Everyone has an inner child.
You might see this inner child as a direct representation of yourself in your early years, a patchwork collection of the developmental stages you’ve passed through, or a symbol of youthful dreams and playfulness.
An awareness of your inner child can help you think back to lighter, carefree years, explains Dr. Diana Raab, author and research psychologist. “Being in touch with the joys of childhood can be an excellent way of dealing with challenging times.”
Not everyone associates childhood with playfulness and fun, though. If you experienced neglect, trauma, or other emotional pain, your inner child might seem small, vulnerable, and in need of protection. You may have buried this pain deep to hide it and protect yourself — both your present self and the child you once were.
Hiding pain doesn’t heal it. Instead, it often surfaces in your adult life, showing up as distress in personal relationships or difficulty meeting your own needs. Working to heal your inner child can help you address some of these issues.
Healing your inner child can take time, but these eight tips are a good starting point.
To begin healing, you first have to acknowledge your inner child’s presence.
As Kim Egel, a therapist in Cardiff, California, points out, anyone can get in touch with their inner child — if they’re open to exploring this relationship. If you feel doubtful or resistant to the idea of exploring the past, you’ll have a harder time beginning the healing process.
If it feels a little strange or awkward to imagine opening up to your child self, trying thinking of inner child work as a process of self-discovery.
Briefly set aside the existence of your inner child and just think of a few key childhood experiences. While some were probably positive, others may have hurt or upset you. Perhaps you still carry the emotional pain from those events today.
The process of acknowledging your inner child mostly just involves recognizing and accepting things that caused you pain in childhood. Bringing these hurts out into the light of day can help you begin to understand their impact.
That said, many people do find it helpful, even soothing, to address their inner child as they would a living person, so don’t feel afraid to give it a try.