Everywhere you look in my area (the southeastern United States), the 90s are back. The sundresses with little flowers on them, chunky white tennis shoes, and even cartoon nostalgia printed on sweatshirts and backpacks. These bucket hats are lighting up a part of me that I had long forgotten. A part of me that I worked so hard to cover up as bills, responsibility, and taxes got in the way. My guess is that this part of me reflects a part of you that you have also numbed out to or simply judged and shoved away.
The part of me that knows how to lose time climbing a tree, imagining that the clouds are forming their own soap opera, and enjoying the simple creation of a horse that looks like a dog with a box of crayons. This part of me is most present sometimes in arguments when I feel hurt, and I want to stomp my feet and cry loudly in the closet or insert your generation’s particular temper tantrum here. She orders ice cream for lunch, she is always tempted to buy a new stuffie at the gift shop of the museum, and she loves an afternoon of cartoons. She holds so much power that I cannot access even when I am calling her an “annoying brat” and longing for her exit.
She is what we would call, an “inner child” and you have one too. The inner child is a concept that comes from the infamous psychoanalyst, a predecessor of Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung. Jung introduced the idea of the archetype that we share in a collective unconscious called the divine child. This means that our thought patterns share certain similarities in the roles we tend to occupy in our psyches and the divine child is one of those roles.
In more concrete and applicable terms, it’s a concept that invites us into creating corrective experiences from childhood. Because all of us (I’m assuming here) were raised by humans, we were all raised imperfectly. That’s part of the beauty of childhood as a shared experience. Even if it was wonderful, it’s never perfect. We have our particular wounds that occurred from our parents and their particular imperfections. We do this inner child work by engaging in a process we call “reparenting.”
Reparenting is when we come into awareness around the wounds of our little one inside— our inner child. It is the process by which we are able to witness their hurts, listen non-judgmentally, and actively engage in repairing the hurts they express. If this all seems strangely theoretical, see the example below.
An example of what this might look like:
Perhaps you had amazing parents who took you on adventures, bought you imaginative toys, played with you and your siblings, and comforted you when you fell off your bike. But as is the case with many families, maybe money was tight, and they had to work a lot to make sure you and your siblings were provided for. This is not a fault of mom and dad, just a reality of our society, especially in the U.S. where parents receive little to no ongoing social and financial support.
However, this reality left you feeling like money took priority over you and your siblings as if you were less important. Your inner child received and carried this message into your adult life and as a result, you may be overcorrecting by ensuring you can own a yacht and have 18 streams of passive income before your children enter the picture. Or perhaps you take the opposite approach and follow in your parents' footsteps, proclaiming that you never “wanted for anything” and therefore, having the latest toys is more important than quality time together. Again, neither of these approaches should be met with judgment but rather an observation of how our inner child wounding can show up in our adult lives.
These are examples of what can happen if our inner child's wounds are left unaddressed and we remain unaware of our particular wounding. We may recapitulate the patterns our families taught us, or we may overcorrect in a subconscious attempt to heal these wounds. Another way in which our inner child wounding tends to show up is in relationships. Sometimes we pick friends or partners that recreate our precise wounds in an attempt to “fix” what we had no control over as children.
So, what is to be done, how do we heal from a place of love, gentleness, and authenticity? Here’s a start.
How to Heal Your Inner Child
1. Work with a therapist
Seek out a therapist or a trained professional in inner child healing!
2. Spend time remembering your inner child.
What did they like to do? Eat? Listen to? Watch on TV?
3. Recreate childhood experiences for yourself.
In sticking with the above example, perhaps when you took family vacations, mom or dad were preoccupied thinking about work or actively working. On your family’s camping trip, practice disconnecting and being together.
4. Know that you have an opportunity to re-parent that younger part of you.
Practice noticing what you adore about them. Acknowledge and witness their stories, strengths, and milestones.
5. Get real with yourself about your wounds and how they affect you.
Too often I hear folks saying, “everything was great” and dismissing their feelings about what happened in their homes. In this way, they are often doing the exact thing that was done to them as children, invalidating their true experience because of how it may impact the family system to be real about what actually happened.
6. Do not expect the people that hurt you to be responsible for healing you.
I see this a lot when folks begin to do inner child work. Sometimes parents are not in the space or don’t have the capacity to apologize or offer validation for how their children experienced their parenting. Usually, they were doing the best they could, and they are continuing to do their best. Know that while it’s not your fault what happened to you, it is your responsibility to walk the path of healing if you choose to.
Last week, I rode my first horse in 20 years. His name is Teddy, and I am in love. Teddy symbolizes for me a childhood dream I never was able to realize. The inner child in me feels sad about how she never got to run through fields on her very own horse. I know that this dream unfulfilled is symbolic of other hurts she experienced. And every time I saddle up, I can feel my perspective towards those hurts and their power over me melting away.
Learning about my little girl inside is one of the most profound pieces of personal work I have done. I can speak for her and about her with compassion and curiosity. She continues to teach me about the world and myself the closer to her and I become. Join me in the treehouse and experience the power of your little self.