Our childhood has a much larger impact on our adult life than some seem to think. The environment in which someone is raised directly contributes to their ability to be a well-adjusted, emotionally healthy adult.
Let’s get into it.
What is an inner child?
Our “inner child” is a term devised by psychologist Carl Jung, used to define our sense of wonder and innocence. Each person has a different way of viewing their inner child. For some, it’s a direct reflection of who they were at a certain stage in their development. For others, it’s a representation of your overall experiences growing up.
Ultimately, it’s the part of us from our childhood that we hold onto into adulthood.
Our inner child carries our past experiences, good or bad. Everything that we went through during childhood, when we were at the will of our caregivers, stays with us for the rest of our lives and affects our adult decisions, reactions, and relationships.
How does my inner child affect me now?
An emotionally healthy adult is connected to their inner child, using that connection as a source of joy, inspiration, and the ability to let go of negative experiences in favor of a more light-hearted approach to life.
When the adults in our lives don’t meet our needs as children, it manifests in adulthood as a disconnection from our inner child or an inability to handle situations that remind your adult self of those negative feelings from the past.
Just as we absorb the positive experiences that we had as a child, we internalize the negative experiences as well.
If your childhood was full of joy, wonder, safety, and nurturing, your inner child will reflect that. If your childhood was full of fear, sadness, neglect, or trauma, you will carry those feelings into your adult life until it is faced, felt & worked on.
Know this: children deserve to feel safe, heard, loved, and have their needs (both emotional and physical) met by their caregivers.
Childhood trauma stems from a number of circumstances from physical & emotional abuse to neglect. No matter the cause, the damage can severely affect the way that the child operates as an adult.
Here are 5 signs that you have a wounded inner child:
You have an anxious or avoidant attachment style.
John Bowlby, a British psychoanalyst, originally developed the theory of attachment while studying infants that were separated from their parents. This separation caused extreme distress in the babies as they did everything they could to reconnect with their “attachment figure.”
He found that each human was evolutionarily inclined to have an “attachment behavioral system” that monitored their proximity to their caregiver, as a means of ensuring their survival.
Later on, it was found that these behaviors continue through childhood and into adulthood, meaning that children who spend their developmental years feeling disconnected from their caregiver will continue in those distressed behaviors, searching for that connection and to have their needs met.
The longer someone goes without feeling secure in their caregiver attachment, the harder it is for them to be comforted, even if the parent does attempt to meet their needs later on.
So, if someone goes through their entire childhood without having these needs met, it becomes extremely difficult for them to feel secure in any relationship. Depending on the type and severity of neglect, that insecurity can manifest through different attachment styles.
In an ideal world, everyone would have their needs met as children and feel secure in their adult relationships. For those who did not have that experience, an anxious or avoidant attachment style can develop and carry across relationships.
Read more about attachment theory here.
You’re a people-pleaser
When you don’t feel wanted or loved by your parents, it’s easy to turn to outside sources of validation to meet that need. Oftentimes, that leads to patterns of people-pleasing.
People pleasers will do anything to gain the approval of others.
In fact, most people consider the people-pleasers in their lives to be very kind and helpful, but they don’t see the self-neglect that comes from people pleasing patterns.
On the outside, people-pleasers seem warm, happy, and willing to go out of their way for others. On the inside, they neglect their own needs and emotions for the sake of approval.
You have trouble sharing or expressing your emotions
Those with wounded inner children spent their childhood being ignored by their caregivers. Since we learn social behavior from our parents, we turn this practice onto ourselves, ignoring our emotions and needs as adults, too.
When our caregivers shame us for sharing our emotional needs or ignore them entirely, we become uncomfortable expressing those needs, since we feel they will be met with the same shame, criticism, or dismissal.
You’re an overachiever
Sometimes people with a wounded inner child feel the need to overcompensate for the rejection they felt as children by overachieving.
Society tells us that we need the car, the house, a successful career, and a long-term relationship to be happy, and, when you haven’t been given any other tools to create a happy life, it’s easy to dive head first into these expectations.
Even if these things aren’t actually making them happy, creating this life is all about how other people perceive them and the avoidance of any further rejection or criticism.
You have a hard time trusting others
This is possibly the most damaging sign of a wounded inner child and the hardest to overcome. If you grew up unable to trust the people who were supposed to love you, protect you, and meet your needs, it can feel impossible to trust anyone else, even in the most miniscule ways.
Neglected children have to turn to themselves for comfort, and that coping mechanism continues into adulthood.
They don’t ask for help, even when they need it, because they don’t trust others to help them. They don’t share how they feel because they don’t trust others to understand them. They don’t share their full selves with anyone because they don’t feel that they will ever be loved for who they really are.
These trust issues manifest in codependency or avoiding commitment altogether. It can lead you to manipulate other people in an attempt to keep them around, but always at arm’s length. Living this way only worsens feelings of loneliness, isolation, and the desire to be truly known and loved.
How to heal your inner child:
Connect with them through meditation and self-reflection
To heal your inner child, you first have to connect with them. This means finally spending the time to process your past trauma and the feelings you still carry with you from that.
It may be uncomfortable or bring up things that you want to forget, but the only way to truly heal from your trauma is to face it head on and feel the emotions that you’ve spent so long pushing down.
Ask your inner child what they need from you to move forward in a healthier direction.
Write a letter to your past self
Write a letter to your inner child from the perspective of your adult self. Most of the time, growing up brings a better understanding of the context of your childhood experiences. Explain to your inner child what you know now, and reassure them that what happened was not right, and that you are dedicated to giving them what they need to heal.
You must forgive yourself for letting self-destructive patterns continue on for so long, and remind yourself that it was not your fault that your needs were not met. Forgive your caretakers for not meeting those needs, and remind yourself that they are human beings capable of mistakes, just as you are.
Remember that healing isn’t linear
You will have good days and bad days. It can be difficult to break patterns that you’ve lived with for your entire life in favor of a healthier path. Find support to hold you accountable and talk through the rough patches, so you never have to revert back to toxic patterns again.
If you’re ready to start healing your inner child, find out how we can support you here.
Dani & Keely
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