What is the Inner Child?

Over the next several weeks you are going to hear me talk a lot about your inner child.

It dawned upon me that although inner child work is much of the work that I do, I have never actually written about it.

The concept of the inner child is not new. It’s been in psychology textbooks for decades, and in the 1980s during the positive psychology movement, it became a buzz word. Some refer to it as “inner child” and others as “parts work.” Although I haven’t done the research on the exact differences between the two, when I work with them, they are essentially one in the same.

So who is your inner child or what are these parts?

This inner child is your young self who lives internally within your psyche. Usually the inner child is of the age when any wounding may have occurred. For some people this wounding is the age when they moved away from their beloved friends to a new home, or when parents separated, or sometimes, the age when they started school and the world didn’t make sense anymore because they were used to a calm peaceful environment but school was a little chaotic. I write it this way to demonstrate that we have all experienced some form of childhood wound. Too often when we think of “wounding” we think, “Oh, that’s not me, I wasn’t physically abused or neglected.” And although physical and sexual abuse, neglect or maltreatment are major wounds, we are all wounded to some degree.

The wound happens when we experience something that is not yet within our capacity to make meaning of, yet we know that we experience discomfort. The adults in our lives might try to help us understand, but adults aren’t perfect, sometimes they just can’t explain things in a way that makes sense to our young self; it is outside of our concept of understanding.

Take the move, for example. As adults we understand that sometimes circumstances change and we need to move out of our homes and neighborhoods, sometimes even our cities, states, or even countries. However, trying to get a 5 year old to understand that mommy and daddy had to move because mommy’s job relocated her to San Jose is beyond the 5 year old’s concept. The 5 year old simply sees mommy and daddy ruining their life because they changed their home, their neighborhood, and their friends. They have to start all over in some hot and crowded place called San Jose where they don’t know anyone and feel very lonely. 

The movie Inside Out actually does a great job illustrating this as one experience of a childhood wound. This experience forever gets imprinted into memory as different and unpleasant. Even the most resilient of people may look back and not have such great memories of the move. However, the resilient people are the ones who are able to take this experience and grow from it. Using Inside Out as the example, the young girl was able to bounce back from the move, but the experience will always be marked in her story as “that awful time we had to move and everything changed.”

I’m going to invite you to take a moment to reflect on what were some of your childhood experiences that were difficult for you. Was it a move? A parental separation? A new sibling being born? Just take a moment to close your eyes and connect in with those experiences. We will talk more about what to do with this in our next blog…

Are you ready to heal your relationship with your inner child? If so, join us for our Healing the Inner Child Women's Weekend Retreat in Lake Tahoe, CA in September 2016! Click here to learn more.