Deep inside each and every one of us, there is an inner child who was once wounded. In order to avoid the pain of past harms, we have tried desperately to ignore the child – but he or she never goes away. Our inner child lives within our subconscious minds, and greatly influences the way we interact with others, respond to adversities, and make significant choices. In essence, our inner child effects most every aspect of our lives. Do you ever feel that you are stuck in a self-defeating, cyclical pattern, and that you cannot break free from constant self-sabotage or crippling feelings of anxiety, depression, or worthlessness? If so, you may need to mend the relationship that you have with your inner child, and nurture, love, and encourage that child back to a place of emotional health.
The Wounded Child Within Us All
When I was younger, I was punished when I did not receive straight A’s in school. Over time, I developed a strong sense of perfectionism – if I was not doing things perfectly, I was not worthy of love. I completely internalized this belief, and after I graduated high school, the pressure of achieving academic impeccability became too much to bear. When I went off to college, I began drinking heavily to drown out the feelings of inadequacy I constantly experienced. I lived in a completely black and white world – if I was not a success, I was a failure. It was that simple.
One of my close friends was abandoned by his father when he was a young boy. His mother had not been married to his father – in fact, she never got married, but kept bouncing from man to man in order to acquire the resources she needed to support the both of them. From a very young age, my friend learned that romantic relationships were used to obtain resources, and it did not matter if they lacked stability, authenticity, or affection, so long as a fair exchange was occurring (in this instance, the exchange was sex for clothing, housing, and food). He struggled to develop relationships all throughout his adult life, and was unable to maintain a romantic relationship for any extended period of time. He felt unworthy of real love and partnership until he truly began to heal his wounded inner child.
So how do we heal our inner child? In some cases, when the wounds are exceptionally deep and significant, extensive inner child work conducted in a professional, therapeutic setting may be necessary. In some cases, we can simply change the way we speak to the child that still resides within us.
Speaking to Your Inner Child
- You did your best.
Many of us, as young children, strive to meet the perceived standards of our primary caregivers. We may strive to outperform our siblings, or overachieve to prove that we are worthy of love and affection. We are typically demand much more of ourselves than anyone demands of us, and we hold ourselves to unrealistic and unattainable ideals – thus, we consistently fall short. When we let go of perfectionism, the deeply engrained fear of failure begins to dissipate. We must say to our inner child, “I know that you did your best, and your best was good enough. We are still doing the very best we can, and we deserve recognition for that. I recognize that you tried – I appreciate you for trying.”
- You didn’t deserve to be hurt.
When we are neglected, abandoned, or abused when we are small and impressionable, we tend to believe that we deserve all that is happening to us. We convince ourselves that we are bad, and that maybe we would not be punished so severely if only we were better. If only we were good. This is not true. The child is blameless – innocent and pure. The child does not deserve to be punished. In most cases, the parent or caregiver that abused or neglected us simply did not know any other way. We must say to our inner child, “You did not deserve to be harmed, not in any way. You did nothing wrong. You are good, deserving, and worthy of love.”
- I love you.
From a young age, I equated my lovability with how much I was able to achieve. While these were standards I inflicted upon myself, many of us grew up in households that did not actively practice openly unconditional love. Perhaps we grew up in a household in which showing affection was considered a sign of weakness, and saying “I love you” was not common practice. We may not have had parents or primary caregivers who repeatedly told us that we deserved love regardless of what we accomplished. Now that we are adults, we are capable of giving our inner child the unconditional love that he or she never received. Say, “I love you,” to yourself in the mirror. Repeat it many times a day. Without self-love, healing cannot occur.
- I am listening and I hear you.
Throughout childhood, many of us were encouraged to stifle our feelings and put on a brave face. I remember hearing things like, “Stop crying before I give you something to really cry about,” and, “Oh, come on, you’re fine – stop being dramatic.” Comments like these invalidated our sadness or grief, and forced us to suppress the way we were really feeling in order to appease others. These feelings are valid, however, and they do not simply evaporate when we stifle them. Instead, they live on inside of us, and affect the choices we make as adults until we choose to acknowledge and work through them. Rather than continuously suppress our past harms in order to avoid feeling the emotional pain, we must face the pain head-on, and allow ourselves to truly feel it. We must listen to our inner child, and let him or her know, “I hear you; I am listening to you. You can safely share your feelings with me now.”
- I forgive you.
As children, we may cling to feelings of guilt and shame surrounding events and circumstances that we truly had no control over. For example – we may hold onto the idea that if only we were better behaved, our parents may not have gotten a divorce. We may believe that we would not have been physically abused if we had gotten higher marks in school, or that our father would not have left us at an early age if we were more lovable. As adults, we must admonish this shame by accepting our fallibility, and recognizing that we truly did the best we could. We may want to say to our inner child, “I forgive you for anything you feel you may have done, but you are perfectly imperfect, and I know you were trying your very best.”
- Thank you.
It is important that we take the time to thank our inner child for sticking around through all that he or she has undergone. We can thank our inner child for never giving up, and for trying to keep us safe and protected from being harmed again. We never judge our inner child, but rather work to show him or her nothing but gratitude and compassion.
Next Chapter and Inner Child Work
At Next Chapter, we focus heavily on inner child work, holding numerous trauma-oriented, therapeutic workshops geared towards connecting with and healing the inner child. Traumatic experiences that occur in early childhood, as well as relational problems that exist between a young man and his mother, father, or primary caregiver, almost always carry over into adult life, affecting the individual in a wide variety of ways. Interpersonal relationships suffer, addiction issues may arise and persist, and feelings of low self-worth and inadequacy compromise overall quality of life. Our male-specific trauma and addiction program of recovery allow for a thorough healing of past harms, while instilling the tools necessary to developing and maintaining an entirely new way of interacting with others – and with self.