When it comes to searching for wellness, we have to take into account the parts of us that lay in the deep, dark places. The parts of us which on our own accord, at some point or another in life, we pushed aside and silenced. The parts of us that know our histories, particularly the events which do not sit atop of our conscious minds.
There is a concept that is starting to be used more and more in wellness, it is called the “inner child”. For people who reference inner children in their work, the inner child represents a number of things, depending on the practitioner’s philosophy. To many practitioners and coaches, such as myself, it is our childlike behaviors. The parts of us that bubble up to the surface when we are triggered in some way. The trigger will make us feel, think and then act similarly to the way we did when we were children.
Most times these repressed parts of us are things that we learned are not acceptable. In time they were not even acceptable to ourselves. Other times they are habits, traits and mannerisms that we used as children to get us through our difficult life experiences. This process creates a wide range of negative behaviors and mind-sets which follow us through adulthood.
"Each inner child is unique to the adult and his/her life experiences and each adult has an inner child." ~M. Ramsey
When the inner children are born.
Until the age of about seven or so, we develop character traits which will be ours for the rest of our lives. Some which are innately a part of us from birth and some that are learned. Some that are direct results of the psychological atmosphere of our childhood and others that are our biological inheritance, passed down in our very essence. During this time, we are also developing our inner children.
We are constantly absorbing and storing our experiences away. When we become adults… the things we’ve stored away are some of what become our inner children.
Even in the most loving and uplifting environments, children learn and then tuck away mannerisms, language, behaviors and philosophies that might not be so positive. We learn what not to do, what is expected of us in our home, in our communities and in society. We learn relationship mechanics from our parents, siblings, caretakers and adults who frequent our lives.
From the time of conception, we are being conditioned by our environments… good, bad or ugly. If our mothers are chronically stressed, we become accustomed to the flow of cortisol. If our mothers are well nourished, happy and relatively loved and loving… we become accustomed to “feel good” hormones. In each case, once we are born, these things contribute to our newborn demeanor and they travel with us as they are part of the foundation of our being. Therefore, they become a part of our inner child.
The very beginning stages of our lives play a more powerful part in our adult lives than we might know… Once again, we are conditioned by both our environments and our caretakers. These conditions create mindsets as well as social habits that we may never be able to trace the origins of, but will always remain a part of us, be it conscious or subconscious.
Why and how conditioning works.
We may be conditioned to cry in order to get attention, even if there is nothing wrong. We may be conditioned not to cry, for fear of inflicted pain, hunger or punishment. We may learn that a smile leads to warm cooing and kisses or we may learn that a smile has little to no effect compared to whining, screaming or misbehaving. Survival is programmed into our very bodies. Survival is found in our reptilian brain and we were very young children when we started tapping into this part of us.
Despite the very early conditioning, our inner children were once made up of all of the innately beautiful things about us. Literally. The energies of love, enthusiasm, playfulness, joy, curiosity and innocence, these were the original makings of our inner children. Our childhood experiences and environments, our traumas and our family karma added to what our inner children became.
When the primal needs of a young child are not met (social interaction, protection, understanding, nutrition, love, nurturance and creative motivation), they find different ways of coping and therefore surviving. Often times the survival tactics of young children (later inner children) are the very things that hinder us as adults.
Many of us (in extreme cases) have inner children that were denied being children. They were put into environments that made them have to defend themselves or grow up very early on in order to survive. Some were denied unconditional love and nurturing. And still others were neglected, abandoned, abused or rejected.
Can you imagine the kinds of things a child might have to do in order to cope with psychological, sexual, physical, emotional and spiritual abuse? Just imagine it for a moment if you will... Adults have a hard time coping with these things, and rightfully so! That said… when there is a child trying to find ways to survive these things as they are happening, they are also conditioning their adult self to take on the beliefs, habits and defense mechanisms that work.
What we experience as children is never lost. Never forgotten in our subconscious… even if it happened so early on that consciously we have no recollection. And the ways in which we survived those childhood experiences play a big hand in the wellness of our future selves.
Here is where it can get tricky.
As children we were conditioned to behave in certain ways in order to get what we wanted… and what we needed. In addition to that, we developed coping strategies for conflicts within our environments. Sometimes these conflicts were as terrible as abuse, neglect and abandonment.
Other times we had loving parents who worked very hard to give us everything we needed and who showed us love every chance they had. It does not matter how loving or how abusive our caregivers and our environments were. We, at very tender ages, and little understanding of the motivations of those around us, did what worked for us in the department of survival.
All of this was happening at the same time that our families and communities were adding to what would later be our mindsets, temperaments and characters.
We were told things like “no”, “stop”, “don’t” and “be careful”, often times without an explanation other than “because I said so”. So while we were surviving, however we knew how, the conflicts of our environment, we also continued to learn what was expected of us. This combination very easily diminishes the innate capacity within children to be playful, motivated, trusting and courageous. It hurts our innocence and our faith.
As we get older, the things that we did to survive are forgotten. What was left of that child who got us through the most difficult of times becomes repressed. We are told to be strong, to get over it, not to whine, to work harder, to be smarter and to be better. All while the little fighters in us are forgotten… along with whatever it is that we had to do to get us through to adulthood.
When adults start to feel afraid, angry or anxious, when we feel jealous, bitter, lonely or insecure…. There are things coming up to the surface that have been triggered for the inner children. Have you ever seen these things in yourself: Sudden outbursts of anger, sadness or neediness much like a child’s temper tantrum? Negative self-talk, self-sabotaging behaviors, impulsiveness, dependency or co-dependency?
It was our inner children that dealt with the trauma abuse and neglect, and then another part of us pushed them aside, forgetting or trying to forget about them for the fear of dealing with what comes along with remembering. These unresolved childhood experiences can lead to tremendous adult dysfunction.
The things that we do not address, the healing that never takes place, the emotions that were never allowed to surface… these are some of the things that strap our inner children into the dark. Take away their voices. Deny them compassion. Deny them healing. Deny them thanks. Deny them grieving. Denying our inner children the chance to be heard in our conscious minds makes for a very volatile environment in our subconscious minds. That volatile environment in our subconscious minds creates havoc on our adult lives, especially during times of triggers.
The effects of the conditioning.
Inner children can be explosive, selfish, needy and inconsolable. Just the same as our own children who have these same tendencies when they do not feel validated.
Lack of connection with our inner children is exactly why these parts of us are able to so abruptly cause upheaval in our lives. The fact that we don’t connect with or honor our inner children is part of the reason why we have our behavioral, emotional and social issues.
When we began our journey, they were the ones who took the lead and they ultimately are the ones who brought us to be who we are today. What is left of those children, resides in each of us as our inner children and those inner children need healing. They need to be honored.
Although many of us intentionally keep our emotions in check, way down in that deep dark place where we keep things we don’t want to face… There are some of us who do not recollect these things at all. Emotions were pushed so far down for so long, that they haven’t found their way to the surface, at least not in the ways one would think . But in the end, the result is still the same. We have a scared, angry, hurting inner child who has not been honored.
Much of our pain, fear, sadness, anger, skepticism, and distrust belong to our inner children and they let it lose, sometimes in the most insidious of ways. We recreate and repeat our past experiences time and time again, through our inner children… because this is all they know.
They were made to set aside their joy, unconditional love, excitement for life and courageousness in order to be safe, quiet, unheard and out of sight. They set aside their uniqueness, creativity, passions and innate gifts in order to be accepted, loved, understood and to fit in.
They gained skepticism, fear, aloofness, bitterness, anger, insecurity, self-loathing, aggression and even malice, as they learned what needed to be done to make it through their experiences.
And then there are the adults… The flesh and bones that harbors these inner children. The adults are left dealing with shame, guilt, anger, self-loathing, self-doubt and negative mindset. We numb these things out with drugs, sex, alcohol, gambling, violence and self-harm. We become workaholics, liars, thieves and outcasts.
All the while we continue to ignore our inner children. The ones that still remember the innate love of all things. We ignore them for fear. Fear of remembering. Fear of change. Fear of being different. Fear of our own authenticity. The cycle perpetuates! The inner children continue to be neglected, only this time by us… And they lash out. We are left with messes to clean up that were made out of outbursts, pent up aggression, selfishness, jealousy and insecurity.
Continued effects throughout life.
If we shut out the world in order not to feel pain as a child, our adult selves may keep people at an arm’s length, be unaffectionate or have little tolerance for affection. If our inner children used erratic, volatile tantrums to get attention… our adult selves may have negative, impulsive behaviors that come out when they are feeling unheard.
But our inner children are not only the negative things that rise to the surface in us. They are still very much innately love, hope and innocence. It was out of necessity that these traits be set aside as there was little space for them when our inner children were being taught new traits. The traits that got them through life… to where we are now.
When we have hurt, scared and forgotten inner children, it is difficult to lead our lives to the fullest potential of growth and happiness, but it’s not because these byproducts of our hurt inner children exist. Even when we come to terms with our pasts, honor our inner children and work on our healing… we may still suffer from some of these traits.
The issue is when these traits debilitate our wellness, our happiness and our prosperity. When the fear of abandonment or fear of vulnerability directly effects our capacity to thrive in our relationships. When our anger and negativity prevent us from holding down jobs. When our aloofness, fear and skepticism keep us from doing things that bring us joy, growth and excitement. These are some of the (mild) ways in which our inner children can debilitate our lives.
Some examples of how we might see our inner children bubbling up in abrupt outbursts which leave us questioning ourown motives are: An irrational outburst of jealously that leaves our significant other on the defense for something they’ve not done. An onslaught of anger towards someone who did nothing to justify the reaction. A temper tantrum thrown at the most inconvenient and embarrassing of times. Critical judgment of another for things that we ourselves do or are capable of doing.
Sometimes it is a matter of a trigger. Something that brings to the surface a connection to a repressed memory or part of our inner child the screams to be heard. The more we keep down the parts of us that need to come up in order to be healed, the more these things have a negative impact on our lives.
It is in our best interests to honor our inner children, so that healing can start to take place. The relationship we have with ourselves was formed in the early years of our lives, before we knew any better but once we are given the tool of knowledge, and an understanding of how these traits bubble up in us, we are responsible for them. We owe it to ourselves to nurture them and to give them space to heal.
The time for healing.
For many of us it may be very difficult to know where to start. A practical place is with mindfulness.
In those times when we have come face to face with our inner child’s struggle, we can take a pause and be present with ourselves. A helpful practice that I use on myself and with my clients is to ask the question “why” until the answer is no longer anything outside of "self".
Until we get to the answer that can no longer answer anymore “whys”.
This practice takes some time to employ but it gets easier the more it is practiced. It brings us back to whatever we are feeling and knowing that it is about us, not the person/event that we think made us feel the way we feel. Asking “why” will help us find our trigger(s).
Once we are more able to recognize these “triggers”, we will be able to be more compassionate with ourselves about them. Instead of reacting, we have to release the fear of feeling what our inner child is feeling. As I have said before, we have to feel it to heal it! Think about the parts of us that remind us of scared and lonely children then…. Invite those parts of us out to explore the reasons why.
The things that have happened to us in our pasts cannot be changed. These things must be acknowledged, accepted and worked through. Even if we are scared. It is only then that we will be able to move forward into wellness. It is only then that our inner children will stop wreaking havoc on our lives. Until there is a reunion between us and our inner children, until we stop reliving and perpetuating the past, there will not be true wellness.
What do we have to do to reunite? After we are able to recognize our triggers we have to allow our inner children to feel and then express these things. Maybe through a creative outlet, or through discussion or journaling… whatever works best. There must be a way to let it out and explore it in a productive manner.
Coming to terms with our inner children is a lifelong practice and one that should be done gently, as we would with our own children. It is something that will require patience and compassion. It will require courage and vulnerability. The process will be much like parenting ourselves. Treating our scared inner children in ways that will encourage growth and healing. Meeting their unmet needs, regularly checking in and self-care. When our inner children need to be heard and we don’t give them a safe space, this is a recipe for outbursts. Taking the time to connect with and better understand what these parts of us are, enables us to hold space for ourselves. Oftentimes merely allowing ourselves to FEEL what they feel is enough for our inner children to have a sense of validation. Making a regular practice of honoring our inner children in this way creates a peaceful path to healing for our inner children and wellness for us.
*********************************************************** Please know that I am not a medical practitioner and I am not trying to replace or negate any medical advice you may have been given. If you are having an emergency or feel like you may be having an emotional crisis, please call your physician right away.
Mary Ramsey A certified aromatherapist, member of both the "National Association of Holistic Aromatherapy" as well as the "International Alliance of Holistic Therapists", crystal therapy student, herbal student, star watcher, moon gazer, wellness coach, healer, mother of two and future wife.