You might have heard about the idea of an inner child, but do you really know what it is? According to Psychology Today, it is a powerful psychological reality that should be taken seriously. Like everyone else, you were once a child, and a piece of that still child lives within you. Your inner child is an unconscious part of who you are, though; it’s a metaphorical concept that explains the individual’s childlike aspects and what they learned in their first few years.
Not everyone has a healthy childhood. Sometimes we learn to internalize negativity as children, or we learn from repeatedly being mistreated that we “deserve” to be treated poorly. In that way, your inner child can become wounded. It can also become wounded if, even though you had a healthy home life and were treated well, you suffered from a traumatic physical or psychological event. You might not have gotten over the pain, even if you think you did.
If any of the following apply to you, you might have a wounded inner child:
1. You fear abandonment
Living with the overwhelming fear that the people in your life are going to leave you is, as you can imagine, difficult. It can come in the form of being clingy, codependent, feeling unworthy of love or overly insecure, or even as depression and anxiety. People who worry about being abandoned might be hard to please because nothing anyone does feels like good enough validation that they’re true and committed. For those and many reasons, this common fear is “arguably one of the most damaging fears of all,” according to Very Well Mind, and it relates to our inner child because “our behaviors and actions in current relationships are all thought to be the result of old fears and learned concepts that take place in childhood.” That’s why it’s important to heal the child that was wounded all those years ago, the child that still resides deep down in your psyche.
2. You have inappropriate guilt
Guilt is a feeling of regret that people encounter after they’ve done something wrong, or have been responsible for something bad happening. It seems simple enough, but the need for guilt can be real or imagined. In other words, when you feel guilty for no reason, like when you haven’t done wrong, or when you feel it in excess, it can be a sign of a serious issue like depression or anxiety. It can be a sign of a wounded inner child when your guilt doesn’t fit your circumstances because it most likely means you were made to feel guilty frequently in your childhood and you never healed from it. Adults can often make children feel responsible for things outside of their control, and the result is unnecessarily guilty emotions.
3. You have trust issues
It makes sense that if you’re constantly lied to, cheated on, or manipulated, you’d be wary of other people’s intentions. Trust issues are a defense mechanism to try to avoid experiencing the same anxiety and heartache again. But those issues and subsequent defenses can be damaging to healthy relationships later on in life. Not everyone is going to mistreat you, and believing they are can prevent you from getting close to people who truly love you because you aren’t sure about their intentions. It can even prevent you from enjoying the loving relationships you are in because you aren’t confident and you’re consumed with fears. Such issues often stem from a wounded inner child because when you learn from the beginning that people can’t be trusted, it isn’t always easy to relearn that some people can be.
4. You have a fear of setting boundaries
Boundaries are the rules we create in our own minds to help us figure out how much we’ll let other people get away with in our lives. But sometimes people have difficulty setting limits on how much of themselves they give to other people. They can’t properly enforce the boundaries they come up with. Perhaps you’re a people pleaser, unable to say “no” when someone asks you to do them a favor. You know you don’t want to extend yourself too far and help them all the time, but you can’t enforce the boundary you know you want to exist. It could be because you’re afraid to hurt their feelings or maybe you’re just not good at speaking your mind. However it manifests in you, it’s often a sign of a wounded inner child.
5. You’re quick to anger
Anger is a universal emotion that everyone feels at one point or another. There are many reasons to be angry, ranging from big to small, and in some cases, anger can be healthy to feel and express. But when a person regularly loses their cool and struggles to manage it properly, it’s a sign that there’s a deeper issue. Being overly angry can be the same as your inner child having a fit. It can mean that you’re holding onto a time when your needs weren’t met or where your circumstances were unfair and frustrating. That’s why healing your inner child is so important, and why being aware of these signs is helpful.
6. You have trouble letting things go
Do you continue to think about arguments long after they’re over? Do you ruminate over bad things that happened even though you know you’d be happier if you just moved on? Or do you cling to things that are already over because it feels safer than accepting reality? It could be because you’re experiencing symptoms of the baggage you assumed you’d left behind a while ago. We bring struggles with us from our childhoods into our adulthoods whether we wanted to or not. What matters is how you deal with them in order to grow as a person.
To begin to heal your inner child, express yourself authentically, and without shame. Respect your past self and be kind about what you went through in your early years. Engage in self-care activities that soothe your soul and fill you with positivity. Tell yourself you’re worthy of love and kindness. Journal your feelings. Treat your inner child as you would an actual kid you need to take care of or parent. Healing your inner child might seem like a big task, but take it one step at a time and know that it can help explain your behaviors and get to the root of your fears and that ultimately, it’s worth the effort.
Psychology Today. 2020. Essential Secrets Of Psychotherapy: The Inner Child. <https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/evil-deeds/200806/essential-secrets-psychotherapy-the-inner-child>
Fritscher, Lisa. “Why Some People Experience a Fear of Abandonment.” Verywell Mind, Verywell Mind, 3 Apr. 2020, www.verywellmind.com/fear-of-abandonment-2671741.