Working with the inner child in therapy means working with the little boy or little girl within us so that we can reconnect with some of the reasons for our adult fears, insecurities, phobias and life patterns. By understanding them we can change those patterns so that healing can occur.
One way in which I work with the inner child is by using Russian stacking dolls with each doll representing a time of the client’s life. I have also used them to represent certain people or situations that were around the client at a specific time. This can be very powerful within therapy but equally very healing. They can represent different emotions within us too.
If we think of our Self as a Russian nesting doll, a discrete and complete unit, that is part of a larger system, we begin to frame our own life in the context of the lives of others. We can be in alignment with those forces and communities around us and fit in, take the path of least resistance, or we may endorse the diversity of our singularity and help produce the conflict that changes the dominant order – Viva la différence! In either case, our actions are aided or thwarted by anyone who has the agency to affect our life leaving us with the feeling that the winds of luck are at our back or blowing trouble our way. We cannot change the direction or force of the wind, and we may choose to stay our course no matter how problematic or alter how we navigate the situation.
We were all at one time children. And the child you once were did not just up and vanish, to be replaced by a perfectly formed, always responsible adult.
Indeed, most of us act very much like children at least now and then. It’s in the moment you have a temper tantrum over a parking ticket, or fall into a panicky sense of abandonment when you learn your partner is going off for a three-week business trip.
And some of us, if we had a tough or loveless childhood, are actually children most (if not all) of the time. We might look like an adult, but inside is an angry five-year old who trusts no one and is secretly calling the shots.
In psychology, this part of your unconscious that represents the child you once were, and manifests as a sort of ‘other personality’ in social interactions, is often referred to as the ‘inner child’.
Inner child work might take the form of:
• dialoguing (talking) with your inner child
• journaling from your inner child’s voice
• talking with a therapist from your inner child’s voice
• to feel in touch meditating with your inner child
• working with a pillow, doll or stuffed toy that represents your inner child
• ‘play’ techniques in the therapy room
• allowing yourself to be playful in real life and do things you loved as a child
• learning to ‘parent’ yourself (nurture and care for yourself).
It sounds odd. What is the real benefit of all that?
Yes, it can seem odd to be ‘talking’ to the ‘child within’ or ‘parenting yourself’. But the benefits are impressive. They include:
• accessing repressed memories that are holding you back
• being able to feel again after years of being numb
• gaining personal power and the ability to set boundaries
• learning how to take better care of yourself
• feeling self-compassion and liking yourself more
• being able to enjoy life and have fun again
• gaining self-confidence
Childhood trauma leaves a child with shame, which means he or she will feel they have to hide their experience and/or emotions in order to survive.
If you were controlled by your parents, or if you were taught to believe you were only acceptable and loveable if you were ‘good’, then you would learn to hide the emotions like sadness or anger that got you into trouble.
If you experienced rejection, abandonment or abuse you would learn to hide your pain and fear to not be hurt or rejected again
Seeing unresolved childhood trauma, pain, and repressed emotions as a separate entity, an ‘inner child’, can help you to be more compassionate towards yourself. And the more empathy we can show towards ourselves, the faster we can process and heal our pasts.
But you are still your adult self when you do inner child work. It’s simply about accessing another part of your unconscious, or a side of your personality, if you like.
The issues that inner child work is known to be very suitable for include:
• childhood abuse – emotional abuse, sexual abuse, physical abuse
• depression and anxiety
• anger management issues
• passive aggressive behaviour
• low self-esteem
• abandonment issues and borderline personality disorder
• emotional numbness
• relationship difficulties
• co-dependency and powerlessness
If any of this has resonated with you, please feel free to get in touch with me.