The floods here in Australia have been nothing short of devastating for so many people and for so many reasons. I personally have not been affected by the floods, however growing up in northern NSW, all my family and friends have been affected in some way.
Yet, amongst all this devastation and despite not being personally affected by the floods, the floods gave me a gift – they were the catalyst for delivering me the healing and transformative shift of recognising the importance of inner child healing.
Before I talk about what inner child healing is and the methods I personally use – let me share with you a little story. It is a story about how the universe spoke to me and invited me to explore my own wounded inner-child.
“After a while the middle-aged person who lives in her head begins to talk to her soul, the kid.” - Anne Lamott
You see, there is this picture of me as an 8-year-old child that makes me cringe every time I look at it. I hated it that much that I threw out my copy. But of course, my family all have copies, big A4 and A3 versions of it, and no matter what - I can never escape looking at that horrid photograph. My aunty has it hanging on her wall and my nan has it proudly displayed on a cabinet. But it is my mums copy I want to talk about today.
Over a year ago my mum had packed up her house in Alstonville and had almost everything she owned stored in a storage container in Ballina, and of course Ballina flooded – and of course so did the storage container. She managed to save a few things but pretty much everything was lost. The water flooded the entire storage container so not only is it amazing that there were things to save – this remains a mystery, and somewhat of a miracle of how they were not damaged. But long story short – mum had a list in her head of what she hoped and prayed would not be damaged – and she managed to save everything on that list – nothing more and nothing less.
As you would have seen on the television – all the damaged items were put out in the streets for clean-up. Mum put all the damaged items from the storage shed out with everyone else’s stuff – and as you can imagine there was so much stuff.
Taking her saved boxes back up to Alstonville, she went through them and cleaned them up and dried them out – and often things that you think can be saved, sadly can’t, due to the unbearable smell of mould and water damage.
So from that small collection of originally saved items, there were items that had to be let go because of the smell, so the next day she drove back down to Ballina to dispose of the items. Driving back to the storage sheds, the streets were lined with everyone’s damaged items – and amongst all the chaos of stuff, standing up tall on a damaged bookshelf was a big A3 photo of me. Someone had found this photo of me, which was in a frame, and stood it up.
As mum was telling me this story, I was panicking, all I could think of was “oh please don’t let it be that photo I hate so much – out of hundreds of photos of me please don’t let it be that one”. The minute she told me it was that photo, the one I hate with every bone in my body, I had a shot of goosebumps run up my body while simultaneously hearing a voice whisper to me “Claire, someone thought that little girl you hate was worth saving”.
That is when I realised, I needed to explore inner-child healing work. So far inner child work has been transformative. I’m still a work in progress, but it’s helped me to find internal strength, inner peace, and a deeper connection to myself.
The Wounded Child
As a young woman, I would have given anything to know that majority of my self-worth issues stemmed from within my wounded inner child – it would have made my twenties and thirties so much easier.
Like so many others, maybe even you, I was stuck with false beliefs that I absorbed growing up: beliefs about my worthiness, belonging, and trust in others.
Truth is, people often say ignorant things, and even though most of the time it doesn’t come from a place of malice – it can still wound the receiver, especially children and young adults.
Growing up, my direct family were very loving and supportive, however people outside my family would often say things that made me feel different, unworthy, and even a deep sense of shame. Sometimes the words were harsh and even discriminating at times, I remember times where teachers or my friends’ parents would make it very clear about their disapproval of my single parent family [this was in the 1980’s when divorce was not yet mainstream]. Then there were more minor things, like the dark colour of my skin, my bigger build, my lack of petiteness, to even be questioning why mum and I didn’t have a colour tv, car or video player.
I remember as a child all I wanted was to be petite, have blonde hair, blue eyes, fair skin. I wanted to have a car, a nice house like my friends and have a dad.
Looking at these as an adult, it is easy to say that these are just little things that should not affect a child long-term, the truth is, there is shame and a sense of not belonging that has grown out of these child-hood experiences.
Most of us have a wounded child within, where many of our own beliefs, lack of self-worth and triggers stem from. These beliefs can keep us emotionally stuck and result in feelings of anxiety, low self-worth, loneliness, depression and so forth.
I was disconnected from myself, for many years, but in my early thirties I started to dig deeper, delving into my own psychology, and doing the work to discover why I felt the way I did
That’s when I started on a spiritual search. In the early years of seeking, I was looking outside of myself, and turning to others for my answers. I would lean into almost everything that spiritual teachers would teach – in fact my self-help library is embarrassingly HUGE. Whilst there is guidance and solace found in reading other people’s stories and perspectives, I have grown to realise that all the validation, healing, and wisdom we need can only ever be found within.
It wasn’t until I discovered inner child work that I realised that I was able to heal and give little Claire the love and validation she needed as a child. To me, in all my years of searching for answers, nothing has helped me heal and integrate my past more than inner child work. It has helped me get to the core of the childhood wounds that were holding me back in life.
What I love about it the most, is that it’s a self-healing tool that I am in full control of. I may not be able to change my past, but I have found my inner parent to give me that secure base my inner child needed. In the process, I’ve found my own inner child healing exercises that have helped me to reparent myself and find healing and inner peace.
I’ve tried a few different things but here are the inner child exercises that have worked for me the best.
Before I dive in, a word of caution. This is a delicate process because it brings up memories that we’ve repressed for a long time. Therefore, I recommend that you do the inner child healing exercises that support you and if they feel overwhelming at any point, stop. Do the exercises that resonate with you and work for you.
Inner child healing exercises to grow your capacity for love, inner safety, and inner peace
Inner child healing exercises can help us address unmet emotional needs that weren’t met in childhood. You might look back and wish that you had more love and affection, empathy, emotional validation, guidance, protection, encouragement, and appreciation.
Oftentimes an unhealed inner child shows up through overreaction, irritation, righteousness, blame, self-worth issues and so forth. By listening and talking with our inner child we can reparent them and soothe their unmet emotions.
Even if you think you had a good childhood, almost everyone has childhood wounds. These childhood wounds are a result of stressful life events, that can range from neglect, abuse, and parental abandonment, to bullying, struggling in school, having an emotionally absent father, mental illness in the family, moving house, discrimination, racial oppression, harassment, and chronic illness.
Whilst doing inner child work think about the stressful life events you’ve experienced: what emotional needs do you think weren’t met? What do you think you needed at the time?
Before we delve into the exercices there are two types of inner-childs, You may be one or the other - or you may be a mix of two.
- The fearful inner child who fears being judged as inadequate. They received a lot of criticism from an early age, and it left them craving validation and approval. Even the slightest feeling of being “bad” or not good enough makes them hurt deeply.
- The playful inner child grew up in a way that didn’t have much responsibility. Their childhood was defined by having fun, being free, being cared for, and feeling spontaneous and joyful. Restrictions, judgments, and rules of adult life can leave the playful inner child confused and disappointed.
1. Listening to your inner child
Get a photograph of yourself as a child – for most people about the age of eight works best. However, if you can pinpoint an age where you started to develop hurt or shame – get a photo of that age [it could be 2-17]. Look at the photograph and listen to your inner child. For instance, as you look at the photo you might feel rejected by someone and this might trigger rejection issues from your childhood.
The key is listening to the cries and pains of your inner child. How are they feeling? Are they stressed, anxious, angry, or lonely? Then, you want to ask them: how can I validate and reassure you?
As you begin reparenting him or her, you can imagine retrieving them from that place when they were sad, scared, and afraid, and bring them to a safe place.
It feels reassuring to know that you can take your inner child somewhere safe, where they are seen, heard, and loved. This can be as simple as putting them in a photo frame in your home.
A lot of us do not allow our inner child to just be. We might criticise, diminish, shame, or suppress certain emotions. But intense emotions are signs of unmet emotional needs from childhood. When your inner child feels fear or panic, you can say loving-words to soothe and calm your inner child.
To practice this, place your hand on your heart and take 3 deep breaths and then say the following words to comfort your inner child.
Say to your inner child “it’s ok sweetheart”, “I’m here”. You might also want to validate their feelings by saying “I hear you”, “it’s ok to be upset”, “tell me how you feel”, “it’s ok not to be ok”, “i’m here to listen”.
Other things you can say are:
“It’s ok sweetheart, I’m here”, “I’m not going to neglect you or leave you”
“I hear you” “I understand what you’re saying”, “Your emotions are valid”
“I’m proud of you”, “I care about you”, “It’s ok to feel what you’re feeling”
“I love you”, “What is on your mind? I’m here to listen”.
Traumas, attachments, and early painful experiences in our lives manifest into emotions that become stored in our bodies. If we ignore and avoid them, the built-up emotional storage compounds over time and can manifest into illness.
If you work on your mind and you’re not integrating your body, your body is manifesting all that suppressed pain. Therefore, writing is a great therapy that helps you to process and release any stuck emotions in your body.
One way you might do this is to recall a childhood incident and write about it. You can imagine yourself as a younger child. How old were you? Who were you with? Then you can start writing a letter to the person involved and begin with - this is what you did, this is how you made me feel and this is how I choose to feel about it now.
Or you can think of a situation where your emotions were not met - and just write about it. Let it flow without overthinking the process. Write about how it made you feel, write about what you think about it looking in as an adult and so forth.
3. Art therapy
One of my favourite inner child healing exercises is art therapy. Art is a powerful tool in releasing trauma as it communicates with the part of the brain where emotions are stored, Expressive art therapy is incredibly healing because it allows you to speak the language of the inner child.
One of the ways to start this process is by sitting alone, quietening down, and paying attention to anything that is uncomfortable or in pain.
On a piece of paper, express any pain or discomfort [can be physical or emotional] by drawing and colouring freely - without overthinking it. Draw whatever comes to your mind. Draw whatever you feel within or whatever first pops into your mind. You could even use colours associated with different sensations.
As you are drawing, you can have a dialogue with yourself by asking yourself: What is going on within? How do I feel? Why do I feel that way? What is causing it? What can I do to help you?
4. Invite play into your everyday life
Sometimes inner child healing exercises can be as simple as doing the things we enjoyed as a child. It helps take us back to our childhood and helps us to recognise that the times that were happy and carefree. This might be dancing, singing, swimming, exploring, drawing, painting or baking.
Close your eyes and travel back to your childhood. Think of five things that made you happy as a child. For example:
- Playing with your friends
- Jumping in puddles
- Eating delicious food
- Running in the forests
- Feeling endlessly curious
- Going to the beach
- Believing in Santa Claus
- Birthday parties
These can be simple things you did growing up that brought you joy. Reliving them in your mind gets you in touch with your inner child, which is the more innocent and emotionally raw part of yourself that still exists.
You may see images of yourself and your appearance, and that’s fine! But the focus here is on the emotions and experiences you had that brought you joy.
Your inner child is inside you and is you. He or she would love the chance for the adult you to get back in touch and show some appreciation to again love the same things you once did.
5. Write a letter to your inner child
Although this can be overwhelming, writing a letter to your inner child is one of the most powerful inner child healing exercises because we get to give our inner child compassion. It allows us to dialogue with ourselves through the lens of Self, which is our inner parent and internal guidance system.
You can start writing this letter by asking your inner child, hi sweetheart, how are you feeling today? Would you like me to listen or give advice? What are your top emotional needs for today? What boundaries could I set for you, so you feel safe?