This is an edited version of a podcast episode. If you prefer to listen, click Make Me Whole Podcast to find this and all my other episodes.
Hello, and welcome! I’m so glad you’re here. Today we’re going to talk about something pretty special. It is something that’s very close to my heart because of all the work that I’ve personally done for myself as well as the belief I have in the journey of healing our inner child. So, first of all, let’s talk about the inner child, because I know it sounds a little bit out there. It’s actually pretty straightforward, though. It’s that part of you that still holds on to those childhood moments when you experienced especially intense happiness or hurt. Our inner child carries all those childhood memories, associated with some of our earliest feelings, and this part of us can have a huge impact on how we feel and behave as adults.
I think my earliest memory ever was me standing in a car. I was probably about 3 or 4 years old, we were parked, and I was having McDonalds french fries. I was told that I was going to be a big sister. I had NO idea what this meant. This isn’t something that sticks with me as a painful memory, it’s just the absolute first one I remember. I only wanted to bring it up as a reference point.
When we’re talking about inner child work as adults, what we’re focusing on is whether or not our inner child is experiencing hurt. Life is rough, right? And sometimes our inner child gets triggered and remembers hurtful feelings. But how do we know if it’s hurting and needs some care? Well, we have to take some time to pause and listen for the inner alarm bells. If you often feel like you’re not enough, guilty for no particular reason, or you find it hard to set and stick to boundaries, it might be your inner child asking for help.
It is so important to process these residual feelings of our inner child. If we ignore that pain, it can sneak into our adult lives, affecting our relationships, self-esteem and happiness. So how do we start healing? Depending on the level of trauma (or big T Trauma) you experienced as a child, it might seem like a huge task. But, like I always say, it’s all about the small steps. Let’s talk about the logistics of inner child work and how you can start your journey towards balance and health. It starts with reconnecting. It could be as simple as spending a few quiet moments each day checking in with how you’re feeling by writing in a journal. Therapy can also be a game changer. I know that talking about feelings can be challenging, especially when you’re not used to speaking to someone on that level or if you’re worried about criticism. But that’s where a therapist comes in. They are a non-judgemental third party who can work alongside you through the process. Techniques like cognitive behavioral therapy can be really helpful. And I can tell you after spending a significant amount of time with my own fantastic therapist (yes, therapists have therapists!), I know the benefits of converting the damaging thought patterns I’ve had in the past into beneficial thought patterns to implement now.
You have to be gentle with yourself. Remember, this is a journey. It takes time and that’s ok. You just have to be patient. You have to be compassionate because that inner child deserves it. This is the time to show yourself some love and treat yourself as you would treat a friend. And remember, you’re never, ever alone on this type of journey.
As we’re talking about the healing process, I thought it would be good to share some of my personal stories of healing. Sometimes simply knowing that someone else has walked a similar path can be incredibly comforting. So, when I reflect on the work that I needed to do to nurture my own inner child, the issue I was dealing with most was the need to be a people pleaser. In the past, I was a person who made sure everyone was happy, who made sure that the needs of others were taken care of before mine because I truly believed that that was the only way to receive praise and attention. It stems from when I was younger and never wanted to misstep for fear of upsetting my parents. I craved to be seen as a good child, to always be seen in a positive light. I was the oldest, and as many oldest children know, you are the guinea pig. The relationship that I had with my very young parents involved lots of them learning how to navigate raising me and then the three sisters that followed. That didn’t always leave room for consistent attention or care. There were times when they could be silly, and there were times where they could be cariñoso, like really loving, but they were so inconsistent, which made it difficult. I tried to ask as little of them as possible, taking care of my own needs, so that they wouldn’t get upset. So that they would be able to accept me for who I was in whatever space I was living. Usually they had a lot of opinions about what they wanted me to do and how they wanted me to do it. And none of the things they envisioned for me were bad, except they weren’t meant for my individual spirit. I would later come to realize that because I only followed the paths that had been laid out for me, I didn’t really know who I was at my core. I hadn’t internalized that my own feelings were valid and that I could have my own justified opinions. I felt like I was going to put a stain on my family if I decided to go in a different direction. I remember always saying goodnight to my parents and getting a kiss on the cheek before I went to bed. It happened every night, but it was never really an expression of true emotion. It was just kind of like this is how things are done.
I think my parents just had a lot of people to look out for. They were managing 4 daughters and 3 nieces. They were caring for their parents. It was a lot! And so, as a result, my inside person, my little person, was always fighting to get their attention in the best ways I knew how. By the time I was an adult, those patterns were deeply ingrained. I thought that was what you do. You make sure that everybody is happy with you, that everyone is taken care of, that everybody’s good. If so, then I’m good, too. And that’s just not the case. I fought with the little girl inside who wanted her true self to be accepted and celebrated. Who stood there just wanting her parents to wrap their arms around her, hug her, and tell her that she was loved. My inner child was so afraid of making mistakes because the consequences felt too heavy for me to bear. Don't make the wrong choice or you’re going to have a really bad life. I don’t know if that came from my parents being so young when they had children and started a new life. As a little kid, I didn’t know they were struggling.
So, I became very proactive in doing a lot of this inner work. I had to accept that at the time, I was just a child and I couldn't (and shouldn’t) fix certain situations. I had become very anxious and had grown into a person who did not give enough to themselves. My self-esteem was on the ground. So, I had to go back and think, what are the things that made me feel peaceful? What did I believe I was admired for (whether or not that included my family). What were the highlights of my day? What do I admire about myself? What do I forgive myself for this particular week? What are compliments that I might have received? I really needed to focus on the negative beliefs that I had about myself and where they came from. What kinds of unhelpful feelings or ideas I got from anyone when I was a child. I had to ask myself, “Do you play the victim?” and “How do I let others dictate how I feel?” It was the best thing I could have done for myself, the best gift I could have given myself, because I was able to go back in and tell that child how special and important they were. I told her about how some things that seem incredibly important just aren’t (and vice versa). Healing my inner child has been a long road, but the more I heal, the more I start to feel like my true self. For the first time, I’ve been able to truly love and accept who I am. That’s what it’s about: loving and accepting ALL parts of ourselves. Remember, every step you take is a step closer to being whole. And I hope that you’ll consider focusing on that healing if you feel that it’s something you need. Healing our inner child can be really transformational, and it allows us to fully accept ourselves, break free from the past, and build healthier relationships.