Do we really have an inner child? Well, technically no, but metaphorically, we do. The inner child represents all your childhood beliefs which are formed by you based on what you were taught by others, cultural conditioning and perception of your experiences during your formative years of life. Once beliefs are formed, they become part of your core belief system, and are not so easy to change later in life.
Aside from our physical needs growing up, which include food, water, shelter and rest, we also have many emotional needs that must be met for us to grow into emotionally secure adults, including getting adequate affection, attention, praise, acceptance and approval from our primary caretakers, along with feelings of belonging and safety. Whenever we feel these emotional needs were not provided, the tendency is to believe we are not worthy of them. This sets the stage for feelings of unworthiness in certain areas in our adult life.
Feelings of unworthiness can be held deeply in the subconscious mind, creating unconscious negative behavioral patterns that seem difficult to change. There seems to be a multitude of books and programs that claim to erase all your negative programming and set you on a path of unstoppable happiness. The problem with these claims is that it’s very difficult to change a core belief unless you believe, on a core level, that you are entitled to the changes you desire. After spending countless hours and several dollars on these programs, you may find only temporary relief, creating deep feelings of hopelessness. What you may not be aware of is you were not born with these behavior patterns, they were developed and then reinforced over many years. If you are holding within your core belief system that you are not entitled to happiness unless you live up to certain high standards placed upon you by caretakers and society, then you will not find happiness until you release or change that subconscious belief. Even if you are meeting the standards imposed upon you, the stress and worry of not being able to keep up with those standards is emotionally and physically debilitating.
The subconscious mind is bigger and more powerful than your conscious mind. Your subconscious mind wants to protect your core beliefs, so whenever you try to change those beliefs, there will be some resistance on an unconscious level. Therefore, if any new conscious belief about yourself or your environment is contradictory to the core belief system already in place, the new information will not be accepted on a subconscious level. In order to change a core belief, you will need to understand how you innocently created these self-sabotaging core beliefs in the first place so you can move past the resistance.
One of the first things you can do for inner child healing is to understand that the influential people in your life during your childhood years cared for you the best way they knew how, based not only on what they learned from their parents and caretakers, but what they believed (subconsciously) about themselves and their environment. If an adult is experiencing an old emotional trauma triggered by something in their current environment, the adult may act out unconsciously either by lashing out or shutting down in the presence of their children. By nature, children personalize actions and inactions of the adults they depend on for approval and acceptance because they lack the cognitive ability to understand their individuality. Usually the adult bounces back from their emotional upset, but in the meantime, the child is left wondering why they can’t keep their parents or caretakers happy, causing the child to continuously question their ability to be loved. You may have grown up hearing words like “what is wrong with you” or “you should be ashamed of yourself”. These words are just a repeat of words that the adult grew up hearing many times themselves. When an adult’s insecurities creep up from within them, they repeat out loud what they keep hearing inside. However, these words tend to make a child feel like a disappointment to the people they love. Possibly, you grew up in a one parent household wondering why your mother or father didn’t love you enough to stick around. An adult who is unable to handle their own life may runaway away from the obligations of caring for another life. It doesn’t make the child unworthy of the absentee parent’s time, affection and love; it makes the adult unable to handle responsibility. Some children are raised by severely dysfunctional caretakers who just didn’t have the resources to pull out of their conditioned negative emotional state and unconsciously passed their anger, fears and resentments onto the children they cared for. This does not mean that these children are unworthy of creating a better life for themselves when they become independent adults.
No matter what your story is, the child within is hurting deeply because of another’s inability to give the child the emotional support they needed. I make absolutely no judgment about any parent or other primary caretaker. I believe most adults really do the best they possibly can under their conditioned consciousness. I think one of the biggest challenges in raising emotionally balanced children is being aware of our inner emotional battles from childhood and finding ways to nurture those wounds so we don’t unconsciously hurt the people we love.Emotional health is never taught to us. It’s just something we are already supposed to know, but we don’t. We are children raised by adults who feel inadequate, unlovable and harbor many fears about life and these fears are passed down through unintentional conditioning and remain with us into adulthood. I also make no excuse for abusive behavior upon anyone, especially children. If an adult acts abusive because they were abused, what will it take to change all those years of conditioning and a core belief that this is how children should be treated? First, one must acknowledge that what they have learned during their formative years by the people they trusted and believed as knowledgeable and caring adults is actually a form of negative conditioning and detrimental to a child’s emotional growth. Although I see it as a problem with the abusive adult, I believe it’s a bigger problem with the system. If the pattern doesn’t get broken with some help from the educational system, it will continue, and children will continuously feel like they have failed the most important people in their lives, resulting in an adult that feels unworthy of love and happiness. It’s unfortunate that we are taught so many things through our required formal education, but we are never taught how to love and honor who we are regardless of the way we are treated by others.
Our subconscious mind makes up about 90% of our thoughts. Therefore, we are living our life based on what our subconscious mind tells us. If you are thinking 90% of the time that you are unworthy of love, you may start to act on that belief unconsciously. The way an adult unconsciously lives through their childhood beliefs is usually through their adult relationships with others. As an adult, you may find yourself struggling to prove yourself worthy of love to your mate and even your children. If you could prove yourself worthy, you may be able to heal that childhood trauma. Unfortunately, since the subconscious mind is so stubborn, no matter how much love or attention you feel you deserve, there may be a part of you that will unconsciously reject love, while you continuously seek attention as a quest to prove you are worthy of it.
Every time a child is physically, mentally or emotionally abused or neglected, the child feels unworthy of their parents or caretaker’s love, causing feelings of guilt, shame and fear of abandonment. If there is an emotional charge with the feeling, the feeling becomes an emotion that gets locked into the body until the emotion is fully processed. Processing suppressed emotions that are causing you to feel bad about who you are does not mean you have to relive your negative or traumatizing childhood experiences. It’s about understanding, on a deep compassionate level, that you feel the way you feel because the people that raised you, cared for you and taught you about life were deficient in their emotional needs, and therefore, could not provide them to you the way you needed them to. Sadly, if your parents or caretakers were lacking in emotional support by the people that cared for them, then chances are they were harboring feelings of unworthiness and unconsciously passed these same feelings onto you through their care and guidance.
Healing suppressed childhood wounds is essential for your health because each time you have an outburst or you shut down due to feelings of shame or unworthiness, you set off a stress response in the body. Over time, these stress responses cause the body’s immune system to fight harder and eventually the body starts to feel the pain of too many fight, flight or freeze responses. So, how do you heal suppressed childhood wounds if you don’t really know what those wounds are? You can start by having a loving, compassionate and gentle dialogue with that younger you. As an adult, you know on a reasoning, logical and intellectual level that you are deserving of love, respect and happiness; however, the child in you still feels the fear of not being worthy. In order to release those old childhood wounds that may be affecting your life today, you will need to give your inner child the emotional support he or she did not receive growing up.
The first step to your dialogue would be to listen to your inner voice and move into that place of fear without judgment. It’s unfortunate, but so many of us do not want to look into that part of us. This is because we still hold the child within in a place of shame and unworthiness, usually due to a child’s tendency to attach to these emotions as their identity. If you want to heal those old wounds, you will need to nurture those wounds with love and care. If something comes up from within that seems too small to be worrisome, don’t ignore it; it may seem trivial to adult you, but may have been quite traumatic for younger you at the time. Always remind younger you that he or she is safe now, and you hold this child in a special place in your heart.
The second step is to understand that the child’s fear of expressing their pain was set up by the child as a protection, so don’t expect immediate feedback as you start to nurture that wounded younger you. The adult you now understands what caused little you to feel that way. If you understand this fully, you can work to release that fear in a gentle loving way, since it is no longer necessary in your life today.
The third step is to validate what that little one is feeling because no one was able to do that for this scared little child at the time the emotional trauma set in. If you do not validate that the child had every right to feel what he or she felt, then you would be resisting the feelings. Resistance causes persistence, allowing those hurtful feelings to become more powerful over time.
Your inner child needs to know that you are not holding them in that place of shame anymore and that you now recognize his or her feelings as real emotions that need attention. The only one that is capable of healing those suppressed childhood wounds is you. Even though the child may have felt unloved, neglected, unworthy, alone or sad, make sure that younger you knows that his or her caretakers did the best they could although it was not enough for you to feel loved and safe. Remind your inner child that you are here for them now, and you will give that younger you all the love he or she needs.
You may find it helpful to use my inner child meditation below. Use it on a daily basis to reconnect with that younger you. Even if you were raised in a very dysfunctional home, it still doesn’t make you unworthy; it just makes you feel unworthy. Validate those feelings as being real feelings for which the child is entitled to feel, and then give that child within the love and attention he or she is craving.
Inner Child Healing Meditation
Get comfortable where no one will disturb you for about 10 minutes (keep tissues nearby)
Take three deep breaths in, filling up the belly, and on each exhale, as the belly collapses, allow yourself to go deeper into your body
Drop completely out of your head and feel into your heart space by placing your hand over your heart, allowing each breath to keep you fully connected to your heart space
Say the following phrases to that wounded child that lives inside of you:
- I’m sorry for neglecting you for so long
- I am here for you now
- I know you are doing the best you can
- Your feelings are important to me
- I will listen without judgment
- You don’t have to prove yourself to anyone
- You are perfect the way you are
- I will always be here with you
- You are safe here in my heart
- Always know that I love you
Your inner child has been seeking approval for a long time. The more you practice this inner child healing meditation, the less you will seek approval outside of yourself and the less you will fear rejection from others.
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- The Biology of Belief – Dr. Bruce Lipton, PHD
- Your Inner Child of the Past – W. Hugh Missildine, MD
- Already Free: Buddhism Meets Psychotherapy on the Path of Liberation, Bruce Tift, MA
- Healing the Child Within: Discovery and Recovery for Adult Children of Dysfunctional Families Charles L. Whitfield, MD