Inner Child: What Is It, What Happened To It, And How Can I Fix It?
Updated December 10, 2018
Reviewer Kelly Kampf
Pop psychologists have a lot to say about 'the inner child,' and why not? It's a simple idea to understand and discuss. This child 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 child has been damaged, leaving it even more vulnerable. It all sounds like a nice, neat package that anyone can manage on their own. However, doing inner child work isn't as easy as understanding that it must exist. The truth is that healing your inner child can be a long, arduous process that requires guidance from a qualified therapist who understands the true nature of the inner child.
Inner Child Quotes
As awareness of the concept of the inner child has grown, people from just about every occupation and station in life have commented on it. Some of the inner child quotes can be quite funny and as playful as a happy inner child. Others are sarcastic, deflecting the pain the inner child still feels. Some of the best quotes about the inner child remind us what an important part of us it is. Here is a sampling of these quotes:
'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, from Something Happened
'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
What Is the Inner Child?
So, what is the 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.
Definition of the Inner Child
The Cambridge Dictionary defines Inner Child like this:
'Your inner child is the part of your personality that still reacts and feels like a child.'
Is the Inner Child Real?
As you read the definition of 'inner child,' you may wonder whether your inner child is real or just a psychological concept or theory. Certainly, there is physical child inside of you (unless you're pregnant). What you need to remember is that, although no one can see any physical traces of your inner child, it is nonetheless real. Most psychologists agree that the inner child is a real part of who you are as a person.
Does Everyone Have an Inner Child?
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 a wounded inner child. Even if your inner child is healthy and happy, you do have a part of you that feels and reacts to life the way a child does. Everyone does. The challenge is to know, accept, and connect with that part of your personality.
The Damaged Inner Child
When a young child experiences trauma, wounds are created that must be healed. Much healing can be accomplished soon afterward if the child has a parent who is aware of the trauma and 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, the wounds can't heal, not even partially.
How the Inner Child Is Hurt
What is it that hurts the inner child? The list is long. Some items on the list might seem like normal childhood events, but if the child is left to deal with them alone, their personality, mind, and emotions may be damaged. 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
How the Damage Affects You as An Adult
Minor trauma is common in childhood, so even the healthiest childhood doesn't preclude needing to do inner child work at some point. If you experienced a major trauma, however, the results follow you into adulthood. Further, if no one helps you heal when you're still a child, serious effects are likely to plague you until you heal your inner child.
The most common effects of having a hurt inner child can all be classified as destructive behaviors. They include:
- Self-defeating behavior
- Self-harming behavior
- Passive-aggressive behavior
- Violent behavior
It's no wonder these effects are common, either. The damaged child is impulsive, narcissistic, dependent, needy, and afraid of being abandoned. They haven't learned to regulate their emotions or act from logic and reason. Such a child is likely to act out. A damaged inner child is no different. However, healing the inner child can eliminate these feelings and behaviors even in adulthood.
How to 'Fix' Your Inner Child
You can't fix your inner child. Once the damage is done, it becomes a part of your history if nothing else. For most people, it changes the way they feel, thinks, and behave from then on. Although you can't fix the inner child, you can help it heal. When you've accomplished that, the scars begin to fade and become lighter.
You might ask, what is 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? Inner child healing can put an end to the constant suffering of the child you once were, and that's still a part of who you are. Working with a therapist, you can do several things to reduce the suffering dramatically.
Why It Doesn't Help to Deny the Existence of Your Inner Child
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. If you refuse to think about having an inner child, though, 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 key to healing that child inside you to change the way you think, feel, and behave.
Understanding What Happened to Your Inner Child
For some, childhood pain came 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 still have feelings such as unexplained anger or worthlessness that they know came from somewhere. Both kinds of people need to find the details of what hurt them as a child if they want to accomplish healing the inner child
Therapists use several different techniques or explain how you can use them between sessions to help you identify the hurts from your childhood. Some of these include using guided imagery, art therapy, writing poetry, and journaling to allow you to visualize those painful moments.
The next steps you can take after you know the source of your emotional pain involves asking yourself a series of questions. These questions can help you sort out who contributed to causing the pain, whether they inflicted it intentionally, and how you responded to the situation or event at the time. You can also explore how that event or situation damaged your inner child and what role it plays in your life today.
Building Compassion for Your Inner Child
Regardless of what the exact cause of your childhood pain was, your inner child is still feeling the effects. Whatever happened to you, your needs were not met. 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.
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 missed out on as a child. One way to tune into this compassion for that small, frightened child is to imagine the scene of the painful event or situation from the viewpoint of yourself as a child. Therapists often model compassion, making it easier for you to do the same for your inner child.
Loving Your Inner Child
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 viewed through your child's eyes. If your parents and other important people rarely showed they cared for you, you may have grown up feeling distant from them, unloved, and perhaps, unlovable.
How do you learn to love your inner child? It's a process that a therapist can help you with. As you identify what you love about your inner child, you can feel it more strongly and unconditionally.
Play Like You Did as a Child
Playing as you did when you were a child can help you feel more connected with that part of you. It can also help motivate healing your inner child. Try playing some of the same games and doing the same activities that were fun for you when you were young. Approach these games and activities with the expectation that they were fun once and can be again. Come back to playing as a child often at different points in your process of inner child healing. You'll likely find that the happy feelings come back to you more as you progress.
Communicate Verbally with Your Inner Child
Many therapists 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. What would you like to tell that small child you once were? Now's your chance to do it.
Take Responsibility for the Care of That Inner Child
A key component of healing the inner child is to take on that responsibility. While you might feel anger towards anyone who hurt you, it doesn't help to blame them now or expect them to solve your problems. They may not be able to help now, and they may not be willing to help. Only you can take charge of caring for the child within you now. Your therapist can help, others can lend support, but it is you who needs to take responsibility.
Parenting Your Inner Child
A child not only needs to be loved, protected, and to have their needs met. They also need to be taught how to live successfully in the world. At some point, someone failed to teach you how to nurture yourself. Now, even if you've managed many aspects of your life just fine so far, you still need to find the gaps in parenting that are causing you to have trouble regulating your emotions or to behave in the inappropriate or self-destructive way.
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 such as those available through BetterHelp.com, you can learn these specialized parenting skills to do inner child work.
Becoming a Psychological Adult
So, what happens when the healing is complete? What is the goal? The first goals may be to change certain behaviors. If so, inner child work can be combined with cognitive behavior therapy to help you make those changes.
An even greater goal is to become an emotionally healthy adult. You might resist becoming an adult. After all, so many people talk about how boring or stressful it is to be an adult. The good news about that 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 does.
As an adult, you know when it's important to be serious and thoughtful, something you may have struggled with before your inner child was healed. You take responsibility for what is yours to do, but you also release the responsibilities of others back to them. When you make this choice to become a true adult, you allow making decisions that are both helpful and enjoyable for you.
How Therapy Can Help
A licensed therapist such as those at BetterHelp.com has the psychological training to guide you through your exploration of the life of your inner child. They can teach you techniques for every part of the healing process. Further, they can help you avoid causing your inner child any more pain. Their instruction and support can be invaluable in healing your inner child to become a happy, healthy adult.