In this week’s post, NYC therapist Judy Choix, LMHC, introduces us to the topic of “inner child” and explains how contacting the inner child can be helpful for improving our relationships as adults.
Judy leads us through a helpful exercise, offering a practical application that readers can try on their own or with a trusted person as a witness.
Relationships can be challenging. What makes them even more challenging is when our adult behaviors reflect the unmet needs we had as children.
In this picture above, the sculpture displayed at Burning Man titled "LOVE" says it all. In this post, we will visit the importance of healing our past inner child wounds and how that can greatly affect the quality of our present-day relationships.
The inner child encompasses the parts of our psyche that retain the qualities we all possessed as children. The joyful energies of creativity, curiosity, playfulness, and spontaneity are potent: they can mobilize a collapsed system and be a catalyst in the healing process.
Inner child also describes parts of us that have been deeply wounded. Various incidents in our childhood, especially highly charged ones, that left us hopeless, sad, angry, scarred and/or unsupported live unchanged in our energy field.
Why does this happen? At the time when they occurred, our little systems were not developmentally equipped to process such a large charge, usually coming at us from an adult who had more power than us. We simply did not have the cognition to understand what was happening and often there was no supportive presence to explain it to us. So, the emotion was left unprocessed and frozen in our energy field. These early experiences leave “markers” in our body, mind, and spirit that show up in adulthood as thoughts, beliefs, images, energy tones and habits.
The inner child in us unconsciously re-creates the childhood environment by projecting roles of significant others such as parents and siblings on current relationships. The unmet need of the wounded child wants to get met and re-creates the situation in the hopes of making that happen. For example, unresolved issues with a father or other authority figure will get projected onto our boss. And if we were hurt by excessive criticism by our parents, our inner child will scan faces, voices, behaviors, and gestures looking for and therefore finding signs of criticism in the environment while overriding signs of love and support.
When we reconnect and resolve our childhood issues we reprogram the negative conditioning of the past with something more positive.
Energies held in the system can be experienced and processed. The childlike qualities that were being held hostage become available to complete the developmental learning that did not take place in childhood. These learnings create the self-esteem and the safe boundaries that we need to be open, tolerant, non-judgmental, spontaneous, loving and cooperative rather than forever on guard.
One way to heal our younger selves is to access the “charged” childhood memory and re-experience it with what I call the Six C’s:
Contact, Compassion, Conversation, Cognition, Connection, Consolation
You may want to try the below visualization. I suggest reading through the visualization once before attempting it. Also, plan for a least one hour to give yourself plenty of time. Often it helps to do this work with a witness such as a therapist or trained professional to help monitor and mediate the work.
Sit or lay down in a comfortable, quiet space. Become aware of your breath. Consciously take a slow deep breath in and exhale gently.
If you feel any tension in your body, focus on that area and breathe into it, releasing the tension with the out breath. Allow the breath to relax your muscles, and any tension you may be holding. Breathe in slowly and breathe out gently.
The following process is a journey to heal your inner child. Please take it slowly, as past pain and emotion can rise to the surface. If this happens, stop and take several deep breaths and visualize a light transmuting this emotion, bringing you back to a state of calm. If you feel calm continue, otherwise you may have done enough for now.
Picture yourself as a small child. Usually, we can remember a time between the ages of 3 and 12 when we were hurt, angry or neglected. Slowly invite all your senses into the experience. Remember the place, what you were wearing, any smells and lastly what you were feeling in your body. Invite all that into your awareness as if it was a movie. No judgment, no comment - just invitation, just watching.
Stay as long as you need in the scene to feel the emotion. Know that emotions come in waves of three so, for instance, there can be anger, sadness, hurt and there is always confusion.
Now visualize light shining on you, slowly getting brighter and stronger. The light may appear as a specific color.
If at any time you feel overwhelmed by emotion, slow down the process by taking a few deep breaths. When you feel calmer, take up where you left off.
There is no rush, and slower is better than faster. You can always stop altogether if need be.
This can be the most challenging part of this exercise. The residual of negative early experiences leave a mark on our self-esteem. To show themselves, early parts have to trust that you will be there for them as a supportive, non-shaming ally to validate the abandonment, neglect, abuse, and enmeshment. Only when we show up in this way can true healing happen.
If you are having a difficult time showing compassion to your younger self, invite someone’s energy in to help, such as your own child, a niece or a loved younger person the age that you are working with.
With your most loving eyes, look into your little child’s eyes. Take in the emotions, validating them and then send love to your hurt child. Create an energy that is reciprocal, back and forth. This is important since at the time of the hurt no one was there to witness and help contain the charge. You can change that now.
Gently approach your little one. Ask what is going on. Encourage any bodily sensations to arise in your awareness. Ask what’s needed that might helpful. If there is an adult in the space, they may want them to go away, say or do something. Ask what wants to “be done” or said.
Listen, and in your imagination, slowly, even if it seems unrealistic to your rational brain, allow whatever comes up to happen while your adult self is there protecting and supporting your child. Finish the unfinished verbal and physical action that wasn’t completed at the time.
After that, there can be a huge shift in energy.
At this point, it is helpful to ask our child if they want to be held and comforted. During this process always offer support.
Some self-nurturing things you might consider saying to your inner child include: “I love you. I hear you. I’m sorry you had to go through that alone but I am with you now. Thank you for being so strong and getting us through that, we made it and we are here now because of your resilience and strength.” Always await a response and create a dialog.
Now we can elicit your adult brain to join the conversation. Making sense of the aftermath of a held negative early experience will lead to organization on every level of the system. Fragmented memories need to be reentered, reframed, and given a cohesive narrative with the cognitive abilities of logic that were not available at the time of the incident.
With your adult brain present, work with your child self to create a new narrative that “makes sense.” With your adult brain tell your child that they were not to blame, they did nothing wrong. After all, making mistakes is a vital part of growing up and developmentally appropriate! All too often, it was the adult that was inappropriate in their action or reaction.
With your adult cognition, update the event and give language to what happened. Be the adult support that was not there to witness and make sense then.
Let your child tell you things they couldn’t say then. Revisit the negative story that was held and reframe it to a positive one of resilience and growth. Change the mindset!
By inviting and building on the sensations and feelings that were present during the event and asking what was needed at the time, the body can get in touch with options that were not available then. By creating the story one hoped for or wanted to happen, frozen energies get activated and can be completed; unfinished business held in the muscles and psyche can be released. By highlighting and reinforcing the positive energy that helped your little one get through the event, you get in touch with the potency in the system and allow disowned parts to join the whole.
The new story becomes the new experience and gets “installed” into the body, mind, and nervous system. Memory consolidation is accomplished and the result is the ability to be more present for current situations without bringing in the past.
Always end a child session asking your child where they want to live. Using your imagination fill the space with things that evoke love and safety. Let your child know that you will never ignore them again and are happy to spend time together whenever needed. Make sure you hug, thank them, and tell them how much they mean to you before saying goodbye.
When you are ready, gently bring your awareness back to your body. You can give your legs a stretch, your fingers a wiggle and when you feel ready, open your eyes and come back to waking consciousness.
You may need to practice this visualization process several times to fully heal your inner child. Also, you can invite different ages and incidents, eventually imagining all your little ones joined in solidarity.
Rest assured, the effort will be worth the time.
Thank you, Judy, for sharing your perspective and experience with us today and for helping us to better understand the concept of “inner child,” while also offering an exercise that we can do to work towards improving our relationships.
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Judy is a New York State Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC) trained in Gestalt and body psychotherapy. She is the founder of the Full Gestalt.
Believing that the body holds the wisdom to heal itself, her practice combines talk therapy with various forms of energy work to facilitate awareness around malfunctioning energy patterns both in the body and in the mind.
Judy is also certified in Integral Somatic Psychotherapy (a master training in body psychotherapy), yoga therapy, and is a long-term student of Cranial Sacral therapy. Her work integrates body, mind, and Spirit, reconnecting disenfranchised parts with the whole so individuals can live fuller more authentic lives.
If you are interested in learning more about Judy, please visit this link.