In this guide, we talk in detail about what an inner child is, the role it plays in our emotions and impulsive behavior, and how we can navigate our inner child for better emotional intelligence and well-being.
We all have an inner child. It’s that part of us that still thinks it’s okay to go on a sugar binge when we’re upset, or makes us want to curl up in bed with a book after a bad day at work. The inner child is the part of us that connects with our emotions and helps guide our behaviors. It’s also the part of us that can get triggered by stressful situations or traumas we’ve experienced throughout our lives. Some psychologists believe that healing your inner child can help you feel more emotionally intelligent and cope better with life’s stresses — but what exactly is an inner child? And how do you know if yours needs some TLC?
In this ultimate guide on inner child, we will explore
What is an inner child and what is not?
How to understand and navigate your inner child?
How to deal with our negative self-talk?
How do you break out of impulsive behaviors?
What is an inner child?
An inner child is a metaphor for the emotional part of a person. It’s that small, scared, hurt, and wounded part of yourself that never really grew up. It’s your vulnerability, fear, anxiety, and anger — all those feelings that you were unable to deal with as a child. Your inner child needs healing just like any other aspect of yourself; without it, you can’t be fully present in life as an adult (and many people aren’t).
The Inner child’s role in human intelligence
You may have heard of emotional intelligence or EQ. It’s the ability to understand and process emotions by using them to enhance your relationships and decision-making abilities. When we feel safe with ourselves, our inner child can grow up into a fully developed adult who is able to process feelings in a healthy way.
According to research, having an emotionally intelligent inner child is linked with better mental health and well-being — so it’s important for us all to take care of ourselves on every level (physical, mental and spiritual).
The inner child becomes visible to individuals by adolescence and the inner child’s presence is felt throughout life. And according to a study, people as old as 70 to 91 were able to recognize and remember the presence of an inner child in themselves.
A person with an emotionally intelligent inner child is able to:
Process their emotions tolerably when something upsetting happens
Express themselves in healthy ways (such as asking for what they need)
Manage stress effectively without resorting to unhealthy coping mechanisms like overeating or drinking alcohol excessively
Take care of themselves physically by eating right, exercising regularly, and getting enough sleep at night
Feel secure about themselves because they know their needs will be met even if others don’t understand how important those are to them
What do psychologists have to say about an inner child?
Psychologists say that an inner child isn’t a real person at all — it’s a metaphor for the part of us that is still attached to our childhood. The inner child is thought to be based on emotions and memories from childhood.
The term has been around since the 1970s, but it wasn’t until the 1990s that research began exploring how we can heal our inner child through various forms of meditation, and therapy. Studies have found that many people who have had difficult childhood experiences are struggling with mental health issues as adults because they haven’t faced their past trauma or dealt with any unresolved feelings about their upbringing. Many people are also living in unhealthy relationships and have impulsive behaviors due to feelings of low self-esteem due to early life experiences.
How inner child triggers emotionally impulsive behaviors?
The inner child is very sensitive, and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the emotions that come up when we are triggered by something. When you are feeling triggered, the emotion comes out of nowhere, like a wave crashing over your head. You may not even know what triggered it!
For example, let’s say your mother calls you on the phone and she is being critical of how you raise your children and how they behave at home. You feel angry and hurt by her words but don’t know why because everything she said was true (and you knew this before she said anything). The fact that it was true makes no difference; now all of a sudden, just for that moment in time when she called on the phone with her criticism about raising kids…you feel angry and hurt!
So why does this happen? Because there is an emotional part inside of us that has been wounded from past experiences with our caregivers (including Mommy). This part of us needs healing so that we can stop carrying around all those old wounds from childhood into adulthood — which only leads to more pain down the road in life!
Trauma to neglect to addiction
“…and when go around Vancouver and I see those who have been addicted to substance, I don’t see people, I see trauma.” — Dr. Gabor Mate
Trauma is a term for the psychological, emotional, or physical effects of a shocking, disturbing experience.
Trauma can result from single events, such as a car crash, or from ongoing exposure to violence, abuse, or neglect. It can also be caused by witnessing something traumatic — like a crime or natural disaster — or hearing about it from others.
Neglect and abuse are both types of trauma. Neglect refers to the failure to provide adequate care for a child’s basic needs: food, clothing, shelter, and medical care. Abuse includes physical and sexual abuse as well as emotional maltreatment such as verbal insults and threats of harm.
Many people who suffer from addiction are survivors of childhood trauma. According to renowned trauma psychologist Dr. Gabor Mate, people who experienced childhood abuse or neglect are more likely than others to become addicted to drugs or alcohol later in life.
Addictive behaviors are often rooted in childhood traumas and neglect, which cause people to feel disconnected from their emotions and bodies. This disconnection can lead people to seek out addictive substances and behaviors as a way to escape from their feelings (or even just numb them for a while). But when we use substances or engage in addictive behaviors instead of connecting with ourselves, we are actually reinforcing our disconnection from our true selves — the part that really wants to connect back and integrate with our whole.
Your inner child is a huge part of your life, and it’s not just because you’re a kid at heart. Your inner child is there to help you, support you and take care of you.
But what happens when addiction takes over? When your inner child is no longer able to step in and guide your behavior? You might be surprised to learn that the answer is simple: You become addicted.
Unfortunately, many people don’t realize that their addiction stems from an inability to communicate with their inner child. They work hard to avoid their emotions, which means they can’t connect with their inner child’s needs and wants — and when those needs aren’t met, the addiction starts.
Anxiety triggers, depression triggers, and inner child
A lack of connection with our inner child, our inability to heal our inner child and integrate broken parts of psych back into our whole self demonstrates itself in multiple ways.
Self-sabotage — Many of us were taught to put ourselves down, and this can be a sign that we’re not loving or accepting of our inner child.
Fear of failure — We may be afraid of failing because our inner child has been hurt by people who criticized her or mocked her efforts in the past.
Fear of success — The same is true for success — it’s great when your inner child feels proud about something you accomplished! But sometimes she might feel like you’re getting ahead at someone else’s expense, which can make her feel anxious or guilty (or both).
Need for external validation — Since trauma affects your sense of identity and accomplishment, you are constantly looking for external validation as a way to make sense of your world.
Fear of being judged — On the other hand, this constant need for feedback also causes a humongous fear of being wrong in social situations.
Social anxiety — An extension of the constant need for validation and the resultant fear of being judged by others cause social anxiety, and even depression.
How does the inner child manifest in actions?
As you try to observe your inner child, you’ll notice its manifestations in your life. These are just some examples of how the inner child manifests itself in actions.
Lack of impulse control
Frequent emotional outbursts
Seemingly over-reacting for the smallest things
Feeling hyper-anxious all the time
Depression triggers that cause a downward spiral of negative self-talk and feelings
Emotional triggers that create intense reactions when someone says something hurtful (e.g., criticism) or does something distasteful (e.g., cheating on a partner)
Real-life examples of how the inner child can impact your life
The inner child can impact your relationships
You may have a tendency to take things personally or be overly sensitive to criticism.
You may be overcome by unexplainable grief
You might feel overwhelmed all the time
Even the slightest things seem to affect you hugely
You seem to take almost every reaction as an affront
You might have multiple voices in your head screaming at the same time
You might push people away by judging them, or being critical of them.
You might find it hard to connect with others and form healthy relationships. Your inner child is trying to protect itself from further pain and rejection — but this only makes things worse!
Why healing your inner child is important?
Your inner child is the part of you that needs to be healed. When we are children, we are completely dependent on our parents and caregivers for survival. This means that our emotional states and well-being have to be validated by someone else because we can’t do it alone. In some cases, this validation is not given or received with love and care; instead, there is abuse or neglect taking place in your childhood home environment.
1. Impulsive behaviors and Addiction
Addictions can be caused by trauma in childhood. Often, these traumas lead to feelings of shame or guilt that prevent us from dealing with them appropriately. This can lead us to use addictive behaviors as a coping mechanism.
Let’s take social media addiction as an example. When someone uses social media too much it’s because they’re trying to fill an emotional hole by seeking validation from other people online. They may also use social media as a way to escape reality and avoid their responsibilities because they feel overwhelmed by them. Another example is alcoholism. If we had an alcoholic parent growing up and don’t know how to deal with our own emotions, we might turn to alcohol or drugs when things get tough as adults.
2. Healing Inner Child to break impulsive behaviors
The inner child is an aspect of ourselves that holds onto negative thoughts and beliefs about ourselves and others. It’s important to heal this aspect of ourselves so we can move forward into a more positive future without the need for addictive behaviors!
Addictive behaviors can be seen as a way of coping with a painful past, or an attempt to recreate something positive from the past. The inner child gets triggered by these impulsive behaviors and leads us back into old habits or impulsive behaviors.
3. Inner Child has a deeper impact than willpower
A lot of people think that addiction has something to do with willpower: if they just try harder, they can stop themselves from engaging in certain impulsive behaviors like drinking alcohol or taking drugs. But this isn’t true at all! Addictive behaviors are actually rooted in our unconscious mind — that part of our brain where memories have been stored since childhood — and many people aren’t even aware they have an issue until it manifests itself as a full-blown addiction later on down the road!
Our inner child is the part of us that we were as children. It’s the part of us that is playful and creative, curious and innocent. The inner child is also the part of us that feels things deeply, even though we may not have words for those feelings yet.
The role of the inner child in perception
In order to process the traumas of your past and heal from them, it’s important to understand how these traumas continue to influence your life today. When a child experiences an abusive situation — such as physical abuse from their parents — their mind will automatically try to make sense of what just happened by creating stories about why it happened (the “why?”) and who was responsible (“who did this?”). When such conceptions are made in difficult and challenging environments (such as an abusive or isolating parent), the child ends up with mental models (“I don’t deserve love”) that will make their life as an adult miserable.
How to know if your inner child needs healing?
1. You feel emotionally numb or shut down If you are feeling emotionally numb and it’s difficult for you to express your feelings, this could be a sign that your inner child needs healing. Your inner child is the part of yourself that wants to feel all the emotions: happiness, sadness, anger, and fear. When these are not being expressed in a healthy way it can lead to an inability to communicate properly with others.
2. You feel anxious, stressed, or depressed This could be an indication that there is some deep pain inside which is causing emotional distress due to neglect during childhood (for example behaviorally challenged parents). The emotional pain may have been caused by physical abuse or neglect as well as sexual abuse — all these situations will cause emotional trauma in children when they occur at an early age before they have developed proper coping skills such as assertiveness training or problem-solving techniques for dealing with difficult situations successfully in adulthood. When such skills are absent, you start acting impulsively on emotions alone (which leads only to further problems).
3. You are disconnected from yourself When having a lack of connection with your own self, it means that your inner child needs healing. The challenge here is that for many who faced trauma as a child, they have been disconnected from themselves for so long that they think it’s normal. If you consistently have problems building deep relationships with others, you find yourself recluse or closed to new experiences, or find communicating your emotions too difficult — chances are that you are not as connected to yourself as you need to be and your inner child might need some healing for you to make progress.
The Inner Child Healing Process
Following are the steps involved in healing your inner child.
1. Explore your inner child
Here are some ways you can explore your inner child:
Look at old photos of yourself. What emotions do they evoke? How did you feel in those situations?
Write a letter to yourself as a child and ask questions like, “What were your favorite things to do?” or “What were your favorite toys?” Then write back about
If there’s something in particular that has been bothering the child part of you lately, work on healing it together. For example, if there’s an issue between two people in one of their lives — a friend or family member — the adult side might talk out their feelings while the child listens and offers comfort.
You could also use visualization techniques like guided imagery to help relax and explore your emotions.
You can use inner self-exploration tools like Konvos, which provides you with a series of explorative questions that can help you make sense of your emotions and explore your inner child in ways that you become aware of hidden biases and beliefs that have been limiting you.
2. Understand the inner child
In order to heal your inner child, you need to understand who they are. This can be a difficult task because the inner child’s needs and personality are different from yours as an adult. The best way to do this is by exploring their life story and looking at how they’ve grown up in the past, what their present situation looks like, and how they would like things to be in the future.
Understanding these things will help you understand what it is that your inner child needs from you so that you can give them what they need in order for them to have a healthier relationship with themselves as an adult.
For example, are you constantly looking for validation from others? This could mean that as a child there might not have been enough positive reinforcements in your environment. You can solve it now as an adult by regularly collecting feedback from the environment. This will give you an idea of how well you are doing with your goals and the progress you are making.
3. Identify how your inner child manifests
As you begin to practice self-care, you will notice a shift in how your inner child manifests. You may find that the way your inner child has been acting up is showing up less often and less intensely. This can be a good indicator that you are on the right track. If this shift isn’t happening, take some time to reflect on what might be getting in the way of healing your inner child.
4. Find your inner child’s age and gender
To find your inner child’s age and gender, think about when you were a child. If you were born in the late 1980s, for example, it’s likely that your inner child is around 8 years old. If you were born in the early 1950s it’s likely that your inner child is around 40 years old.
As an adult, one of the most important things to do is to know what’s going on with your own mind and heart. If we don’t take care of ourselves we could end up with health problems like diabetes or depression which can make it harder for us to work effectively or live life fully!
When you get better at being aware of how you’re feeling inside then eventually your emotions will feel less intense and overwhelming so there won’t be so much pain involved anymore when something bad happens — instead, there may just be sadness at times instead.
5. Get to the bottom of your inner child’s needs.
The next step is to get to know your inner child. In order to be able to heal their wounds and take care of their needs, it’s essential that you understand what they need from you.
What are my inner child’s needs? If I were a parent, what would I try to give them? What feels good for them? Is there anything that makes them feel angry or sad? What do they want most in life right now?
What are my inner child’s fears about me becoming an adult or growing up (not being loved, not having enough money, etc.)? How can I help my inner child overcome these fears? For example, My mom didn’t have time for me when she got married again so instead she let me watch TV all day long while she was busy working at the hospital; now whenever someone comes over I feel like running away because then no one will notice how lazy I am!
6. Understand how trauma has affected your inner child
In order to heal the inner child, it is important to understand what trauma is and how it has affected your inner child. Trauma happens when you experience an event that threatens your physical, emotional, or psychological safety. A traumatic event can be anything from a car accident to being sexually abused as a child. Traumatic events can happen anywhere and at any time, but when such events occur repeatedly over many years (e.g., growing up in an abusive household), they become even more devastating for children who are unable to process them effectively or make sense of them as they occur.
The opposite of Trauma is Safety
When children experience repeated abuse or neglect at home, they learn that there is no safe place in the world — not even home. This type of exposure leaves lasting scars on their self-esteem and ability to trust others because they do not have anyone they can turn to when things get bad; instead, these kids must rely on themselves alone for comfort and safety which makes them feel like no one cares about them either way — even those closest (parents) whom should love unconditionally not only fail but may actually hurt emotionally too much damage done).
7. Learn how to talk to your inner child
When you talk to your inner child, do it in a way that is age-appropriate.
a. Use a gentle and kind voice.
b. Use a loving, nurturing tone of voice that makes them feel safe and secure.
c. Be patient and empathetic with them when they ask for your help or if they are upset about something.
d. You can also use an understanding tone of voice if the child comes up with an original idea (this will make sure she feels accepted).
8. Navigate your negative self-talk
The next step is to understand how your negative self-talk plays a critical role in how you view yourself. You might ask yourself “why do I need a positive self-image?” but that’s not the right question. The better question would be “how can my self-talk affect me?”
Since our mind is very powerful, it can either help us or hinder us from achieving our goals and dreams. If you have an unhelpful belief about yourself, this will lead to behaviors such as avoidance, procrastination, and low motivation. The negative self-talk affects the way we feel about ourselves; for example, if you think “I’m not good enough” then you’re likely going to feel bad about yourself and experience low self-esteem which means that change will be harder for you because of these limiting beliefs!
9. Acknowledge and validate your inner child.
Acknowledging your inner child is the first step in healing them. As you acknowledge their feelings and validate those feelings, it will help you heal as well.
You can acknowledge your inner child by saying things like:
“This must be hard for you.”
“I know that this hurts.”
“I am sorry that happened to you. “
“That must have been so painful.”
“I wish I could have been there for you then, but now I am here for you now”
“It’s okay to cry about it if that makes it easier for both of us to heal.”
10. Reframe negative self-talk about your past
When you are struggling with negative self-talk, reframing is an excellent way to focus your mind on the positive. Here are some tips for reframing negative self-talk about your past:
Identify the specific negative self-talk that is bothering you. For example, if you’re feeling bad because of a fight with someone you love, then ask yourself what your inner thoughts are about this person and about their behavior. Then ask yourself how these thoughts may be untrue or distorted in some way.
Reframe your emotions by asking yourself questions such as “What’s another way of looking at this?” and “How do I want to feel about this situation?” In other words, instead of telling yourself that no one likes you or believing that everyone hates your guts, try asking yourself if there could be another explanation for why someone acted like they did towards you (e.g., maybe they were having a bad day) or come up with a different perspective on how people go through life sometimes (e.g., not everyone has time for everyone else).
Again, a negative self-talk intervention tool like Konvos can help you to actively intercede your negative self-talk and focus on emotions that help you transcend.
11. Integrate traumatic memory back into your life
Acknowledge and validate your inner child.
Realize that your inner child is a part of you.
Accept that your inner child is a part of you.
Understand that it’s okay to have an inner child because everyone has one!
12. Learn to accept love from others.
It’s important to accept that you need healing, which is the first step in the process.
Acceptance is not approval. If someone abuses you or mistreats you in any way, it’s understandable that you may feel angry and want to reject their actions and anything associated with them. But doing so will only prevent them from offering their support during this time. It’s better for everyone if they can be there for you when it matters most — and this will only happen if they are allowed into your life again once the dust has settled.
Acceptance does not equal forgiveness or condoning abuse of any kind (physical, emotional, sexual). Forgiveness can come later when both parties have been able to reflect on what took place between them and decide together how best to move forward as friends or lovers rather than enemies who hate each other forever.
13. Understand and accept your inner child
Finally, understanding and accepting your inner child can be incredibly healing. The inner child is an integral part of you and cannot be changed or eliminated. If you try to change or get rid of this part of yourself, it will only end up manifesting in other ways — usually through destructive behaviors like eating disorders or addictions. If you want to heal from these issues, all it takes is for you to accept them as a part of who you are.
The good news is that once you understand and accept this aspect of yourself, there are many ways that it can help make life richer and easier to live with!
Role of emotional exploration in healing your inner child
The primary goal of emotional exploration is to understand your own emotions and the emotions of others. Emotional exploration is the act of exploring your own feelings and those of others, which can be helpful in understanding why you might feel hurt or angry by something someone says or does. The more you understand what makes you upset, the easier it will be for you to cope with those feelings when they come up again in the future.
This knowledge can also help others understand what makes you upset (and therefore avoid upsetting you), which can prevent unnecessary arguments from arising between friends or family members. Moreover, if someone else is upset by something that happened in their life — whether it’s a change at work or losing a loved one — emotional exploration could help them realize how much strength it takes for them not only accept these changes but also move forward with their life despite them.
Would you need professional help?
If you have a lot of inner child issues, it may be a good idea to see a therapist. A therapist can help you figure out what’s going on and how to work through your problems. Therapy won’t work for everyone, but if you feel like it could be helpful, give it a try!
One thing that might help is cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT is based on the assumption that our thoughts and beliefs influence how we feel about ourselves and others. For example, if someone has low self-esteem (ego), they may believe things like: “I’m not good enough.” or “No one likes me.” The problem with these kinds of negative self-talk is that they often make us feel bad about ourselves, which in turn makes us more likely to act negatively towards ourselves or other people
Tools and methods that can help your inner child
There are many ways to help your inner child. The following are just a few of the ones that have been proven to be effective:
Talkspace — An online therapy company that helps you find such professionals online.
Konvos — Self-talk rewiring routines that allow you to integrate your hidden beliefs and biases as a part of your whole self
Headspace — Meditation techniques to sleep easy
Breathwrk — Breathing techniques to sleep easy
CBT companion — A companion app to practice Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) techniques.
Resources for further reading
For those who want to dig deeper into the topic of inner children, here are some books that can help:
The Inner Child Workbook by Kazimierz Dabrowski.
The Drama Of The Gifted Child by Alice Miller.
The Body keeps the count by Dr.Bessel Van Der Kolk
Why Zebras don’t get ulcers by Robert Sapolsky
The strange order of things by Antonia Damasio
The Wisdom of Trauma by Dr.Gabor Mate
Your behavior is a result of your past experiences, cognition, and conscious interactions with the world. Your emotions are key aspects of this ecosystem that inform us on how to perceive, think, and act. In this context, Inner child healing can be an incredibly powerful practice, can help you to unravel the reasons why you feel the way you do and change them in ways that’s valuable to your life.
PC - Freepik.com