What is the inner child?
Every adult was once a child, and this child experienced life in its purest form. The inner child is the part of us that formed between the ages of birth and seven. Home to our authentic self, our inner child is also where we carry our childhood messaging. The child self cannot process the wounding that we experienced, and thus, as an adult, it is important for us to access the inner child to heal those wounds and rewrite the messages we received.
Michelle Chalfant, licensed therapist and life coach, describes the human experience using three chairs: the child chair, the adolescent chair, and the adult chair. The child chair is essentially our inner child, and the adolescent chair is our ego.
The adolescent chair is where we learn to protect the vulnerability of the inner child, and form patterns and behaviors that hide our authentic self from the world. Only when we are “sitting in our adult chair” are we able to heal the childhood wounds and live authentically.
Inner Child Wounding
Our child selves were incredibly vulnerable. We relied on the adults around us to care for us and to teach us about the world. Unfortunately, if we were surrounded by adults who were still carrying their own unhealed child wounding, they inadvertently passed that wounding on to us by teaching us to relate to the world through the lens of their wounding.
The inner child is where we store the messages we received as children – messages such as what it means to be successful, what relationships look like, what acceptable careers look like, or what it means to be a certain gender.
These messages combined to form our self-image, how we think about ourselves, and ultimately, determine how we relate to others and the world around us. If we come from a childhood of negative messaging, these messages undoubtedly impact who we are as an adult.
Discovering your Inner Child
Getting to know our inner child can be uncomfortable and challenging. The easiest way to access it is through meditation or journaling. I found that having a picture of myself as a toddler taped to the inside of my journal grants me greater access.
Our inner child appears most often when we are hurt or upset. These emotions tend to come from that vulnerable place within us – the part of us that carries our childhood wounding. When we lash out, we are acting from the ego, who is trying to protect us.
To get to know your inner child better, pay close attention during the times when you feel hurt. What bothers you about the situation? What messages are surfacing when someone upsets us? What feelings come up for you?
Keep track of these situations and feelings in a journal or in the Notes app on your phone. Later, when you have more time to process your thoughts and emotions surrounding those situations, begin to ask yourself how the current situation relates to your childhood.
Do you remember a time when that same feeling first arose? Was there a message you heard often as a child that was triggered within you during this current situation?
Tips for Connecting with your Inner Child
I find that it is helpful to think about my daughter when I am trying to access my inner self. As a parent, we tend to be able to pour into our children and protect them on instinct. We want to begin to develop that same instinct for our own inner child so that we can begin to reparent her in the way that they needed when we were younger.
By reparenting ourselves, we can begin the healing process, and allow our ego to relax, letting go of the protective mechanisms put in place to avoid vulnerability and further hurt.
Inner child work is difficult, and many times, needs the support of a licensed therapist, particularly when capital ‘T’ Trauma was present in childhoods. However, there are exercises that you can do to identifying your childhood wounding and to begin the healing and growth process on your own.
The information provided on this site is based on my own personal experience and is not to be construed as professional advice. I am not a doctor, psychologist or a licensed psychotherapist.
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