I like to think that everyone has their sh*t. None of us is immune to the pain that can come with life — not even children. The problem? Children aren’t old enough to fully comprend the hurt, so they internalize it in ways that affect their behavior even as adults.
If you experienced what psychologists call an Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE), a type of trauma particular to childhood, you may still have thoughts and behaviors that reflect that experience today. For example, a person who received lots of criticism as a child may still feel the need to minimize themselves, or make themselves small in order to avoid negative attention from others.
But how do we begin to overcome these ACEs — especially if we aren’t even aware of how they may be affecting us? Therapy is a good start, but so is something called inner child work. Inner child work is the subject of this blog post, and it states that we can reparent ourselves as adults to make up for the trauma we experienced in childhood.
Read on to the end of this post and you will get my FREE worksheet, which you can print and fill out to determine what your inner child needs and how you can reparent yourself to feel more safe and secure in your being.
As terrible as it is to have experienced some type of ACE, childhood trauma is incredibly common — and you are not alone. One survey found that 45% of adults in the United States have experienced at least one ACE.
So, what qualifies as an ACE? How do you know if you, too, experienced some type of childhood trauma that could still be affecting you today? Above all else, trauma is a subjective experience. What matters is not what happened to you, but how you perceived what happened to you.
The same experience could be perceived as traumatic by one person and not experienced as traumatic by another. However, some experiences are more likely to induce the body’s trauma response than others. Examples of these types of experiences include:
- Community violence
- Natural disasters
- Intimate partner violence
- Physical abuse
- Medical events
- Sexual abuse
Identifying Your Inner Child
Your inner child may look different depending on what type of trauma you experienced. Identifying what type of inner child you have may help you better understand its effects on your life.
The Abandoned Child has typically experienced either abuse or neglect — or, on a smaller scale, had divorced parents or did not receive enough attention from their parents. They may feel lonely or insecure, and/or experience a subjective feeling of abandonment.
The Playful Child is a healthy child who has not experienced trauma. However, in adulthood, we often lose sight of the Playful Child. Getting back in touch with our playful side is a healthy part of adulthood, yet something we don’t often do.
The Fearful Child may have an anxiety disorder as a result of receiving excess criticism as a child. Now, they feel uncomfortable when they are not getting constant praise or reassurance.
Because childhood trauma can be so multivaried and subtle, we may not always know when an ACE is affecting us in one of these ways. It may be helpful to you to take this wounded child questionnaire to visualize the extent to which your inner child needs to heal from traumatic events.
Reparenting Your Inner Child
In order to heal your inner child, you must begin to undo the damage your traumatic childhood did to your inner child. Experts call this reparenting, and they recommend that you don’t share this practice with your parents, since it can be unnecessarily hurtful. Instead, focus on constructive actions you can take to reparent your inner child. For example….
- Start making authentic decisions that reflect who you are and who you want to be. This Values Clarification Tool can help you get in touch with what values you want to live by and start making decisions in line with those values. Plus, check out my post on setting boundaries to help you make authentic choices that work best for you and your life.
- Create a safe space for yourself. This can be in your home or somewhere where you go that brings you in touch with your inner child. If you did not feel safe at home as a child, it is especially important to create a space for yourself where you can feel safe and loved. This should be a comfortable, roomy space where you can partake in self-care activities to take care of your inner child, such as journaling or mindfulness.
- Practice forgiveness, not complacency. It’s not saying that you’re okay with your parents’ hurtful actions, but it’s accepting that your parents are human and make mistakes like the rest of us. You don’t need to tell your parents explicitly that you forgive them, but it may help to write it out in a journal or write a letter that you will never send.
- Take part in play activities. As an adult, the need to feel or look “mature” overtakes our drive to play and be spontaneous. Determine if there are activities you used to love as a child, such as coloring or eating popsicles, that you feel comfortable taking part in. While you do so, let go of the feeling that you look silly or appear immature, and instead focus on getting in touch with your inner child and giving her the opportunity to play.
- Tell your inner child what he/she needs to hear in order to feel safe. You can use affirmations like “You are safe” or “You are loved” to reassure yourself in moments where you may not feel that way. Speak as if you were speaking to a child in your life; treat yourself gently, rather than giving in to your inner critic. Transforming your self-talk is one of the first and most important steps toward healing your inner child.
+ Your FREE Printable Worksheet!
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