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Inner Child Work in Therapy

Updated: Nov 13, 2023

I want you to take a moment to imagine a room where you come face-to-face with your five-year-old self. This little child resembles you in every way; they look, sound, and are dressed just as you were, capturing the essence of how you remember yourself as at that tender age.

Perhaps they are giggling, happily immersed in their own world of imagination and play, chatting away to themselves. But suddenly, fear takes hold and their eyes dart around the room, searching for comfort. They look to you for reassurance. What do you feel at that moment?

  • Do you long to embrace them in a warm hug, cradling them gently?

  • Do you yearn to offer words of comfort, letting them know that you are there, reassuring them that everything is OK?

  • Do you wish to encourage them to find their way back to the carefree realm of playfulness and lightness they were just moments ago?

When imagining a child scared and afraid, we are hard-wired to comfort and soothe them as our maternal/paternal instincts kick in.

Now, instead of extending that much-needed warmth, love, and support that you may intuitively feel to give, imagine saying something to them that echoes the self-critical thoughts you sometimes inflict upon yourself during moments of pain or fear. Perhaps you find yourself saying, "Just get over it," or "Stop feeling this way."

Maybe you say, "Why are you always like this?" or "Nobody will ever like/love you if you continue acting like this." "You'll never be good enough," or "You'll never amount to anything in life." Shocking, isn't it? This cruel inner dialogue is all too familiar to some of us. We become our own tormentors and as cliché as it may sound - our own worst enemies.

Reflecting on this, I invite you to notice how you treat yourself during future moments of distress. What do you say to yourself in those vulnerable times? Is it kind, compassionate, and soothing? Would you say the same words to your five-year-old self if they were sitting before you, sharing the same pain?

In embarking on the journey of inner child work, we confront the undeniable truth that we carry the echoes of our childhood within us. The beliefs, experiences, and emotions we absorbed as children continue to shape our lives as adults. By reconnecting with and nurturing our inner child, we can heal past wounds and foster self-compassion, kindness, resilience, a sense of wholeness, and inner peace.

The first step is awareness. Notice the moments when you slip into self-critical thoughts. Be gentle with yourself as you observe the harshness of your inner dialogue. Try to remain open and curious and begin to recognise that these thoughts, although ingrained, are not a reflection of your true self.

Self-compassion and inner child work Self-compassion in the context of inner child work also involves developing a deep sense of empathy towards your past self. As you reconnect with your inner child, you gain a heightened understanding of the pain, struggles, and unmet needs they experienced. Through self-compassion, you can hold space for your inner child's emotions without judgment or avoidance. You learn to validate their experiences and offer them the love and support they may have longed for. By extending compassion to your inner child, you create a transformative healing dynamic within yourself, fostering a sense of emotional integration and wholeness. Through this process, you not only heal your past wounds but also cultivate a greater capacity for compassion towards yourself and others in your present life. Self-compassion becomes a guiding force that nourishes and uplifts your inner child, empowering you to embrace your authentic self with love and acceptance. By integrating self-compassion into your inner child work, you can create a nurturing and healing environment for your inner child to flourish. Here are some ways to incorporate more self-compassion into your practice.

Embrace vulnerability Recognise that vulnerability is a natural part of the healing process. Instead of judging or criticising yourself for feeling vulnerable, offer yourself love and understanding. Remind yourself that it takes courage to confront and heal past wounds.

Practice self-soothing Just as you would comfort a scared child, learn to soothe yourself during challenging times. Develop self-soothing strategies that work for you, such as deep breathing, mindfulness exercises, or engaging in activities that bring you joy and relaxation.

Cultivate self-kindness Replace self-critical thoughts with words of kindness and encouragement. Treat yourself with the same love and gentleness you would show your five-year-old self. Remind yourself that it's OK to make mistakes and that you are deserving of love and acceptance, no matter what.

Challenge negative beliefs Many of the self-critical thoughts we hold are based on outdated beliefs formed in childhood. As you engage in inner child work, question the validity of these beliefs. Replace them with more empowering and compassionate thoughts that reflect your worth and potential.

Practice mindfulness and self-awareness Develop a mindful awareness of your thoughts and emotions. Notice when self-critical thoughts arise and consciously choose to respond with self-compassion. Understand that thoughts are not facts and that you have the power to choose how you relate to them.

Seek support Inner child work can be an emotional and challenging process. It's important to reach out for support when needed. Consider seeking guidance from a therapist or support group to help navigate your healing journey and provide additional tools and guidance for practising self-compassion. I recommend doing inner child work within therapy if you feel that alone it may be too overwhelming and overpowering to connect with your younger self.

Celebrate progress Acknowledge and celebrate your growth along the way. Celebrate moments of self-compassion and kindness, no matter how small they may seem. Recognise that healing takes time and effort, and every step forward is a significant achievement.

Remember, self-compassion is not self-indulgence or self-pity; it is an essential act of nurturing and caring for yourself, just as you would for your five-year-old self. With self-compassion, you can rewrite the narrative of your inner dialogue, fostering resilience, self-acceptance, and a deep sense of inner peace.

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