The Inner Child:
The kid inside all of us that deserves love and attention.
By: Alkmini Hormovas, LMFT
WORKING WITH INDIVIDUALS WHO STRUGGLE WITH ANXIETY, DEPRESSION AND CODEPENDENCY, THERE IS ONE ISSUE THAT SEEMS TO UNDERLIE ALL THESE ISSUES AND SYMPTOMS: A WOUNDED INNER CHILD.
It can be apparent yet edgy to admit that a lot of the emotional baggage we carry around stems from the hurt and injury we experienced in childhood. Sometimes that hurt and wounding is overt or super obvious, such as in abuse, divorce, death of a parent and major physical or mental illness. In many cases, though, the wounding may be more complex, obscure, subtle, hidden or even secret. Our culture has unfortunately taught us that unless trauma and abuse is glaring, then there really isn't anything to make a fuss about.
IT IS IMPORTANT TO ACKNOWLEDGE THAT CHILDREN ARE RESILIENT.
All children develop coping strategies and defense mechanisms to survive the unhealthy and wounding circumstances experienced while growing up. The trouble a lot of adults face is that years later, they are still using these now outdated and ineffective strategies and defense patterns. This happens as childhood trauma and wounding is left unattended and new healthier modes of coping are not fostered.
OLD, UNHEALED WOUNDS OFTEN HOLD US BACK FROM EXPERIENCING THE LOVE AND COMPETENCE WE SEEK.
Growing up in a dysfunctional family can cause and reinforce negative and inaccurate core beliefs about who we are. Basically that we deserve less than love and compassion. This can happen when we experience lack of empathy, sensitivity or emotional availability, inadequate or lack of boundaries, denial, and unfair or unequal treatment in the family unit. Parenting fraught with unrealistic expectations, double standards, emotional intolerance, apathy, perfectionism, shaming, excessive criticism, scapegoating, unpredictability and emotional intolerance can also greatly impact a child's sense of self. These examples give a flavor of what can be problematic for a child and can sabotage them as adults.
"HOLD THE HAND OF THE CHILD THAT LIVES IN YOUR SOUL. FOR THIS CHILD, NOTHING IS IMPOSSIBLE." -PAULO COELHO
For many adults it can be difficult to admit that their inner child needs love and attention. This notion can seem lofty or new age-y and can be a turnoff. With some therapy clients who have resistance in acknowledging their younger self, I have recommended that they find a photograph of themselves from the age where injury or wounding occurred. I ask them to place that photograph somewhere in their home where they can see it often. I ask them to look at the child in the picture daily and see what they notice. Perhaps their size, their expression, their hair, their clothes and anything else they find significant. This process helps clients begin to acknowledge and connect with their inner child.
It is powerful to see the young self through the eyes of the adult self.
There is so much to acknowledge and appreciate about our young selves. The truth is, that little one probably survived difficulties and challenges and managed to keep going. Connecting to the strength, courage and resilience of our younger self can be incredibly helpful in facing and addressing our current issues. It also provides the opportunity to healing old wounds and adjust faulty beliefs and express negative emotions. Because there is so much stored in the heartache of our childhood, it is essential that you be prepared for some intense emotions and discomfort to arise as a result of this work. The container of therapy is really helpful for this reason.
It won't be easy but it will be worth it.
Shock, anger, sadness and loneliness are common with this type of work. It is so important to validate all the feelings that arise as it is part of the healing process. It can feel as though you are purging, which you are. It is also important to note that this work isn't about blame. Parents are adult wounded children who do their best considering their own trauma and unresolved issues. Let me be clear though, everyone is held accountable for their actions and this work is not about condoning bad behavior. There is a lot of complexity in revisiting the past and connecting it with the present. It isn't always easy or comfortable, yet the healing potential makes it so worthwhile.
I believe creativity and playfulness are key to connecting with the inner child, therefore, I incorporate exercises that allow for that within a therapy session. If you are considering working with your inner child and are interested in doing that within the container of psychotherapy, please be in touch. I would love to discuss the power of this healing work with you!