Everyone’s childhood is different. Some people have fond memories of running through a sprinkler on a hot day, playing with siblings and creating recollections that form their behaviours and personalities at an early age.
However, as a person grows up and enters early adulthood they are often told to be professional, more mature and to suppress that child-like nature that made them who they are. This suppressed child-like nature is referred to as the “inner child.” The concept was created by psychiatrist Carl Jung, who says that everyone has an inner child.
A person’s inner child is the part of themselves that was created during their early stages of life. It is formed by childhood experiences and determines a person’s strengths. This also means that a traumatic childhood can create a damaged inner child, which can make it difficult to flourish as an adult.
Esme Fuller-Thomson, a professor of social work at the University of Toronto and director of the Institute for Life Course & Aging, says that childhood trauma can be caused in many ways.
“There’s a lot of research indicating that childhood maltreatment, whether that’s physical abuse, sexual abuse or chronic exposure to parental domestic violence, can be traumatic for children and these traumas can—they don’t have to—but they can have life long impact,” Fuller-Thomson says.
Childhood trauma is defined as an experience that is emotionally painful or distressful. A wounded inner child can also be caused by neglect, loss of a loved one, abandonment or other traumatic events.
In order for someone to heal their inner child, they should address their childhood trauma. Fuller-Thomson says that not treating childhood trauma can lead to mental health consequences, such as post-traumatic stress disorder and suicidal thoughts.
She says that there can also be consequences for an individual’s physical health.
“It turns out that people who have been maltreated have a heightened risk of later developing a whole range of diseases including cancer, heart disease, ulcerative colitis, peptic ulcers, almost any disease the risk seems to be higher among those who have had a childhood that was traumatic,” she says.
However, Fuller-Thomson says that an individual with an injured inner child will not always have a bad life.
“I’ve done research indicating that many people who’ve been abused actually do fine,” Fuller-Thomson says. “So some of them may have not addressed it and managed to work through it without ever addressing it. And the people who are most resilient are the people who have a great deal of social support.”
For those who are looking to treat their childhood trauma through professional therapy, Fuller-Thomson suggests cognitive behavioural therapy. “There’s one called trauma-focused cognitive behavioural therapy and the research is excellent,” she says. “It certainly helps if a child has been exposed to trauma and you treat the child. But it also works really well with adults who haven’t dealt with the trauma from when they were children.”
There are also some alternative methods that are more private and can be done at home. Whether or not an individual has endured childhood trauma, it can still be beneficial to get in tune with themselves.
Here are some ways to reconnect and heal an inner child:
Do creative and nostalgic activities
Many people find their love for creative activities in their childhood. You can reconnect with your inner child by doing creative activities that produce the feeling of nostalgia.
Examples include cooking the same recipe you did with a parent, colouring in a children’s colouring book or any activity that can take you back to a pleasant childhood memory and away from adult stresses.
Write to your inner child
If doing creative activities doesn’t do the trick, speaking or writing to your inner child directly may help. Expressing your thoughts on paper can make it easier to identify why you may have certain fears or bad habits. You should make a list of questions to ask your inner child and then write down your answers honestly.
Negotiate with your inner critic
Everyone has an inner critic and it can get in the way if you’re trying to reconnect with your inner child. Your inner critic can make you doubt yourself throughout your healing journey. It may tell you that healing your inner child is useless.
In order to persevere with your healing journey, you need to listen to the voices of your inner critic and your inner child. When healing your inner child, prioritize that voice in the moment. But later ask your inner critic why it tries to tear you down.
Healing or connecting to your inner child has many obstacles. But it’s worth the process because it can help you understand your emotions and behaviours.