The term ‘inner child’ is a concept from psychology that refers to part of our subconscious. Our inner child holds memories, emotions, and beliefs from the past, as well as hopes and dreams for the future. Everyone has an inner child but not all of us feel connected to our child within. Fortunately, there are techniques for reconnecting and multiple benefits in doing so.
Inner Child Work
Many trace the concept of an inner child back to psychiatrist Carl Jung (1875-1961), who, after examining his own childlike inner world, concluded that this part of us influences what we do and the decisions we make as adults (CPTSD Foundation).
When addressing it in therapy, the inner child is a symbolic version of you that can be communicated with, nurtured, supported, and guided to help you make changes in your adult life and feel compassion towards your current and past selves. This work involves addressing past wounds by understanding the needs you had as a child and how you can provide that to yourself as an adult (sometimes referred to as ‘reparenting’). This work is centered around acceptance, self-love, and self-compassion.
Like any type of inner work, it involves letting your subconscious take the lead and tapping into that space.
Exercises for Reconnecting
There are countless inner child exercises out there that you can try, but here are some simple ones to get you started:
- Describe your inner child
Start to become curious about your inner child and build up a picture in your mind’s eye. Either just internally or using a journal, ask yourself the following questions about your inner child:
How old is he or she?
What does he or she look like?
What expression is there on his or her face?
How is he/she feeling? stressed? Anxious? Angry? Lonely?
You can then ask your inner child: What can I do to validate and reassure you?
By visualising your inner child, you are hopefully increasing your feelings of empathy and compassion towards them.
- Non-dominant Handwriting
Research shows that if you use your non-dominant hand you can tap into the right side of the brain which is responsible for creativity and intuition. Get a pen and place it in your non-dominant hand, and with this hand write answers to the following, as if writing as your inner child:
What is your name?
How does it feel to be writing with this hand?
How does it feel when you are criticised?
What would you like to say to your inner critic?
What else do you want to say to assert yourself? You have full permission here.
- A Love Letter
Writing a letter can be a powerful way to heal inner child wounds. It is important to visualise your inner child first, so it may be helpful to look at a photo before or during this exercise.
Remember to ask yourself “What does my inner child need to hear from me?” or “What would help them to hear, to enable healing?” as prompts before beginning the letter.
You will also want to adapt your language accordingly bearing in mind you are writing to a younger version of yourself.
Write for as long as you need.
- Guided Meditation
There are plenty of inner-child guided meditations out there which are designed to help you to further connect with your inner child and release any emotional blockages.
Here is one you can try out.
Inner child work can be a highly effective way of exploring and addressing our needs that haven’t been met as children and healing the attachment wounds we’ve developed as a result. It can help us to understand our past, feel more connected with ourselves, forgive our caregivers or parents, or even forgive ourselves. Feeling compassion and self-love towards a symbolic child version of ourselves just feels more doable than loving our present selves sometimes.