Inner Child Work: Healing the Fractured Self
Feelings have roots, and point us to where healing is needed. Techniques to connect to yourself, re-parent yourself, and support yourself.
Feelings have Roots. Our present feelings are repeats of feelings felt in the past, and cataloged/stored in the body and psyche. Even when a new situation arises, and we believe a feeling is a new response to this new situation, there is often a conscious or unconscious memory attached to the feeling, connected to a past event that produced a similar cognitive and emotional response.
Feelings Point Us to Where Healing is Needed
Is the feeling you are currently feeling a familiar or frequent feeling?
So often, when painful feelings come up that are familiar, they have walked with us for many years, maybe for as long as we can remember. We recognize them distinctly. We resist them because we dread their weight and fear the dark, low places they have taken us before.
But these feelings bring meaningful messages. They are saying, “Please deeply feel me! Please don’t ignore me or distract yourself from me! I know I am painful to feel, but I am outmoded in your Being. You don’t need me anymore. You used to need me, and I served you in the past. I helped you survive. I helped protect you. But now I am ready to be deeply felt and integrated, because you don’t need me anymore.”
To avoid the pain of feeling our feelings, we may distract ourselves or intellectualize the feelings— the latter of which is meaningful to a point, but can turn into an emotional bypass. Avoidance is where all forms of addiction come from, too… a brilliant survival technique, really, used to protect ourselves from feeling our suffering. But what results is self-disconnection, more pain, and in many cases, self-sabotaging, co-dependent, or narcissistic traits and behaviors.
Ultimately, what we are doing is suppressing the truth of our experience, and of what IS.
Not FEELING the feels can evolve into depression. Feelings become DE-pressed within us.
Not feeling VALIDATED in the feels can evolve into anxiety. Unvalidated feelings morph into cognitive expressions of shame, which fuels the feelings and self-harmful coping mechanisms. We can learn to validate OurSelves. Expecting others to do so leads to patterns of co-dependent ways of relating. This should be differentiated from SPEAKING our feelings. We can speak for ourSelves; to validate ourSelves. This is different from speaking so that others may validate us.
Our feelings are attached to our inner child/adolescent/younger adult. They are bound to fragments of self, split from the cohesive selves we came in as. Because it’s these feelings we experienced as children, or in our earlier adult years, that weren’t accepted, understood, loved, and held. Potentially shamed, pathologized, neglected. We were alone inside an isolated perceptual reality, and these fragments of self continue to hang out there, in our psyches and cells, alone, waiting to be understood and loved. WE are the ones these fragments of younger self are waiting for.
Feelings Are Trying to Tell us Something
In addition to feelings functioning as messengers from a perceptual reality we have been suppressing, sometimes a feeling is telling us a boundary has been violated. We have an opportunity to respond from a self-honoring space in this moment, essentially healing past patterns of self-denial, shame, and guilt. In these moments, we are giving ourselves the gift of identifying and voluntarily practicing new— or deeper versions of— self-honoring behaviors and verbalizations.
During these times, new circumstances may have entered our lives that are reflections of original wounds. We may experience those reflections again and again, in different contexts and situations, until we “get it” and agree to feel the feelings, and choose to honor the emotional and autonomic nervous system response via a response that reflects our true thoughts, feelings, self-knowings. Because this time, we can. We now recognize we have the choice.
It may take many events, or a major one, for us to “get it.” There is no “bad” timing. It is all purposed, and it is certainly never too late.
Inner child work can compliment the creation and maintenance of new response patterns, and our ability to locate and hold the inner child is a barometer for our growth and healing. This includes the ability to feel anger and/or grief FOR our inner child or younger self. This is an indication of self-acceptance and self-trust, which your inner child will recognize in you. We Parent ourSelves in this way.
When we believe ourselves, our inner child feels seen and believed as well.
*Note: if we encounter difficulty seeing our inner child/younger self as lovable or forgivable, which is not an uncommon challenge, imagine how you would feel for another child or human who experienced the same emotions and circumstances. Then transfer those feelings to your inner child/younger self. The more we are able to do this for ourselves, the less we project our fears and self-judgments onto others, as well. And, the more we can hold others in their pain and become more deeply accountable inside our relationships.
The Tunnel Exercise
At a certain point on the healing path, we discover we have cultivated skills to offer ourselves. We have learned to connect to ourselves and honor ourselves in our feelings and perspectives. We nurture voices that SPEAK.
Inner child work can deeply impact our healing, by acting as a vehicle to locate the root of the feeling. The root is embodied by the younger self still within us who first experienced the feeling.
However, we can first work with the feeling itself. Here is an exercise to try:
Close your eyes. Feel the feeling. Visualize yourself going INTO the feeling, as if it is a tunnel to enter, navigate, and then emerge out the other side. Or, go into it as deeply as you can go. As you do this, remind yourself that you are safe; it is just you here; you and the feeling.
As you feel the feeling as deeply as you can, you will notice how it dissipates when you go INTO IT and THROUGH IT, because you agree to feel it. It is the resistance to the feeling that increases the feeling. When you agree to the feeling, it can be felt and then it can go once it has been honored, processed. It is no longer something to fight against. Because it will fight you to be felt, as feelings are meant to be felt. That’s the whole point of having feelings.
As previously discussed, feelings of suffering which plague and persist in our emotional bodies are often emotional flashbacks of earlier events. Sometimes we must process these feelings again and again. This is common for those of us who are healing PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder), CPTSD (complex post traumatic stress disorder) or CPTSR (complex post traumatic stress response).
I feel that all humans are walking around, to some degree, with CPTSR, whether they know it or not. This is a by-product of being human in a dense world that brings traumatic events and experiences into our realities. And, symptoms may persist long after healing begins. The nature and “severity” of the traumatic event(s) doesn’t matter, either— we all have unique responses to adverse events, and that informs our experience of the “severity.”
It is meaningful to have awareness when emotional flashbacks bring in an intensity, or flood, of emotion that may not actually be “appropriate” to the current situation. Of course all feelings are perfect and appropriate, because they are trying to tell us something. But I am talking in terms of a response intensity that does not necessarily meet the degree of the situation.
An example might be: Jane has a deep abandonment wound due to parental neglect as a child. When a friend doesn’t respond to her text, she assumes it’s because she doesn’t really care for her, there is something wrong with her, and she is unworthy of her attentions. These thoughts will inspire an emotional flashback, which Jane may spiral in for days or even weeks. Depression and despair may ensue. There is often an intense autonomic nervous system response (fight/flight/freeze) that accompanies the event. In this case, the emotional flashback must be attended to, rather than responding to the specific event, or person, that inspired it. Recognizing the distinction is important for creating new behaviors, cultivating healthy relationships, and creating space for energy to be poured into what the emotional flashback is asking Jane to identify, feel, and process.
However, it is just as likely that the current situation accurately informs the emotional flashback. In this case, the flashback can be attended to first, and then the situation can be dealt with in a self-honoring way.
Discernment for this distinction takes self-awareness, time, and commitment to self and one’s feelings. Practicing feeling and honoring our feelings leads to the development of this discernment.
Depending on the catalyst, the latter scenario (the current situation accurately informs the emotional flashback) potentially includes the willingness to accept that a situation or relationship detracts from one’s wellbeing, which may produce more feelings reminiscent of the initial abandonment wound. Grief, rage, shame. All of the emerging feelings can be identified, accepted as one’s truth, deeply felt, and processed. As many layers of feeling may emerge over time, we can remember that this is a process, and re-commit to ourselves as needed.
In either case, the crux is this: The flashback is purposed, meaningful, trying to tell us something important, and asking us to feel something.
The tunnel exercise above is very purposed here as well, along with crying, screaming, whatever is needed, for as long as it takes. Allow the emotions to make cognitive connections for you, if any arise, as they want to take you to memories and associated feelings that are asking to be more deeply felt and processed.
Inner child work is purposed when you are able to parent the younger versions of yourself, as a direct result of learning to validate, love, and parent yourself in the Now via the work you have done with the tunnel exercise. This capability will continue to emerge the more deeply you connect to your feelings, be with your feelings, and validate your perceptual reality/experience.
Abandonment Wounds in Inner Child Healing
Abandonment wounds are universal and can result in much self-fragmentation. Along with their obvious inception inside normalized dysfunctional family systems and parenting styles, and within important experiences and relationships in adolescence and adulthood, abandonment wounds are also connected to physical, emotional, and sexual abuse. Ultimately, abandonment wounds can be multilayered and complex. The core belief in an abandonment wound says: “I’m not safe.” And the additional beliefs attached to this are: “I’m not lovable. I can’t trust love. If I am a ‘good girl/boy’ or if I can just do all the ‘right things’ only then will I be loved,” which all loop back to the core belief: “I’m not safe.” Shame is a leading feeling associated with abandonment wounds, as well as grief and anger.
Abandonment wounds may need to be deeply felt again and again. And again. Layers of an onion.
The tunnel exercise above is meaningful for feeling the feelings associated with abandonment wounds.
Once we have accessed the ability to feel and honor our feelings, inner child work can be profound. Because the point of inner child work is to hold our younger self as a loving, conscious, accepting parent would.
Inner child work can be guided by a trusted support person, or done on your own, using the above tunnel visualization/meditation. The difference is, this time, instead of entering a feeling, you locate a feeling in your body that is created by a recent or past event, enter the feeling as if it is a tunnel, and find the child hiding within.
The most profound healing I have experienced occurred when I was able to access my preverbal self, sitting on the floor and crying, afraid and feeling alone. I was able to pick her up and love her, with so much compassion and understanding. Her little arms went around my neck and I loved her so completely, the way I would my own child or any other child who needed to be held inside their valid feelings.
You can do something similar, or whatever you feel your younger self needs, with your younger self of any age that presents within the tunnel. Follow your intuition. You know what is needed, because you know what you need. The same things all humans needs: love, acceptance, understanding, and connection.
The memory attached to the event does not need to be accessed. What is important is that the FEELING is identified and loved. This is how we repair the cracks in the cohesive self; re-bind the fragments of self; integrate all we are and feel with love and acceptance. However, if a memory emerges, allow yourself to use it to make the cognitive connections that lead to deeper self-validation and understanding.
Connecting to Joy Through The Playful Child Within
We can also use inner child exercises to locate ourselves inside a happy childhood memory, if we are able to remember one. Through meditation/visualization, we can locate the inner child within who embodies the joyful feelings attached to the happy memory. We can bring those joyful, astonished, curious, childlike feelings into our adult daily life, by playing in the sand, by dancing. Swinging, running, playing, climbing, creating something, singing. Whatever you loved to do as a child. The joyful child is in us as well, asking to be remembered. She/he wants to come out and play, and to help us remember and more deeply embody our full, cohesive, original Self.
Tunnel Exercise for Self-Celebration
Sometimes, after processing deeper layers of shame or grief around abandonment wounds, it is meaningful to deeply feel how wonderful you are! To celebrate how much you’ve expanded and healed, to go into the feeling of joy in yourself. How deep can you take it? How deep is that tunnel? And you can remind yourself, as you twirl and skip and cartwheel through that tunnel of INjoy, that you are safe because you have yourSelf. And as long as you have yourSelf, you will choose yourSelf from your personal knowings and integrity. The self-trust in this space is joy-producing, as well, because there is so much freedom in it.
A variation might be speaking a mantra: “I am BEAUTIFUL, POWERFUL, BRILLIANT, and CREATIVE.” What feelings emerge when you think those thoughts about yourself? Happiness? Excitement? Courage? Close your eyes and see how deeply you can go into a tunnel of those feelings.
If this is difficult for you, think about someone you admire and apply the feelings you feel for them to yourself. We admire others because we see something in them that is also in ourselves, asking to be self-acknowledged and/or developed.
It is never too late to enter the healing path.
As humans, we can take self-responsibility.
We can heal ourselves for ourselves, for humanity, for the world. ❤
Please reach out if I can support you. You are loved, you are seen and understood, you are beautiful. You are able to heal.