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When we are young, we are no stranger to resilience. As children, we are constantly trying new things — such as sports, games, and creative activities — meeting new people, and putting ourselves out there to form lasting friendships. But, as we get older and into adulthood, we start to lose a little bit of resilience. And, on top of that, we have a lot more responsibilities, worries, pressures, and roles than we did as kids.
The reality of resilience is that we can all benefit from a little more of it, especially since it can support us through tough, uncertain, and stressful times. And, the key to gaining more resilience is embracing our inner child. “We live in a society that upholds a lot of problematic, painful, and damaging systems,” says Jackie Tassiello, a licensed board-certified art therapist and founder of Art Therapy Source, a private practice in Montclair, New Jersey. “We might be encouraged by these systems to nurture only the parts of ourselves that are deemed valuable, and many of us lose sight of nurturing our natural strengths, interests, preferences, or even personality structure,” she adds.
Up ahead, find out what it means to embrace your inner child and how doing so can make you a more resilient adult.
What It Means to Embrace Your Inner Child
“As children, we’re shaped by the behavior of our primary caregivers. We learn what is expected, encouraged, or communicated — whether implicitly or explicitly — and adjust ourselves accordingly in an effort to protect our attachments and stay safe,” says Tassiello. “Embracing our inner child simply means that we notice that our thought and behavioral patterns are no longer healthy, keeping us safe, or producing the same desired outcomes as they did when we were children, and commit to the work of reparenting those parts of ourselves,” she adds.
With this insight in mind, embracing your inner child is all about re-establishing a sense of safety, trust, and permission to feel our full spectrum of emotions and addressing those emotions with self-compassion. According to Tassiello, pausing and recognizing that our emotional response might stem from the child within us is important because it can help us embrace that part of us. “When we tune into what our inner child needs, we can deepen our self-awareness and build insight into ways that we need to heal as adults.”
How Embracing Your Inner Child Makes You a More Resilient Adult
According to Tassiello, welcoming in the energy of your inner child can naturally build resilience. “Inner child work can help us to acknowledge our innermost emotions as real and valid, rebuild our self-trust, improve our relationship with intimacy and vulnerability, set healthy boundaries, and grieve — all of this work contributes to increased resilience,” she explains.
One big part of embracing your inner child has to do with inviting in more child-like joy. “Resilience often increases when we make time for creativity and rejuvenating, restful activities,” says Tassiello. On top of that, the act of trying new things can naturally build resilience as it requires getting more comfortable with problem solving and working your way through the unknown.
So, whether it’s an activity or hobby from your actual childhood, such as figure skating, bike riding, drawing, or acting (aka, playing make believe, or something you’ve always wanted to try, such as wood-working, pottery, boxing, or tennis, tuning into the child within through fun activities can ignite feelings of pure joy, creativity, and relaxation, all while making you a more resilient adult.
Mental Health Benefits of Embracing Your Inner Child
Embracing your inner child and, thus, experiencing more resilience is a mental health benefit in and of itself. But, beyond that, developing the insight into our patterns allows us the ability “to create space between our feelings, thoughts, and behaviors,” says Tassiello. “This creates new self-awareness — we learn how our inner child is still active and showing up in our adult life,” she adds. From this perspective, we can start to integrate what our inner child truly needs into our adult lives and work toward healing. “We also learn that we’re in control of our healing, and we have the ability to learn new skills and tools to reparent ourselves, which is empowering” says Tassiello.
Another mental health benefit of embracing the child within is, through the work of reparenting, we begin to learn to express more difficult emotions, which can feel like taking a big weight off of our shoulders. “Our inner child often wants to keep difficult emotions — shame, guilt, anger, worry — hidden and have us reenact the same old patterns in an effort to keep us safe, but this can negatively impact our mental health over time,” Tassiello explains, adding that letting the emotions out and exploring them in a safe place can feel freeing.
“In doing the work of embracing our inner child, we also find what we love, what brings us joy and happiness, and engage more authentically with our wants and needs to live a more fulfilled and well-rounded life,” says Tassiello. “There’s also ample research around concepts like forgiveness, mindfulness, and even fun and creativity,” she adds, noting that inner child work taps into all of these elements.