The Inner Child: How Can I Fix It?

By: Mary Elizabeth Dean

Updated September 23, 2021

Medically Reviewed By: Kelly Kampf

Psychologists have a lot to say about 'the inner child'. This kid within you is needy, just like any child you know. Why is it needy? To start with, it's a child, which means it can't meet its own needs. Also, the kid has been damaged, leaving it even more vulnerable.
 
Doing inner child work isn't always easy. The truth is that healing inner children can be a long process that requires guidance from a qualified therapist who understands the true nature of the youth trauma. 

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What Is An Inner Child In Psychology?

Not everyone is in touch with their inner child. Often, when people connect with their inner child, it's because they're dealing with a problem rooted in an early wounding. Even if your inner child is healthy and happy, there is a part of you that feels and reacts to life the way a child does. Everyone experiences this. The challenge is to know, accept, and connect with that inner child. According to the Cambridge Dictionary, "Your inner child is the part of your personality that still reacts and feels like a child."

Quotes For The Children Within

As awareness of the concept of the inner child has grown, people from all walks of life have commented on it. Some of these inner child quotes can be quite funny and as playful as a happy inner child. 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 inner child that everyone's talking about? How can you have a child inside of you when you're a grown adult? Does it mean that you haven't grown up? Before you can do inner child work, you need to understand clearly what your inner child is.

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Are Internal Children Real?

As you read the definition of the "inner child," you may wonder whether your inner child is real or just a psychological concept or theory. Certainly, there's not a physical child inside of you (unless you're pregnant). What you need to remember is that, although no one can see physical traces of your inner child, it is nonetheless real. Most psychologists agree that your inner child is part of who you are as a person.

Understanding Psychological Damage

When a young child experiences trauma, wounds are created that must be healed eventually. Much healing can be accomplished immediately following the trauma if the child has a parent who takes steps to reduce the damage caused by the situation or event.
 
However, if the child has no one reliable enough to parent them lovingly and appropriately through the situation, the wounds don't heal, and they can cause problems in adulthood. However, therapy is an important solution to childhood trauma. 
Your Inner Child is A Unique Part Of You That Still Feels Young On The Inside
Learn More About Who You Are In Online Therapy - Get Started Today
 
"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."

Where The Pain Began

What is it that hurts the inner child? The list is long. Some of the items on this list might seem like normal childhood events, but if the child is left to deal with them alone, it can affect their development. Here are some of the events and situations that can cause emotional injury to the inner child:
  • Loss of a parent or guardian
  • Physical abuse or neglect
  • Emotional abuse or neglect
  • Sexual abuse
  • Serious illness
  • Severe bullying
  • Natural disasters
  • Family breakup
  • Being a victim of violence
  • Substance abuse in the household
  • Domestic violence in the household
  • Mental illness of a family member
  • Being a refugee
  • Feeling isolated from their family


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Recovering As An Adult

Minor trauma is common in childhood, so even the healthiest childhood doesn't mean you won't need to do inner child work at some point. If you experienced major trauma, however, the results are likely to follow you into adulthood. Furthermore, if no one helps you heal when you're still a child, serious effects are likely to plague you and your inner child until you do this work. The most common effects of having a hurt inner child can all be classified as destructive behaviors. They include:
  • Self-sabotage
  • Self-defeating behavior
  • Self-harming behavior
  • Passive-aggressive behavior
  • Violent behavior
It's no wonder these effects are common. The damaged child is impulsive, narcissistic, dependent, needy, and afraid of being abandoned. They haven't learned how to regulate their emotions or act from logic and reason. Such a child is likely to act out, and a damaged inner child is no different. However, healing the inner child can eliminate these feelings and behaviors, even in adulthood.

How to Heal

You can't necessarily fix your inner child. Once the damage is done, it becomes a part of your history. For most people, it changes the way they feel, think, and behave. That said, you can help it heal. When you've accomplished that, the scars begin to fade and become lighter, so you can explore healthier ways of being.
 
You might wonder about the point of doing inner child work. Well, suppose a child is suffering from a wound, and you do nothing to help them. How do you feel ignoring the needs of this innocent, dependent person? How would the child feel? Wouldn't it continue to suffer until the wound was healed? This is how your inner child feels, and its wounds can affect you well into adulthood. Inner child healing can put an end to internal suffering, which can help you change maladaptive behaviors. Working with a therapist, you can do several things to reduce the suffering of your inner child dramatically.
 
Your first task in healing the inner child is to commit to knowing your inner child. That starts with accepting its existence. Certainly, you are a free individual. You can choose to deny that you have an inner child.
 
But if you refuse to think about having an inner child, be prepared to have a difficult time changing your feelings and behaviors. Doing inner child work, whether you do it alone or in therapy sessions, is a wonderful way to heal that child inside you and ultimately change the way you think, feel, and behave.
 
Understand Your Pain
 
For some, childhood pain comes from easily identifiable sources. For example, if you know you were physically abused as a child, that situation probably caused many of your emotional problems as an adult. Others find it more difficult to locate the source of their suffering, yet they know it exists because they struggle with feelings like unexplained anger or worthlessness. These feelings have to come from somewhere.
 
Both kinds of people need to understand what hurt them as a child if they want to heal. Therapists use several different techniques to help you identify the hurts from your childhood. 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, so you can visualize those painful moments.
 
Build Compassion
 
Regardless of what caused your childhood pain, your inner child is still feeling the effects. Your needs were not 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 need or by inflicting pain on you directly. This affects your inner child.
 
Since that time is long gone, and you're now an adult, it's up to you to show your inner child the compassion you needed as a child. One way to tune into this compassion for that small, frightened inner child is to imagine the scene of the painful event or situation from the inner child's viewpoint. Then give your inner child the support it needed in the past. In addition, therapists often model compassion, making it easier for you to do the same for your inner child.
 
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 parents and other important people rarely showed their care for you, you may have grown up feeling distant, unloved, and perhaps, unlovable.
How do you learn to love your inner child? A therapist can help you with this process. As you identify what you love about your inner child, you'll be able to feel it more strongly and unconditionally.
 
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. Approach these games and activities with the expectation that they were fun once and can be again. Throughout your healing process, come back to playing as a child often. You'll likely find that the happy feelings come back to you more and more, helping you to connect with your inner child.
 
Communicate Verbally
 
Many therapists will guide you in communicating with your inner child through spoken or written words. This can happen in a therapy session, or you can do it at home. You can talk to your inner child in the mirror, expressing your feelings and thoughts about what happened in the past as well as your hopes for the future. Or you can write a letter to your inner child. Is there something you like to tell that small child? Now's your chance to do it.
 
Take Responsibility
 
A key component of healing the inner child is to take responsibility for them. While you might feel anger toward anyone who hurt you, it doesn't help to blame them or expect them to solve your current problems.
 
They may not be able to help now, and even if they can, they may not be willing to help. Only you can take charge of caring for the child within you now. Your therapist can help, and others can lend support, but it is you who needs to take responsibility.
 
Parent Yourself
 
A child 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. At some point, someone failed to teach you how to nurture and care for yourself.
 
Now, even if you're managing many aspects of your life just fine, you still need to find the gaps in parenting that are causing you trouble in the present. You may struggle to regulate your emotions or behave in inappropriate or self-destructive ways. Parenting isn't an easy task for anyone. For someone who is parenting an inner child, this process might seem strange or even incomprehensible. However, with the help of a licensed therapist, you can become a great parent to your inner child.

Becoming a Psychological Adult

So what happens when your healing is complete? What is the goal? First, you may want to change certain behaviors. If so, inner child work can be combined with cognitive behavior therapy to help you make those changes.
 
You may also want to become an emotionally healthy adult. Or you might resist becoming an adult. After all, so many people talk about how boring or stressful it is to be a grown-up. The good news is that even as an adult, your inner child is still a part of you. You can become more relaxed, find more pleasure in everyday life, and experience life with the same joy as a healthy child while being a responsible adult.
 
As an adult, you know when it's important to be serious and thoughtful, even if that's something you may have struggled with before healing your inner child. Now you can take responsibility as needed, but you also release the responsibilities of others back to them. When you choose to become a true adult, you can make decisions that are both helpful to you and enjoyable for you.

How BetterHelp Can Help

A licensed therapist has the psychological training to guide you through healing your inner child. They can teach you techniques for every part of the process. Furthermore, they can help you avoid causing your inner child any more pain. Their instruction and support can be invaluable as you work toward becoming a happy, healthy adult. Read below for some BetterHelp counselor reviews, from people experiencing similar issues.

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

Healing your inner child will take work and determination. A therapist or counselor can support you along the way, making the process much easier and more fun. All you need to do is reach out, and you can be well on your way to changing your life. Take the first step today.

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