What is Inner Child Work?
What is an inner child? Do you have an inner child? Does the term “inner child work” seem silly to you? How can it benefit you? What happens if you ignore your inner child?
So, let’s look at answering those questions. An inner child is the little boy or girl inside of us that got stuck because his or her needs were not met. If you don’t do any healing work with your inner child, that can result in difficulty with being emotionally mature as an adult. That alone can cause difficulty in every aspect of your life.
As for the question of whether or not you have an inner child, the answer is yes. We all have an inner child. Most of us are just not connected to ours. Learning to love yourself is often the amazing result of working with your inner child. Who doesn’t want to find ways to begin learning to love yourself? Nobody!
Thinking about your inner child can seem silly for many. However, if you start analyzing some of your behaviors as an adult you will probably find that some of them actually seem quite silly too. The reason for this is that your inner child is stuck at a young age. That is showing up for you in unhealthy ways as an adult.
Inner Child Work Benefits
The benefits of working with your inner child are some of the greatest I have ever seen for myself and with patients as a psychotherapist. It allows us to heal wounds from childhood that are both conscious and subconscious. I’ll explain this more in-depth, so don’t stop reading here. If you want to learn how to do your own work with your inner child, click here to read 5 Steps for Working with the Inner Child.
Ignoring your inner child wounds can often leave you feeling as though you are emotionally disturbed. I am sure you have encountered people you have believed were emotionally disturbed.
Please know that there are varying degrees to being emotionally disturbed. I am not just referring to people who are serial killers. We are all emotionally disturbed in some way. That is often a result of the struggle in learning to love yourself.
Are you thoroughly confused yet? If so, I completely understand. When I began doing my own work with my inner child in therapy, I was very resistant. If I am totally honest, I thought it sounded pretty dumb and like bogus garbage.
As with all of my posts, I will give you some examples of how to do this. I’ll also explain how we become emotionally attached to our behaviors we learn as children. To start off, I will use myself as an example.
Examples of Working with the Inner Child
When I was a child, I didn’t get the healthy attention I needed. I am not shaming or blaming my parents for this, nor should you. For my parents, they were clueless for the most part about how they were so emotionally unavailable for me. If you want to read more about Emotionally Unavailable Parents, read this post.
In elementary school, I was the kid who was the “teacher’s pet.” I wanted my teachers to love me and see that I was worthy of attention. I became emotionally attached to my teachers in unhealthy ways because I needed more and more attention. I can remember my mom questioning teachers when they would tell her what a good kid I was in their classroom.
Sadly, it even became a family joke. My mom would tell stories about teachers calling to say how much they enjoyed me being in their classroom. She would say, “Are you sure you’re talking about the little redheaded girl? I don’t think you could possibly be talking about her because she is not a good kid at home.”
That still brings me sadness for my own inner child when I think about that. I could go on and on about different experiences where I found my inner child needed me, but I’ll stick with this example.
Being Emotionally Attached to Childhood Behaviors
While attempting to get attention as a child by doing anything and everything to make my teachers like me and show me that I had value, I also got stuck at that age emotionally.
This is often what happens to us when we have an unmet need as a child. I found a way to get my needs met from teachers, but the innate human need to get that from my parents was still unmet.
Due to that, my adolescence and early adulthood resulted in me trying almost anything and everything to get attention from anybody and everybody. Oh, how just typing that brings back so many memories!
Learning to Love Inner Child
Learning to love myself while doing working with my inner child allowed me to release the shame I had around that teenager and young adult I was. Realizing that I was not a “bad person” was tough.
However, I began to see that I was a good person who wanted so badly to be loved and given attention. I was never taught how to do that. Therefore, I had to learn how to do it myself. That means I struggled greatly until I figured out the healthy way to do it. Inner child work is how I did that.
Effects of Ignoring Your Inner Child
Ok, let’s look at another example of how you can become emotionally attached to unhealthy behaviors from childhood. Consider a child, named Sam, who has a mom with a lot of Not Good Enough Stuff that she puts on him. To learn about what I mean about Not Good Enough Stuff, click here.
Mom is very insecure about all aspects of her life. She learned in childhood that you have to look and act a certain way so that others will accept you. All of that “stuff” was put on her as a child. No matter how she dressed, behaved, did in school, sports or other activities; it was never good enough.
Mom’s own fear of never being good enough or belief that she could always be better is thrust upon Sam. Be aware, parents do not typically do this intentionally. It is usually very subconscious.
Inner Child and Not Good Enough Stuff
Sam, who has that Not Good Enough Stuff from his mom, then begins growing his own huge pile of Not Good Enough Stuff. His Not Good Enough Stuff causes many different beliefs about himself. When we have negative false beliefs about ourselves, we create behaviors to match those beliefs.
For Sam in particular, he begins studying and practicing baseball to the point that he is constantly exhausted. Some of his negative false beliefs are that he is not smart and not a good athlete.
If Sam gets any grade below an A+, he believes he has failed. He punishes himself in many different ways, such as not allowing time for anything enjoyable, just studying. That is not ok for any child. All children need time to play and enjoy life.
With baseball, if Sam doesn’t hit a home run in every baseball game, just like with school, he punishes himself. He has to spend all of his savings on a new bat to prove to himself that just one more little thing like a new bat could make him better.
That is how Sam’s negative false beliefs turn into behaviors. His punishments for not being perfect follow him into adulthood. From this, Sam has become emotionally attached to unhealthy behaviors of punishing himself when he is not perfect.
Results of Being Emotionally Attached to Behaviors from Childhood
In adulthood, Sam will probably be the guy who stays late at the office every night and goes in early every morning. Even with that, he tells himself he is still not doing enough and should do better. Does that sound familiar to what Mom learned in her childhood? Of course it does!
With Sam working so much, he then feels ashamed of himself for not being a better husband and father because he is at work too much. Due to that, Sam revisits his childhood behavior that was emotionally attached to his negative false belief of never being good enough.
Sam begins punishing himself for not being a good enough employee, husband or father. The way he punishes himself can be very different from childhood. He might start verbally punishing himself with negative self talk.
Unfortunately, Sam might even go so far as getting a divorce and rarely seeing his children. The reason for that would be that he is punishing himself for not being the perfect father. He believes his children and wife are better off without him. I have seen that happen so many times. It is always sad for everyone involved.
Neglecting Your Inner Child
For those of you who aren’t aware of your inner child, chances are that you do not treat your inner child well. It’s highly probable that you neglect your inner child just as he or she was neglected in childhood.
Now, that’s a sad thought. Don’t get too lost in that though. As I always say, if you weren’t taught how to do something, it’s almost impossible to do it. You can begin working with your inner child and learn how to function from an adult mindset and be emotionally mature. That’s the goal of doing work with your inner child.
Trust me. There are very few of us adults who are operating from our “adult selves.” Even with my having done a lot of work with my own inner child, I still slip into behaviors that I was emotionally attached to in my childhood.
How To Recognize the Needs of Your Inner Child
Usually, I can catch myself when that happens. I recognize what young age the behavior feels like. Then, I think about what was going on for me at that age. Once I’ve done that, I am able to see what I needed at that age. That allows me to be more emotionally mature in whatever situation is occurring.
From there, I give my inner child what she needed, but didn’t get. I can’t tell you how to meet the needs of your inner child because that is something only you will know and be able to do. I will give you one example that works for me.
When I realize that my inner child needs healthy attention, I simply call a friend to chat about what is on my mind. I have some really amazing friends. Doing that allows me to see that I matter and that somebody “sees” me, hears me and gives me attention with their time.
You get to figure out what works to meet the needs of your own inner child. Please understand that this is not easy. You may have to try many different things. Just know that you WILL find something that helps you heal when working with your own inner child.
Hopefully, you have a better understanding about what an inner child is and how to work with yours. You should be able to acknowledge that you have an inner child who probably needs you.
It’s possible that you can even acknowledge now that you might be emotionally attached to childhood behaviors. That results in you struggling to be emotionally mature as an adult. If that happens, you may find yourself feeling ashamed of how you show signs that you are emotionally disturbed. If you want to learn how to connect to your inner child, click here to read 6 Steps to Find Inner Child Needs/Ways to Love Yourself.
Learning to Love Yourself
Do NOT beat yourself up for that. As I said earlier, we all are emotionally disturbed in some way. However, we can always heal. If you are recognizing that some of your behaviors feel like that of a young child, you are probably correct in that.
The good news is that with working with your inner child, you can begin to heal that and “grow” your inner child up. That can allow you to be fully present in your adult life to rewire your brain where you are emotionally attached to behaviors from your childhood.
My hope in writing this post is that you can become aware of what an inner child is and the importance of doing inner child work. I would love to hear how you are doing this. So, please comment below and share with us the healing you are working towards!
As always, my advice is to find a licensed therapist to help you navigate the healing of your inner child. It can be really hard to do on your own. Make sure the therapist you see is familiar with and well-versed in doing work with the inner child.
Now, spend a little time thinking about your inner child. What age comes to your mind? What were his or her needs? How can you meet those needs now? What does your inner child deserve? After doing that, please go practice some self-care!
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.