No matter how big or small, almost all of us experienced some kind of trauma as children.
These traumas could vary from having your favorite stuffed toy thrown in the trash, to being abandoned by your best childhood friend, to being physically or emotionally abused by your parents.
Inner child work is a vital component of inner work (alongside shadow work) because it reconnects us with a wounded element of ourselves: the child within. When we reconnect with this fragmented part of ourselves, we can begin to discover the root of many of our fears, phobias, insecurities and sabotaging life patterns. This is where the true healing happens!
Likely, you’ll be surprised by what you discover through inner child work. Instead of simply looking at a symptom of your pain, you’ll go right to the core and reveal when a fear, phobia or certain life pattern first began.
We’ve previously written about reconnecting with your inner child in the past, and how childhood trauma impacts you on a physical, emotional, mental and even sexual level. In this article, I want to expand on some powerful healing techniques that I’ve used before to soothe this delicate place within us.
Types of Childhood Trauma
Firstly it’s important to understand that there are different types of childhood trauma. These include the physical (including sexual), emotional and mental variety. Also, when a childhood trauma is severe or repeated enough, it can result in soul loss. This is why you might need to undergo a process known in shamanic circles as “soul retrieval.” Soul retrieval is literally the process of “retrieving” the hidden, or inaccessible parts of your soul. Read more about soul retrieval.
However, not all childhood trauma results in soul loss — but they do result in a wounded psyche. This can result in issues such as depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, phobias, destructive behavioral patterns, and even chronic illnesses.
Examples of childhood trauma could include:
- Being hit or smacked by your parents/grandparents
- Having an emotionally unavailable parent who withholds affection
- Being “punished” by kicking, shaking, biting, burning, hair pulling, pinching, scratching or “washing out the mouth” with soap
- Being the recipient of molestation, shown pornography, or any other type of sexual contact from a parent, relative or friend
- Being the child of divorce
- Being given inappropriate or burdensome responsibilities (such as caring for your parents)
- Not being fed or provided a safe place to live from your parents
- Abandonment (your caretakers leaving you alone for long periods of time without a babysitter)
- Emotional neglect, i.e. not being nurtured, encouraged or supported
- Being deliberately called names or verbally insulted
- Denigration of your personality
- Destruction of personal belongings
- Excessive demands
- Car accidents, or other spontaneous traumatic events
There are many more examples of childhood trauma, but I just wanted to provide you with a few to give you an idea of what inner child work deals with. It’s also important to remember that our parents weren’t the only ones responsible for provoking childhood trauma — our grandparents, brothers, sisters, extended family members, family friends and childhood friends may have also played a part.
What is Inner Child Work?
This leads us to explore the definition of inner child work:
Inner child work is the process of contacting, understanding, embracing and healing your inner child. Your inner child represents your first original self that entered into this world; it contains your capacity to experience wonder, joy, innocence, sensitivity, and playfulness.
Unfortunately, we live in a society that forces us to repress our inner child and “grow up.” But the truth is that while most adults physically “grown-up,” they never quite reach emotional or psychological adulthood. In other words, most “grown-ups” aren’t really adults at all. This leaves most people in a state of puerile fears, angers, and traumas that fester away in the unconscious mind for decades.
When we deny and snuff out the voice of the child within we accumulate heavy psychological baggage. This unexplored and unresolved baggage causes us to experience problems such as mental illnesses, physical ailments, and relationship dysfunction.
In fact, it could be said that the lack of conscious relatedness to our own inner child is one of the major causes of the severe issues we see in today’s society. From the brutal way we treat the environment, to the cruel way we talk to ourselves, we have become completely separated from our original innocence.
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4 Simple Ways to Work With Your Inner Child (to Heal Trauma)
Learning to work with your inner child isn’t about becoming childish again, it is about reconnecting with your childLIKE side.
In other words, there is a big difference between being childish and childlike.
Being childish can be thought of as behaving in an immature or naive way. Being childlike on the other hand can be thought of as a state of purity and innocence.
We all have the capacity to experience our original innocence; that period in our lives when we saw the world with openness and wonder.
In order to remove the guilt, shame, fear, hatred, self-loathing and anger that we carry with us, we have to heal the child within. To do this, we must earn the trust of our inner child through love and self-nurturing.
Here are 4 of the most powerful ways to perform inner child work:
1. Speak to your inner child
Acknowledge your inner child and let it know that you’re there for it. Treat it with kindness and respect.
Some self-nurturing things you could say to your inner child include, for example:
- I love you.
- I hear you.
- I’m sorry.
- Thank you.
- I forgive you.
Make a habit of talking to your inner child. You could also communicate through journal work by asking your inner child a question, then writing down the response.
2. Look at pictures of yourself as a child
Go through old photo albums and rediscover what your younger self looked like. Let that image be burned into your brain because it will serve you well throughout the rest of your inner child work. You might even like to put photos of yourself next to your bedside table, in your wallet, or around the house just to remind yourself of your inner child’s presence.
3. Recreate what you loved to do as a child
Sit down and think about what you loved to do as a child. Maybe you liked climbing trees, playing with toy blocks, cuddling toy bears or eating warm porridge. Make time to include whatever activity you loved to do as a child in your present life.
Through inner child work, people have told me that they’ve connected to sides of themselves that they never even knew existed as adults. This discovery is truly life-changing. It’s important that you make a habit of this “playtime” and explore any embarrassment or silliness you feel towards it. It’s completely normal to feel a bit foolish at first, but it’s important to keep an open mind.
4. Do an inner journey
One of the most powerful ways to reconnect with your inner child to heal childhood traumas, is to do an inner journey.
For beginners, I recommend two types of inner journeys: those done through meditation, and those done through visualization.
In order to do these inner journeys, it is important that you first gain the trust of your inner child through the previous activities. Once you have developed a strong connection to your inner child, you can then ask it to reveal what earlier life circumstances created the trauma you’re struggling with today.
How to do a meditation journey:
Connecting to your inner child through meditation is a passive process: simply breathe deeply, relax, allow yourself to witness your thoughts, and ask your question. For example, you might like to ask, “Dear inner child, when was the first time I experienced trauma in my life?”
Allow yourself to witness the thoughts that rise and fall within your mind. Your inner child may or may not decide to reveal the answer to you. Remember to be patient, loving and accepting. If your inner child doesn’t want to reveal the answer, embrace that. It’s important that your inner child feels safe, secure, and ready.
You might like to repeat your question every now and then if nothing of significance arises inside of your mind. This process could take anywhere from a couple of minutes to 1 hour or more.
Tips — In order to do the inner child meditation journey, you’ll need to have experience meditating. Learning to witness your thoughts can take a lot of practice, so if you’re not used to meditating, you might struggle with this technique.
How to do a visualization journey:
A more active way to connect with your inner child and earlier life traumas is through visualization.
To connect with your inner child through visualization, you must create a “power place” or safe place. To do this you must visualize a beautiful garden, or any type of place in which you feel safe, empowered and whole. After entering your power place, you can then invite your inner child to speak with you.
Here are a few steps:
- Relax, close your eyes and breathe deeply.
- Imagine you’re walking down a staircase.
- At the bottom of the staircase is your power place or safe place. In this place, you feel strong, safe and supported.
- Spend a bit of time in your power place. Soak it in. What does it look like, smell like and sound like?
- After you have acquainted yourself with your power place, imagine that your younger self has entered, perhaps through a door or waterfall.
- Hug your younger self and make them feel home.
- When you’re ready, ask your inner child your question, e.g. “When was the first time you/I felt sad or scared?” You might like to phrase the question in child terminology.
- Await their response.
- Make sure you hug them, thank them, and tell them how much they mean to you.
- Say goodbye to them.
- Leave your power place and ascend up the stairs.
- Return to normal consciousness.
These are very basic steps, but they provide a good outline of how to perform an inner child visualization journey.
As children, we perceived the world very differently from our adult selves. Because of this, many of the things we presently assume never hurt us as children may have left deep scars. This is why it’s important to never make assumptions about your inner child.
Through inner child work, you can learn to grieve, heal and resolve any sources of trauma you’ve been unconsciously holding on to for years. This can liberate you and allow you to live a life of true adulthood, emotional balance, and wellbeing.
If you need more in-depth guidance, I highly recommend checking out these inner child healing exercises in our Inner Child Journal.