What is Inner Child Work?
A couple of years ago, I watched my fellow friend and coach guide another woman in a powerful process of transformation, where she led her to get in touch with her younger self, her inner child.
This woman came to my friend because she had been struggling with her relationship with her mother, who was asking her for constant help and support. She felt guilty that she didn’t want to support her alcoholic mother, something she had done her whole life.
She felt like it was now time to take care of HERSELF, but the guilt was overwhelming.
So my friend powerfully guided her in getting in touch with that younger part of her that felt unworthy, guilty and ashamed. This inner child believed that it was her role to rescue her mother all the time.
In this process, she was able to communicate with this younger part from a more mature place.
She was able to tell that younger version of her that it’s safe to let go, that it was not her role anymore, that she would survive life even if her mother was no longer in her life.
The beautiful thing was that this pattern of behavior with her mother – rescuing – was showing up in so many areas of her life.
This experience of communicating to her mind, body and soul that rescuing was no longer a life strategy for her would heal so many wounded relationships, over responsibility and pain that was playing out in her life.
This is what inner child work is really about: healing a younger, scared, guilty, ashamed or sad part of you from childhood so that you can experience life more freely.
Inner child work is the MOST POWERFUL tool for personal transformation that there is. And that’s why I wanted to share it with you today.
The Principles Behind Inner Child Work
The idea behind inner child work is that as children, we are conditioned in a certain way by the relationship with have with our caregivers, teachers, other children – all the important people in our lives that have an impact on us.
Perhaps our caregivers have certain expectations of us, or they talk to us in a certain way, or treat us with anger.
The way we interact with them has an imprint on us. It is a kind of trauma that stays with us, and becomes part of us, and how we see the world.
It’s as if we are born with perfect vision, and through these interactions, we begin to wear glasses that cause us to see the world differently, a little more blurry, or a different color.
When I use the word trauma I don’t necessarily refer to things like violence, neglect and abuse, although it can be.
When we are little, we are completely dependent on others and we are hyper-sensitive to how other people treat us. As a result of that, any event (it can even seem insignificant to you now, looking back) can register as a trauma, and begin to blur our vision.
An Example of Inner Child Trauma and Its Impact on the Adult
Let’s say that one day, you were extremely excited because your teacher told you that you got the best grade from the whole class on a test.
You ran home with excitement, wanting to tell your mom all about it.
Your mom was having a hard day. She worked a lot, and was really tired.
When you told her the news, she half-smiled, and said something like, “are you sure? There is that kid genius in your class, are you sure it wasn’t him that did the best? Well, ok. I’m proud of you. Let’s double check tomorrow with your teacher”.
Then, she turned on the TV and proceeded with her day.
She seemed pretty apathetic to you.
Thinking back on this incident, it may not seem like that big of a deal.
But to the child you, this was terribly disappointing. It felt like your excitement fell on deaf ears, you weren’t celebrated and appreciated for your gifts.
As the adult, this can impact you in different ways, for example:
- You’re scared to share your accomplishments with your partner because you don’t think he/she will celebrate you
- You minimize your own accomplishments, and always doubt yourself
- You generally dim down your excitement, and work your butt off in everything you do, quietly and unenthusiastically
Can you see how such a seemingly small event from childhood can have a massive impact?
Do the Work: Think back to any memories you may have from childhood that really stand out in your mind, and do so with non-judgement. Simply allow your mind to bring up whatever memory stands out. Write down some stories/memories that come up.
How Does Inner Child Work, Work?
So, what do we do with these memories, and how can we use inner child work to get back to our 20/20 vision that we are born with?
Every single one of us is born perfect. A loving, beautiful, heart-centered being, thrown into the world suddenly.
Birth itself can be a trauma, let alone all of the things that happen to us in the world with other children, our caregivers, and other adults in our lives.
Is it possible to remove the programming that happens through these early interactions, to let go of harmful wounding from childhood and open our hearts to the joy that we are born with and meant to feel?
YES YES YES!
Inner child work is my favorite tool to use with clients to do all of this.
I want to share with you some ways to do this:
The Trigger Method
In this method, you use a trigger from your everyday life to access an inner child memory that created it.
If we continue with the above example, you can think of a painful feeling you get in your chest as you get really excited about something, but you feel yourself extremely scared of telling anyone about it or even celebrating it.
A trigger creates a very strong felt sense in your body: it can feel heavy, dark, pinching.
There is a difference between feeling annoyed, scared or sad, and feeling triggered.
A trigger feels like a big deal inside of you, and it makes you act irrationally in ways that you are later pretty amazed at!
Triggers make us behave differently than what we usually do, and that’s how we know we are triggered!
Triggers are created by putting on those murky glasses created through childhood programming.
Before I explain how you actually do inner child work with a trigger, let’s check out the second method:
Inner Child Connection
Instead of waiting for a trigger, you can simply connect with your inner child by having a photo of them (I put mine as a screensaver on my phone), looking at the photo and speaking words to them that they long to hear.
How do you know what to say?
Think of what they wanted to hear from adults when they were little, and think of what you want to hear from other people in your life now.
Say those exact things to that little child.
Most importantly, as you do so, do it while feeling a lot of love in your heart for your child self.
If you have trouble feeling this, imagine a being (animal or little child) that you love unconditionally. It will help you get into the loving state.
The Inner Child Methodology
Let’s dive right into the process now.
When you choose to connect with your inner child, find a meditative, comfortable position in a quiet peaceful space.
Close your eyes, and take a few deep breaths in to relax.
Now, really feel into your body: what can you sense, in terms of the sensations in your body (particularly your stomach, chest and throat)?
Are these sensations familiar?
Allow these sensations to guide you into the very first memory you have of sensing this.
Examine this memory: how old were you? What did you look like? What were you wearing? What can you see, feel, taste, smell and hear?
(*Note: if you do not have a vivid memory but have a feeling that this is from an old story, you can simply sense into this story and feel the sensations in your body instead of having an accurate vision of it).
Now, feel your adult body. Notice how old you are, and what your name is.
Bring into mind a memory in your adult life that feels empowering, uplifting and elevating. A memory almost opposite of that one.
Sense into it, and imagine yourself bringing that empowered adult to meet your child self, as you come back to the scene of the child.
Remember, we do this as if we are watching a movie. Moving over back to the child scene:
Now, communicate with this beautiful child.
What do they feel right now?
What do they think?
What do they need?
Let them know you’re here for them, you love them. Give them whatever it is they need.
This can be a hug, to simply sit with them and listen to them or be there silently, to get them candy, or go for a walk.
Whatever it is, do that with them.
Now, validate how they feel and let them know how the programming they received in that situation is faulty.
(For example, if you’re getting the sense that they feel unloved or abandoned, let them know that there is nothing wrong with THEM. Validate them first: it is completely ok that you feel this way, it makes sense. You’re allowed to be sad now. And then, let them know that even though they feel sad or abandoned, whatever happened is not a reflection of who they are. They are love, and only love).
Check in with the child: do they feel better? Is there a shift of energy inside of them?
Stay with them until you feel a sense of lightness in your body.
As we come to a close, give them a big hug and let them know you will visit them daily for a while.
Make a commitment to meet your child daily, at least for a week, with the same process.
Remember that whenever you get triggered in your adult life, it’s not your adult self. It’s the little child within you that shows up.
This connection with your inner child will teach you to have so much compassion for yourself, because you’ll remember that every time you’re very angry or sad, it’s actually that little, loveable part of you.
See them, feel them, and love them, and continue this inner child healing journey as often as possible.
The more you do it, the more you begin to see the world with love, judge yourself less, and also see other people who are triggered as little children who want love, empathy and compassion.