So much has been written about the inner child that it sounds clichéd to even discuss it, but the fact is, your inner child must be heard and healed for you to be healed as an adult.
When you were little, you didn’t have a lot of power in the world. You were dependent on others to care for you, provide for you, and to love you. The people who brought you up may have met all of these needs. Maybe they didn’t. Or maybe they did, but you were still sad, frustrated, angry, or unheard. Those feelings never went away. They’re inside of you somewhere.
Your inner child may feel some or none of the following feelings:
- Unheard—Your thoughts, feelings, and opinions were not heard or respected.
- Guilty—You could never please your parents or make them happy. Or perhaps your parents divorced. Somehow, all of this was your fault.
- Abandoned—Did you lose a parent through death or divorce? Your inner child may feel at fault. It may also be grieving a lost relationship with that parent.
- Sad—Deep down, you were afraid to be yourself because your parents might not approve of that person. You felt you had to do or be certain things to be loved.
- Unworthy—You felt like you could do no right, that you could never win. That you were stupid or ugly, or not as good as other people.
- Angry—Why weren’t you heard? Why didn’t you feel loved for who you are? Why didn’t you feel safe? Why were you hurt, however unwittingly? Why were others loved better than you were?
If any of these feelings pushes your buttons, take note. Your inner child is telling you something, and you have work to do. If you don’t heal these feelings, they will run your life.
What is the inner child?
The inner child is your core emotional self. No matter how much you think you know intellectually, this is the person inside you who reacts first and unconsciously whenever your buttons get pushed. This usually occurs in situations that evoke emotional memories or patterns that are painful. For example, if someone says something to you that even remotely makes you think they are calling you “stupid,” whether literally or not, and one of your parents did that to you as a child, you are probably going to respond with anger—either by lashing out, engaging in passive-aggressive behavior, or directing it inward at yourself and silently agreeing, “Yeah, I’m stupid.” This is the domain of the inner child.
The inner child cannot be reasoned with or dictated to. You cannot “order” it to behave. The inner child is you, on the most fundamental level. You can heal your inner child, but only by dealing with him or her in a loving, positive manner. You must reparent your inner child to heal them.
To understand your inner child, you must understand that the things that you are trying to heal do not originate with you. These issues are often generational.
It’s important to remember that our parents or caretakers are fallible human beings. We can, as adults, look at them as people and see their faults, and have compassion for that. That’s on an intellectual level. But your inner child works on a very young emotional level. Emotions cannot be reasoned away. They must be acknowledged, felt, and finally, released. Whether your parents were saints or not, your inner child responded in some way to your parents’ mistakes—which arise from their own need to heal—and hasn’t forgotten those feelings.
As you progress with your inner child, you will be able to see your parents’ behavior as signs of their inner child needing to heal from their parents. These unhealed patterns repeat themselves until a generation is able to heal. If you have children, you will pass your unhealed behavior on to them unless you work on your own healing.
Most parents do a good job of loving and raising their kids, even though they may need to heal their own issues. Some parents, however, are toxic, and they fail to meet the physical, mental, or emotional needs of their children in some way. They also fail to provide a safe environment for their children. This can mean that the child is physically abused or neglected (basic needs are not met, they are not adequately supervised or disciplined; children who “run wild” are as neglected as those who are micro-managed). An unsafe environment, however, can also mean that the child is mentally or emotionally unsafe in the home.
If a child does not feel free to express themselves, if they must “hide” themselves, if they fear ridicule or humiliation, if they can never measure up or please the parent, then they are emotionally and mentally unsafe in their own home. This is a classic by-product of a toxic parent.
On the other hand, a “good” parent is one who may mistakes, but who looks after the physical, emotional, and mental needs of their children. A good parent praises a child and provides constructive feedback. A good parent does not attempt to “tear down” their child in order to make themselves feel better. A good parent understands the importance of structure and boundaries. A toxic parent is rarely capable of providing either of these.
Of course, a toxic parent can appear to be very loving—even downright needy. But in this relationship, the toxic parent assumes the role of the child and expects the child to fulfill all their needs. The child can’t accomplish this, so they feel like a failure. “Needy” parents who expect validation from their children, or who expect their children to “take care” of them in some way, are just as toxic as those who are more outwardly abusive.
Parents who are neglectful and overly passive are also toxic parents. An ignored child is an abused child. And the parent who stands by while another parent abuses the child is a partner in the abuse.
Of course, toxic parents are doing the best that they can—they just learned from their toxic parents. You can have compassion for this and still take the steps necessary for your own healing and well being.
Healing your inner child
You can heal from a toxic background as well as from a “normal” one, but you must be willing to do the work. It is also advisable to find someone to help you, who can be objective and tell you the truth. You should feel safe with this person or person. Therapists and mental health professionals, energy healers, life coaches, and members of the clergy are all good starting places. You may need to try more than one to find the right person or methodology.
Be open to the process and allow yourself to be guided. If you start down this path and find that it is scaring you to death, then you are probably on the right road. Healing is scary, because it feels unfamiliar. Be brave. Be courageous. You can survive, and you can heal.