Healing Your Inner Child

Updated December 20, 2021
Medically Reviewed By: Kelly Kampf
Everyone has a kid within them that reflects their past. Sometimes, this means that the pain we experience when we're young can continue as we get older. 
 
Your Inner Child is A Unique Part Of You That Still Feels Young On The Inside
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You may or may not have heard the phrase inner child. Even if you have encountered the topic in passing, however, you might still have some questions as to what it means. We all have an inner child, and we can all benefit from inner child work, too. The truth is that there’s nothing to “fix” when it comes to our inner child. Instead, the process is often largely about healing and love. Let’s start by talking about the definition of the term inner child. Then, we’ll discuss how to start healing.

Inner Child Psychology

Not everyone is in touch with their kid within. Often, when people connect with their kid within, it's because they're dealing with a problem rooted in an early wounding or experience. Even if your kid within is healthy and happy, there is likely a part of you that feels and reacts to life the way a kid does. Everyone experiences this. The challenge is to know, accept, and connect with that kid within. According to the Cambridge Dictionary, "Your kid within is the part of your personality that still reacts and feels like a child." We all have a kid within to tend to. It’s not those who have experienced major childhood traumas alone who can benefit from kid within work; even seemingly small things like comments made by your family or your classmates and feeling misunderstood as a kid are things you can work through and heal.

Quotes

As awareness of the concept of the kid within has grown, people from all walks of life have commented on it. Some of these kid within quotes can be quite funny and as playful as a happy kid within. Others are sarcastic, deflecting the pain their inner child still feels. Some of the best quotes about the inner child remind us why it's an important part of us. Here are a few quotes to consider:
  • "My quest these days is to find my long lost inner child, but I'm afraid if I do, I'll end up with food in my hair and way too in love with the cats." - Kenny Loggins
  • "In every real man, a child is hidden that wants to play." - Friedrich Nietzsche
  • "I'm happy to report that my inner child is still ageless." - James Broughton
  • "I think my inner child wants to take over the world." - Mark Foster
  • "A child who does not play is not a child, but the man who does not play has lost forever the child who lived in him." - Pablo Neruda
  • "The reluctance to put away childish things may be a requirement of genius." - Rebecca Pepper Sinkler
  • "When I grow up, I want to be a little boy." - Joseph Heller
  • "It sounds corny, but I've promised my inner child that never again will I ever abandon myself for anything or anyone else again." - Wynonna Judd
  • "Those who play rarely become brittle in the face of stress or lose the healing capacity of humor." - Stuart Brown
  • "A grownup is a child with layers on." - Woody Harrelson
  • "Caring for your inner child has a powerful and surprisingly quick result: Do it and the child heals." - Martha Beck
So, what is this kid within that everyone's talking about? How can you have a kid inside of you when you're a grown adult? Does it mean that you haven't grown up? Before you can do kid within work, you need to understand clearly what your kid within is.
 
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Is It Real?

As you read the definition of the kid within, you may wonder whether your kid within is real or just a psychological concept or theory. Certainly, there's not a physical kid inside of you (unless you're pregnant). What you need to remember is that, although no one can see physical traces of your kid within, it is nonetheless real. We change as we grow, but our minds and bodies still carry memories — and sometimes, feelings and patterns, too — from the past. The kid within can sometimes be what’s at the root of how we feel as an adult. 

Understanding Trauma

Childhood trauma, and trauma as a whole, can take many different forms. Some examples of trauma that may affect youth include (but aren’t by any means limited to):
  • Abuse* or neglect (whether physical or emotional)
  • Bullying
  • Natural disasters
  • Financial turbulence or distress
  • Car accidents
  • Substance use disorders within the family**
  • Other mental or physical health conditions within the family
  • The death of a loved one
  • Domestic violence in the household
  • Being a refugee
  • Unstable housing
  • Lack of predictability
  • Separation from caregivers
  • Isolation 

*Please contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) if you or someone you know is experiencing or witnessing abuse. 

**If you or someone you care about is or might be living with a substance use disorder, please call SAMHSA National Helpline at 1-(800)662-4357.

When we tend to our inner child, we may also address inner concerns like feeling unheard or unseen, feeling like we do not fit in, feelings of inadequacy, feeling as though our feelings don’t matter or won’t be tended to, and so on.

Your Inner Child is A Unique Part Of You That Still Feels Young On The Inside

Read the study here: A therapist-assisted cognitive behavior therapy internet intervention for posttraumatic stress disorder: Pre-, post- and 3-month follow-up results from an open trial

 
"Therapists use several different techniques to help you identify the scars from your childhood. They can even give you tools to continue the work between sessions."
 

Recovery

Identifying what we experienced as a child that continues to impact us is often the first step to healing. If you were told not to express emotion as a child, you may have learned to hold it inside. Though it’s only one possible example, emotional repression can hurt you mentally and physically, so it is important to address it. Lower-level traumas or negative feelings and experiences with a lasting impact are common as a child; so being even the healthiest child doesn't mean you won't need to do inner child work at some point. Furthermore, if no one names and tends to the matter when you're still a child, serious effects can take place and stick around. Some common themes in adulthood that people address or discuss when they do inner child work include:

  • Self-sabotage
  • Self-defeating behavior
  • Passive-aggressive behavior
  • Anger or angry outbursts
  • Emotional suppression or repression
  • Insecure attachment 

With all of this in mind, it’s no surprise that inner child work can help you lead a healthier, happier, and more confident adult life. It can help you take your power back from adverse child experiences and be the person you want to be.

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Healing

Why is inner child work so important, and how do you use it to heal?

Most likely, if you’re drawn to inner child work, you might notice patterns in yourself or your life, such as those outlined above, that you’d like to change. For example, someone with an insecure attachment style might worry that, if they get close to someone, that person will leave. Feelings of inadequacy from childhood might stop you from pursuing hobbies, work, or relationships you want to pursue. Not having an opportunity to address your feelings as a kid could mean that you hold them in, take them out on yourself, or aren’t sure how to regulate and validate them healthily. 

How does it all work? Well, suppose a kid is in pain, and no one tends to the kid or helps in the way that they need to be cared for. How does the dependent person feel with their needs unmet? Wouldn't they continue to feel pain until the wound was healed? This is how your inner child feels — their needs have not been met. But inner child work and healing allow you to meet those needs now, which can help you change maladaptive behaviors and feel better. The first step is to acknowledge that your inner child is still there. They exist inside of you, and they deserve to be taken care of.

Whether you start the process on your own or with an established therapist, here are some steps you may find advantageous: 
 
Understand Your Pain
 
For some, childhood pain, patterns, and responses come from an identifiable source. For example, if you know you experienced abuse as a child, you can identify that as a source of pain. For others, however, the source might be less clear-cut; a series of microtraumas might’ve led you to develop some patterns and feelings you now have as an adult, and these may very well impact your daily life and relationships. 
 
People in both situations can benefit from identifying the source, validating themselves, and understanding how these experiences affected them. Seeing a therapist can help individuals to validate what they went through. And, in any case, a strong therapeutic fit is something a person can benefit from. They can even give you tools to continue the work between sessions. Some of these include using guided imagery, art therapy, writing poetry, and journaling; though these are just some examples and are by no means the only tools that might be used. 
 
Build Compassion
 
Regardless of what caused your childhood pain (no matter how “big” or “small”), your kid within is likely still feeling the effects. Your needs may not have been met in the past. Perhaps, someone important to you failed to show compassion for you, either by not being available when you needed them most, by not giving you the love and nurturing you needed or by inflicting pain on you directly. This can affect your kid within and your outward adult self. 
 
Since that time is long gone, and you're now an adult, it's up to you to show your kid within the compassion you needed as a child. One way to tune into this compassion is to imagine the event or situation from the kid within's viewpoint. Even if it makes sense now that, say, a parent didn’t have the time or energy to see that you had an unmet need, the fact is that your inner child can still feel the impact of the unmet need. 
 
Love Yourself
 
Perhaps members of your family loved you deeply and showed it often. Even so, a traumatic event might have made you doubt their love for you when you were a child. On the other hand, if your caregivers and other important people rarely showed their care for you, or if they met tangible needs but were emotionally distant, you may have grown up feeling unheard, unloved, and perhaps, unlovable.

How do you learn to love your inner child? As you identify your childhood needs — including emotional needs, social needs, boundaries, the need to rest, and so on — and meet them, you will likely start to see the results of this self-care. Sometimes, it’s hard to see our needs as valid and give ourselves the love and compassion we deserve. If that’s true for you, a therapist may be able to help you through the childhood trauma healing process. 

Play Again
 
Playing like you did when you were a child can help you feel more connected with that part of you. It can also encourage healing. Try playing some of the same games and doing the same activities that you enjoyed when you were young. Alternatively, do the things you wish you could’ve done as a child, or engage in activities that exist solely for enjoyment now. It’s okay to do things just because they are fun, and it can be healing to do so.
 
Take Responsibility
 
A key component of healing the kid within is to take responsibility for healing. You won’t always be able to get an apology from those involved in your childhood experiences or trauma. They may not be able to help now, and even if they can, they may not be willing to help. Regardless, you still deserve to heal. You might not be able to get closure from others, but you can take responsibility for your healing. Seeing a therapist can be very helpful in processing and working through things like a lack of closure from those in your life.
 
Reparent Yourself
 
A kid not only needs to be loved, protected, and to have their needs met, but they also need to be taught how to live successfully in the world with boundaries, confidence, and a sense of self. Re-parenting can help you heal in a major way and give you, again, what you needed but didn’t have as a child. Communication with yourkid within, whether you speak it out loud, in your thoughts, while journaling, or through other means, can be advantageous in this process. This looks like getting in touch with yourself and asking, “Hey, what do you need?” or “It seems like you’re hurting; what can I do to help?” the way you might ask a kid in real life. Then, proceed to attend to those needs. If it’s a hug, hug yourself. If it’s validation, validate yourself. 

Therapy Can Help

When it comes to childhood trauma, re-parenting, and general inner child work, it’s important to remember that it’s a process. A childhood therapist or counselor, whether they practice in person or online, can help you meet your goals and improve your inner child and quality of life.

Signing up for an online platform like BetterHelp is a fast, convenient way to find a therapist to work with now. Take a brief questionnaire, and you’ll be matched with a licensed, experienced provider. With BetterHelp, you can stop services or change providers at any time, and financial aid may be available for those who need it. Read below for some BetterHelp counselor reviews from people who sought help for similar concerns.

BetterHelp Therapist Reviews

"Dr. Tracy Thiem Is amazing. She is well versed and attuned to doing inner child work. I benefited a lot from her and I hope more people find a way to meet her in their healing journey. Thank you, Doc for being awesome."

"Natasha is a very insightful, kind, and compassionate counselor. Her gentle, professional approach to guiding you through a problem shows her empathy and understanding. She helped me see some childhood issues that I hadn't addressed in years."


Conclusion

Regardless of what you’re going through, a therapist or counselor can support you along the way. Take the first step today.
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