Embracing Your Inner Child and Decreasing Negative Self-Talk
“Look who ate the whole Thanksgiving turkey, girls.” The small group of three or four older, and by the rules of social logic cooler, girls snickered as I walked past toward the mirrored dance floor. It was my turn to join my fellow Kindergarten ballerinas in front of the wall of mirrors and strut my stuff. But suddenly I found myself feeling hot in my cheeks, a little woozy in my stomach, and a LOT embarrassed about…my body??
I hadn’t ever thought of my body except as the meat suit that let me jump and run and play, but now somehow it felt big and heavy and very visible. Now, my tummy seemed huge and in my way. I felt a lump in my throat and my eyes got blurry.
I tried not to cry but for some reason these mean words from the older girls cut like a knife and the tears started to stream down my face. That was thirty-five long years ago and I remember it like it was yesterday. That day I decided some things about myself, about vulnerability, and about the world. I have worked hard in therapy to heal that particular wounding and based on the gut reaction I am having to writing about it, I need to continue that work.
Need for Belonging
According to Abraham Maslow, our need to feel loved and to belong are vital to our growth and development as a person. In fact, it is SO important that without a sense of belonging we cannot establish a healthy sense of self-esteem or self-actualization. In other words, to be the best version of ourselves, thriving and feeling good about who we are, we have to find our place with others.
Humans are social creatures who need to fulfil a sense of belonging to feel whole. In energy work, the root chakra at the base of the spine is the seat of belonging. It’s where we feel connected to others, and it is the base of our entire energetic field.
Once our physical needs are met, we strive for safety and once we feel safe to exist, we seek others to help us feel connected. Only then are we free to explore who we are in relation to the world around us and begin to build that self-esteem we need to realize our full potential.
When We Don’t Find Belonging
So, what happens if in our expedition out into the social world we don’t find belonging? What happens when we don’t seem to fit? In my several years of clinical experience as a psychotherapist, and in my personal journey toward healing, I have found that many of us internalize the negative messaging that we receive from others from a very early age.
We tend to build our identity on who the world tells us we are long before we decide who we truly are for ourselves. This is in line with Maslow’s work 100%. Before we build a strong self-concept, we take in the messages from the outside world about who we are and who we should be.
This includes how we decide to show up in the world. So, if our younger, vulnerable self receives negative messages, we often internalize that and make it our self-talk.
This negative self-talk is not only damaging to ourselves and our relationships, but it also keeps our inner child imprisoned in a dysfunctional cell of self-hatred and criticism. Let’s talk about how to care for and begin embracing your inner child to reduce those negative self-talk patterns we erroneously pick up as small, innocent children.
What is Negative Self-Talk
Negative self-talk is that tiny voice in the back of your mind that tells you that you aren’t good enough. If you want to learn more about how negative self-talk is created in childhood, click here. It can take on many forms, but with my psychotherapy clients it usually comes back to feelings of unworthiness and not measuring up. But have you ever asked yourself what you’re not good enough for?
When I pose this question, no one seems to know. Sometimes I get answers such as “I’m not good enough to be loved” or “I’m not good enough to be successful.” But who told you that you weren’t good enough for anything? Where did these messages come from?
Like we talked about earlier, these messages usually form very early in our development, by the time we are five or six. How many Kindergarteners do you trust to do your taxes or change your oil? Yet you wholly trust the decisions you made about your worthiness and your place in the world that you made before you hit puberty.
Take a moment to sit with that. You deserve to re-evaluate your decision-making process from a more informed vantage point. To do this, we need to go within and talk to the wounded inner child who identifies with these statements. If you aren’t sure what Inner Child Work is, click here to gain a better understanding to guide you in the Four Steps for Embracing Your Inner Child.
Four Steps for Embracing Your Inner Child
When our inner child feels cared for, our internal negative self-talk often lessens a great deal. It’s easier to eliminate negative self-talk when we care for our inner child. CARE is an acronym you can use to remember these steps to healing and embracing your inner child wounds. CARE stands for Commit, Accept, Reassure, and Embrace.
- Commit to recognizing and spending time with your inner child. You can do this by setting an intention to simply listen to your inner child. The inner child is a part of you that longs for you to remember that they exist. So often we get distracted by the busyness of our lives. We project outward all the difficult emotions that we are unwilling or unable to sit with.
Taking the time to recognize that these emotions are messages from your inner child will help you begin to process those feelings and respond to the world around you in healthier ways. What is that anger trying to tell you? What do those feelings of loss and sadness need you to know? Sit with those feelings and really try to clearly hear the message.
- Accept your inner child exactly as they are. Negative self-talk often stems from an unwillingness to accept our inner selves as they are rather than how we are taught they “should” be. The word “should” can be a very dangerous word for the inner child. I tell my clients that should and shame are sisters and we don’t hang out with either of them.
When we are convinced that our efforts are not enough, that we SHOULD have done something differently, we are not truly accepting ourselves and we create a sense of lack in our self-concept. Negative self-talk examples might include phrases such as “I am not good enough” or “I should be doing more” etc. These are not helpful! Practice accepting your inner child just as they are without conditions.
- Reassure them that you love them and forgive them even if they have made poor choices in the past. Just like you would not disown your child for making certain choices, you do not need to continue to berate yourself for the times you made choices that did not work out the way you had hoped. You were only doing the best you could.
Positive self-talk is helpful here. Some positive self-talk examples might include “I am doing the best I can” or “I am loved and loving”. Shifting from negative thinking such as “I should have done that better” or “I am difficult to love” to the positive self-talk examples listed above will help you have more grace and love toward yourself and others.
You deserve your own love regardless of whether other people have been very loving toward you in the past. Mirror work can be a very effective tool for learning to love yourself. One of my favorite books on the subject is Mirror Work, by Louise Hay. It is one of my preferred resources personally and professionally.
- Embracing your inner child by choosing to enjoy life. When we take time to do things we enjoy and have fun in life, our inner child thrives. You could also literally embrace yourself. Giving yourself a hug is a powerful tool you can use to feel secure and loved. Science backs this concept. In fact, studies show that a self-hug can reduce physical pain and improve mood.
So, give yourself a squeeze. Metaphorically speaking, embracing your inner child might look like taking time to do something fun! Play is often neglected the older we get, and we forget that we need fun in our lives. Whether it’s playing a game, painting a picture, putting a puzzle together, or watching your favorite sport, do something you truly love! In this way you’ll be sending the message loud and clear that you value yourself and your time and love spending time with your inner child.
A Note on Forgiveness
Forgiveness work is so important to our healing. We cannot carry around hurt and anger in our hearts and expect a good, healthy life. It is normal to feel anger when our boundaries are crossed. It’s natural to feel hurt when others are reckless with our feelings. But often the hardest person to forgive is ourselves.
Forgiveness of self is SO important to healing the wounded child within. Repeat after me, “I have done the best I can, I am doing the best I can, and I will choose to do the best I can.” When we recognize and accept that our best looks different from day to day, week to week, and season to season in our lives, we can begin to forgive ourselves for decisions that we have made in the past. The past is gone. Forgive the version of yourself that made those “mistakes” and move forward with love.
As I reminisce about the times in my life where others were not so loving toward me, where I didn’t love myself well, or I wasn’t loving toward others, I am thankful that every day is a new opportunity to choose differently. None of us will ever be perfect, but our self-talk can be reflective of our gratitude for the chances to improve and be more loving and kinder every day.
Wisdom grows with experience and there is a lot of wisdom in allowing. Allow yourself to be exactly as you are and allow others to be who they need to be for their soul’s growth. The important thing to remember is to love and allow others to love you back. That is how you can heal and begin embracing your inner children and through that, heal the world.
Written by Dr. Erica Montgomery, Ph.D, LPC-S
This site is only intended for people who are truly willing to look at themselves with an open mind and have the ability to truly be vulnerable with themselves and others. Please understand that this site is in NO WAY THERAPEUTIC ADVICE. However, this site can be very beneficial in learning the causes of your Not Good Enough Stuff. This site is not intended to provide or replace medical or psychiatric treatment. Mary Beth HIGHLY RECOMMENDS finding a licensed therapist to help you process the information from this site and all that you learn about yourself. Visit Psychology Today to find a licensed therapist in your area.