What is Inner child work?
Both Jung and Freud referred to the inner child in their work. Jung referred to it as the puer or puella complex and Freud as the unconscious part of ourselves. It became known as the “inner child” through pop psychology and the self-help movement, the inner child is an echo of who we once were. No matter what it is called it is worth noting that as adults most of us would benefit from completing this work with a trained therapist.
Most adults are quite unaware of this unconscious inner child working away inside of us controlling many behavioural, emotional and relationship difficulties which stem from this neglected child. Adjusting to true adulthood, where we accept and take responsibility for loving and parenting ourselves can be difficult and for most, it never happens. Instead, we neglect this inner child as society has taught us to “grow up” and not nurture this capacity for innocence, wonder, joy awe and playfulness. Many inner children also hold onto the hurt, neglect, trauma, fear and anger we suffered as children. We grew up making decisions about who we should be and what we should do in order to be seen as being okay to society and survive in our families. This must be dealt with in order to successfully grow up and develop our true potential as adults.
How is inner child work used in therapy?
As I outlined above, we each have our own history and we have all been influenced by our environment, events and the significant people in our lives. Our inner child has stored these memories and their impact on us, it influences how we behave today. These are our “scripts” and we carry these immature scripts and decisions with us where they run our lives more than 90% of the time. Therefore, it makes sense that we should revisit these experiences of the childhood and to try and find out what our own script says about our life and the unfolding drama we have been re-creating and repeating. For some of us we may try to silence these with alcohol, drugs, promiscuity, gambling, over-spending, over-eating, work-a-holism, self-harming and any other form of disassociation we can think of in order to avoid facing the fact that we have unmet needs deep within us. We may have done such a good job of his that we don’t know we have these needs and they need to be addressed.
In therapy, we address the inner child and give ourselves time to learn to “parent” our child. We write our stories at different ages such as 0 to 9 months, 9months to 2 years old etc. We begin to see what has unfolded in our lives and any trauma, neglect, the abuse we have suffered. We use letter writing to our inner child to acknowledge all this and any fear, anger and pain etc, the child has experienced, we also have the child write back to us, to help build trust, open dialogue and give them a voice that has so long been denied them. We nurture them, care for them and begin to love ourselves again.
We learn to allow our competent adult be in change and learn to self-soothing in an appropriate manner. We also learn how to set healthy boundaries, many of us will learn this for the first time and we will learn to love ourselves, enjoy life and nurture ourselves and our family/friends.
Can I do inner child work by myself? I would recommend not, but some books are available on the subject such as Bradshaw’s Homecoming: Reclaiming and Healing your inner child. I also deal with this subject in my book, alongside self-soothing, basic self-care and rethinking negative thinking: The Building Blocks of Self-Care
Signs your inner child is wounded
As I’ve already mentioned, your inner child controls many behavioural, emotional and relationship difficulties. These may show as follows (this list is not inclusive):
- Low self-esteem
- Poor body-image
- Mood and emotional imbalance
- Drugs addiction
- Problems with boundaries being too rigid or too weak
- Eating disorders
- Harming yourself
- Psycho-sexual difficulties
- Feeling like you’re being ‘false’ and wearing ‘masks’
- Identity problems
- Being a rebel
- A perennial victim
- A super-achiever
- Intimacy problems
- Commitment problems
- A general lack of trust in yourself and others
- Criminal behaviour
- Excessive lying
- Being ‘overly-responsible’ for others
- Being fiercely competitive and a poor loser
- A lack of genuine friends or in making friends
- Obsessive and needy behaviour
- Fear of authority figures
- Being manipulative
- Being passive, or being aggressive
Please remember that your inner child is a real part of your sub-conscious mind – a wounded child who needs your love, care and compassion, because no-one else can heal his/her pain and help him/her to make peace with the past. You can at the least start this work by booking an appointment with me or a therapist close to you trained in inner child work, and by reading my book and starting the work there or reading Bradshaw’s book. I would caution you against doing this work by yourself you will need support, particularly if you have had a difficult childhood and/or suffer from a major addiction or have mental health difficulties. You can start by just take your time, write down what you remember of your childhood, go up to age 26. I’d write it on loose paper, so you can go back over time, as you work through the different stages with a therapist and fill in some more blanks.
I found while working on my inner child I could go back and re-parent my younger self and treat her as she needed to be treated at the time. It helped me overcome so many difficulties I felt I had suffered as a child. It was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life It enabled me to find myself, reconnect with myself and learn to love myself again after so long.
I can’t emphasise how much you can learn about yourself, love yourself and generally how much more open and positive you will feel after having completed this work. Take the time now to complete a journey that began in childhood and bring it to its full happy conclusion.
Other ways to help your inner child (until you get a therapist)
- Remind yourself how special and wonderful you were as a child, I found using photos of myself very helpful here.
- Have a safe place in your mind where you and your inner child can meet and play together.
- Start to speak kindly to your inner child each day, use a loving and soothing inner voice – one that is supportive, soft, nurturing, patient and comforting. Tell her/him they are now loved, valued, and appreciated by you and doesn’t have to prove him/herself to anyone. Tell him/her how proud you are of them Using affirmations can help here.
- Tell him/her they have nothing to feel guilty or ashamed about. None of what happened to her was ever her fault. She didn’t deserve to be treated badly. they need to know that you will be his/her guardian, champion and protector from now on, you respect them and will not tolerate any disrespect towards them. Things will be OK and you will never let her come to any more harm. They need to feel they are not alone anymore.
- Set up some creative ways to play, sing childhood songs and allow them to cry if they need to. Use a teddy bear or baby doll to represent the child while you hug them.
- Start showing yourself some respect, use affirmations, take care of your health, see a doctor or dentist f you need to and begin to take back your own power.
As I’ve said this work is hard, you may have to relive painful memories but it is worthwhile and better than the alternative of continuing with an unhappy life.