Wisdom of the Inner Child
When we think of our own personal well-being we might first imagine feeling healthy or have a sense of gratitude for the beauty and strength we possess in our bodies. Feeling well can also mean being happy, contented or at peace within the mind and emotions. Perhaps your career success, financial freedom, intellectual or social stimulation, ability to travel or invest in your passion, purpose or enlightenment defines how well you feel. Our concept of wellness can also simply mean feeling connected to family, friends, community or one’s spiritual nature. It’s all how you look at it and we’re all individuals with differing values, needs and desires when it comes to feeling and being well. But, when you’re seeking out what makes you feel good, the motivations and requirements to be happy, healthy and well, do you ever ask yourself: who’s really running the show? The answer to what drives you down your road to personal wellness and fulfillment may surprise you.
All people have within them a loving, trusting and creative part of their personality that can be termed their “inner child.” This is the part of you that seeks love, enjoyment, security, comfort, pleasure and gratification. It can manifest as very healthy and fulfilling behaviors when properly fostered or if ignored and neglected can become extremely self-destructive. The inner child can become a fun-loving, helpful friend or a bratty, selfish and toxic enemy to you and your life and wellness goals. If you notice that your habitual tendencies lead you toward discomfort, dysfunction or even dis-ease, you may have an inner child that needs special care and remedial attention in order to dig your way out of a self-destructive rut.
When examining the holistic sense of wellness and contentment in my clientele or in any individual I’m always led to wonder how healthy and happy their inner child truly is. The subconscious beliefs and needs of one’s inner child will determine the ultimate nature of the adult’s state of body, mind and emotions. If those needs go unfulfilled or the belief system of the subconscious is abusive, destructive or otherwise limiting, the inner child feels threatened and becomes defensive and self-punishing, marring the success and happiness of the adult personality. A poor sense of self or the world, learned early in childhood, will manifest as poor choices later in life and negatively affects all aspects of one’s being: body, mind, heart and spirit and all relationships.
I believe that the missing ingredient for many people looking to be healthier and happier, and more successful or satisfied in their lives is a connection with their psychological inner child, who may have been lost or hidden for protection due to excessive stress, trauma, tragedy, abuse, abandonment, neglect or other toxic relationships or mistreatment in one’s childhood. Your inner child’s sense of safety and security was formed by the age of six and developed into the key aspects of your personality, including your ego, sense of self-worth and social belonging and most of your subconscious beliefs, needs and desires. Once those psychological and personality patterns of thought, emotion and behavior are established they can be very challenging habits to break. But once they are uncovered and understood they can be changed and made to work for the betterment, needs and goals of the adult self. A happy, secure inner child learns to self-sooth with positive behaviors like exercising, playing freely, eating right, socializing and expressing their emotions through creative outlets. A wary, scarred inner child tends to act out in fearful and potentially harmful ways.
So, how happy and healthy is your inner child? For an honest answer let’s first look at what may have shaped your beliefs early on. Because your inner child really wants to feel secure, comfortable and loved it may act out in rebellious ways when it feels its needs have been denied. If before the age of six you experienced a lot of tumult at home your inner child may have trust issues and not feel very safe. As children we know on an intuitive level that we can’t survive on our own, that we are essentially helpless and powerless. Children are simply mirrors of the adults around them. They are also great at adapting to prevailing winds so they don’t get blown away. Hence the phrase, “children are so resilient.” If you get what you need most as a child (love, trust, care and comfort) you’ll feel empowered, that you matter and that you can ask for what you need and the adults responsible for your care will supply it. If not, you feel needy and neglected, unloved and even unlovable. That turns into feelings of hopelessness, despair, distrust and resentment later in life.
All children are loveable, but if you were abused or ignored in any way early on, you may not have felt loved or cared for as much as you needed. That part of you begins to feel a sense of worthlessness and a lack of fulfillment. To ensure survival the child can develop strong defense mechanisms. See, if you didn’t feel safe and protected then, you began to protect yourself with “walls” of avoidance, aloofness, aggressiveness and victimhood. The child blames him or herself for those slights to feel safe because if they blamed their parents or guardians it would mean they lived in an unsafe world, which is unbearable to the child’s tender psyche. The harmed child then punishes themselves with self-imposed limitations and he or she thinks they deserve the same treatment that put them in that position leading to self-destructive habits and a negative self-image. This is where the feelings of not being “good enough” or worthy of love and care arise, dooming the adult to repeat the pattern of abuse and neglect, whether that treatment was intentional or not.
The protective inner child needs comfort, to be appreciated, to believe he or she is powerful and worth protecting, and to belong and feel safe. If those needs are not met in childhood the psyche looks for ways to fulfill them or deny them in adulthood. This can lead to a chaotic, reckless and desperate set of adult behaviors like addiction, exhibitionism, hedonism, escapism, nihilism, self-loathing, self-isolation, self-deception and co-dependent or abusive relationships. That internal, protective survivor-self, a scared child locked inside you, unable to feel safe, will thrash and lash out until you wind up in its self-defeating thrall. The warped inner child turns on itself and acts out, trying to silence or destroy itself, blaming itself for not getting the love, power and attention it needed but never received so early on. The tempestuous inner child must be nurtured, held and loved until it is fully reintegrated into the adult or a lifetime of emotional difficulty and rejection is almost guaranteed.
Let’s take a deeper look at how your inner child operates and what it perceives as truth. Your inner child is under six years old. It takes every message given to it literally like a kindergartener would. Like children believe that Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny are real, the innocent, trusting and gullible inner child also believes any other messages, overt or subtle, that filter in must be true. Really, children under six have no filter for “BS.” The abstract non-sense detecting mind develops later. So if you tell or show a child they are unworthy of love, they believe it and those messages are carried into adulthood. Perception is everything to the inner child. It is the basis for the subconscious mind. The subconscious never says “no.” Like an improvisational child at play it always says, “yes,” even to unintentionally negative programming. The heart’s needs for fulfillment originates in the subconscious mind. It accepts the idealistic, fantastical, mysterious, emotional and imaginative aspects of life as real. It is your “real” self in many ways. The most honest, trusting, open, vulnerable, revealing, receptive and free part of you is derived from your inner child’s beliefs and assumptions. But those beliefs can be damaged or poorly influenced at such a young age, we hardly realize where the programming comes from and that gets our adult selves in trouble when left unchecked.
The adult self is formed by the rational, heady, problem-solving mind, based on familial and societal expectations for acceptable behavior and the fulfillment of adult needs and obligations. It’s the part of you that wants to “fit in” and “be normal,” whereas the inner child is happy to stand out as an individual and be extraordinary, before it learns to shut down and close off if it feels harmed or threatened. Denying or disapproving of your inner child’s needs is a part of your rational, waking consciousness – the part of your psyche that decides what appropriate behaviors fit into your daily tasks and responsibilities, defined by logic and preset goals. The rational mind is critical, concealing, analytical, routine-oriented and “realistic.” It’s like an arrow pointed at a bull’s-eye. It’s not at all shaped like the inner child’s creative understanding, which is more of an amorphous bit of clay. Yet the subconscious inner child’s mind represents a vastly larger part of our entire consciousness than the single-minded rational adult mind. Your inner child is really running the show of your needs and wants, beliefs and habits, and how you reach for fulfillment and wellness.
Listening to and tending to your inner child’s needs and heeding his or her warnings is a great approach to solving your self-imposed subconscious limitations and moving beyond bad behaviors that stymie your success and how well you can feel. Learning to play and indulging your inner child’s needs can help you to communicate with your unconscious desires, before they spiral into destructive habits – if they haven’t already. Splurging on your child-like impulses now and again can keep him or her from becoming a rambunctious brat. Fighting those oft hidden desires will only backfire anyway. If you sense your inner kid’s needs are not being fulfilled (his or her biggest fear) and you notice immature behaviors creeping in and disrupting your adult ambitions, you may have to cut loose more often to quell those childish urges. Look at your children or the children of friends and family under six years old and notice if they seem free and playful or serious and cautious. Do they appear to feel safe expressing themselves or shy about whom to trust with their feelings? How do they move and interact? Are they open and inviting or stiff and reluctant? Observing kid’s behavior shows us a lot about how adults may act if they’re in touch with their inner child’s needs or not.
An adult’s choice of profession or vocation, their predominant humor and attitude, and their relationships and posture are also indications of how openly childlike they feel comfortable being. The inner child will stop at nothing until their needs are expressed and fulfilled. People are just grown-up kids and their actions reflect if their inner child’s needs are satisfied or suppressed. They’ll act out, foolishly or carelessly, as children would if discontented. Dealing with your subconscious needs can help you feel whole; it’s a part of you that must be integrated or you’ll suffer the consequences of a shattered ego. Developing a child-like sense of carefree abandon when appropriate can give you a greater sense of resilience and adaptability when stress gets you down. Cherishing the wisdom and wonder of your inner child is an essential part of your overall sense of health, wholeness and wellness.
As a child I had several self-soothing activities to help me cope with the stress that popped up around me. I still go to them when I feel stressed-out or glum these days. I think they’re healthy expressions of my inner child’s needs for creativity and enjoyment. They’re like security blankets when the world feels cold and forbidding. I’d like to share them with you as an inspiration for the recovery and nurturing of your inner child. I splurge on myself with them whenever I need to feel self-love and comfort. And no, none of them involve CAKE! Although, cake is sometimes helpful, too…
• I loved to read adventure novels. Then I’d put the book I was reading down and daydream how the adventure would continue in my own fantasy.
• I always loved writing poems or short stories from my wildest imagination.
• I loved drawing: trees, animals, figures and faces were my favorite subjects.
• Listening to music (especially Broadway showtunes) always made me happy.
• I’d draw fantasy maps with cities, countries, roads, bridges, rail lines, mountains, deserts and rivers, oceans, etc. – all with crazy made-up names. +Hidden treasures!
• I’d sit and watch the weather: clouds, rain, sun and fog – daydreaming away!
• I’d talk to my cats or dogs and pretend they answered me back (didn’t they?)
• I’d explore the woods: climbing trees, picking flowers and eating wild raspberries.
• I loved making special worlds for my action figures to explore and conquer – all in my back yard wonderland. Ah, simpler times.
• I dreamed of flying into outer space and diving into the ocean to find Atlantis.
• I’d sing and dance like no one was watching.
I still do many of these things today, quite proudly. I indulge my inner child’s needs without shame, for his need for expression is worth my time and energy. I’ve parlayed many of the activities listed into fruitful creative endeavors and imaginative works of art, theatre and literature, as well. But I’ve tried never to ignore that part of me that just wants to be loved and comforted as a special, worthy individual. So we all should be treasured as such! Every so often find a way to “make believe,” and pretend you’re a fairy princess or a warrior prince for a day. Ride a roller coaster or ride your bike somewhere new. Explore the woods or your own back yard. Buy some finger paint or buy a fun toy, doll or action figure to engage your inner child. Go “LARP-ing,” take an acting or improv class or initiate a game of hide-and-seek with the kids in your family. Get off the computer or X-Box. Let yourself go out and play! Follow your bliss down the road to wellness.
You and your inner child will be happy you did!
Be well! ~Namaste