way—large or small, there is no judgment on the size of the traumas that occur to us at a young age. They all have an impact on how we develop, how we move through life, and how we cultivate and behave in relationships.
It can be very challenging to have an in-depth understanding of what our former selves have suffered. Often, as children, we don’t fully realize problematic experiences as trauma. We just get through them and do our best to move on. For that reason, it can be hard to harbor these memories and hold them accountable for behavioral tendencies and perspectives that they’ve taught us. This is where the work comes in. Inner child work.
Amanda Huggins, professional Anxiety Coach, explains that this work is the practice of “opening up a space to explore the unhealed wounds and triggers from our past. As we go inward, we explore our emotions and offer acceptance and healing to parts of ourselves that we’ve kept in the shadows.” As one can imagine, this is not light, fun, or easy work.
We often hear of it referred to as “shadow work,” and it plays a vital role in self-improvement and bettering ourselves not just for ourselves, but for how we show up for others. This can keep us from patterns of self-sabotage or hurtful behavior in romantic, familial, and platonic relationships. Huggins enlightens us on the notion that relationships are a mirror into our own souls, and the belief systems we hold about ourselves. For this very reason, inner child work can be an incredible tool for healing after a breakup.
“Case in point,” Huggins graciously shares, “when I was in my twenties and freshly out of a toxic relationship, I started to notice that even with my ex out of my life, I still felt a lot of the fear and self-doubt that I did while in the relationship. Upon further reflection, I realized that this was a common theme beyond just my romantic relationships—I found this core wounding in my sense of self, my career, and even friendships. I held a deep-seated fear of not being good enough. I realized that until I addressed my inner child who wanted to heal from that belief system, the ‘not-enoughness’ would continue to come up. As I dove deeper into my inner child journey and nurtured old belief systems that I’d kept hidden away, I began to create a more long-term, loving inner dialogue with myself.”
While Huggins’ personal anecdote is crystal clear, she shared another example from someone she worked with who had a tougher time with that same recognition.
“I had a brilliant, caring, emotionally aware client who was going through a rough breakup. The breakup itself totally blindsided her, and it brought up a lot of abandonment wounds from her past. She was taken aback by how hard the breakup was hitting her; she felt uncharacteristically reactive through the end of this breakup, despite being very self-aware, responsible, and mindful in all other areas of her life.
The version of her that was showing up reactively wasn’t the 33-year-old version of herself—it was her inner child. When my client was in grade school, her parents went through a very difficult divorce that created a fear of abandonment. Her upbringing showed her that love could be taken away easily, love was associated with pain, and love certainly wasn’t safe. Those beliefs took root in her psyche over time, so as an adult, when conflict would present itself in relationships, her core wounding was re-triggered, and her inner child would respond from a place of pain.
As she dove into inner child work, she opened up a dialogue with herself to offer love, healing, compassion, and safety to her inner self. The more time she spent nurturing her inner child, and the more she worked on creating a new relationship to love, the better she felt.”
Huggins’ client’s story is a common theme in the modern world, and one many of us may not be so acutely aware of. These summaries may paint inner child work as this epiphany we experience and simply change, but it takes arduous accountability and a commitment to healing.
Heed Huggins’ methodology on how to get started:
• “The intention is to let your inner child’s voice be safely expressed, and let the current you offer consolation, love, and support.
• When we’re healing post-breakup, we’re often faced with old wounding that is asking to be healed. Whether it’s a call to forgive, offer more love and nurturing to ourselves, or heal old wounds, inner child work presents the perfect playground for exploration.
There are a number of ways to begin inner child work, whether journaling or meditation, but the basic practice is this:
• Identify the core feeling you’re experiencing. Try to simplify it into a clear statement that identifies an emotion and provides some context: ‘I’m sad and afraid I’ll be alone forever, and that fear shows up in my present relationships in the following ways…’
• Now, think back to moments in time where you’ve experienced that initial, core fear of being alone. Perhaps a parent left, you had a difficult relationship in your formative years, or you experienced a traumatic event in the past. What patterns or cycles have persisted in your relationships?
• Be very, very gentle in this reflection—we are not bringing up old emotions just to roll around in the ‘bad’ feelings and make ourselves feel worse. We are bringing them up to understand, process, and welcome them into our awareness. That is how we begin to heal and change our patterns.
• Once you’ve gotten clear on the emotion and the pattern, identify a specific age that you can connect to. Ideally, you’ll find a photo of yourself at that age. As you gaze at the photo and breathe deeply, connect to that moment in time: how you felt, what was happening around and within you, etc. Allow any and all feelings to come to the surface, however uncomfortable.
• Then … it’s time to open up your journal and have a dialogue with that version of yourself. You might ask the younger you questions that allow that version of you to have a new voice, be heard, and let emotions out.
Here are some examples of questions you might journal or meditate on:
• What does this version of me feel in this moment?
• What do they need? To vent, to cry, to punch something?
• What does this version of me need to hear in this moment?
• For example, ‘It wasn’t your fault,’ ‘I see you, I understand you, I validate how real your experience is.’
• One of my favorite offerings in inner child work is to offer unconditional love and support. Something like…
• ‘I’m right here with you. You’re totally and completely safe with me, little one. I promise to protect you. I’m never going to leave you.’
• Does this version of me know that they are loved beyond measure? How can I offer that reminder to them in this moment?
Other questions you can reflect on:
• How has my inner child been trying to get my attention in my romantic relationships? How do they act out? What is it that they’re really trying to express, and how can I offer a safe space for that expression?
• What can I (in present time) do to continue this healing?
• How can I let my inner child continue to feel seen and expressed?”
There are no right or wrong questions to ask. Huggins encourages us to let our intuition guide the way.
Huggins’ important disclaimer for all inner child work: if you are aware you have some deeper traumas that you haven’t yet worked through, it may be best to seek out professional support first before beginning inner child work on your own. It’s always better to have a loving support system to hold space for you and offer you tools and processing when emotions get heavy. There are amazing modes for dealing with deep traumas that are incredibly effective. While it can seem daunting at first, self-exploration is an incredibly beautiful thing.
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