Recognizing & Healing the Inner-Child
The world of adults believes that they’ve grown up and left the silly child they once were behind. However, once in therapy sessions, they are reminded of how their current self is a mosaic of the childhood antics, fears and beliefs. To heal their adult self, they need to get in touch with that child they once were.
I realized that the roots of the “good-girl syndrome” and unexplained anxiety I experienced as an adult stemmed from my childhood conditioning. I went through all the phases of a healing journey: from blaming to breaking down to finally accepting and working on myself. For me, it has been a gradual process but indeed a necessary one. I write on mental health among other topics and today, my dear reader, we will explore the concept of the inner child together.
Who is the Inner Child?
The inner child is your subconscious self that starts shaping up since you are born on this earth. The experiences, emotions, environment — both positive and negative — begin weaving your persona and conditioning behaviour long before you can even understand and process them.
Numerous research papers demonstrate the connection between childhood trauma and mental health issues in adult life, and this is fairly well established in the field of psychology. Indeed, childhood trauma has been linked with long-lasting changes in cognitive and brain development. One of these changes is structural alterations in key regions of the amygdala. The amygdala is a structure in the base of the brain that detects and responds to threats, among other functions and that in recent years has gained popularity as the fight-or-flight part of the brain. An enlarged or overactive amygdala is associated with an increase in reaction to danger thereby associated with anxiety disorders.
Issues rooted in childhood
Low self-esteem can stem from emotional abuse, invalidation, harsh criticism, frequent punishments, bullying while growing up. If you were told you were not good enough in many ways as a child, the ‘adult you’ lives in the same misconception until the seed of self-love is sown. Unfortunately, some children face physical abuse; in adult life, they frequently take upon shame, regret and unworthiness. When severe, these adverse life events can also result in stress and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Another product of unhealed underlying trauma is addiction. A study in 2011 concluded that people with substance use disorder have a childhood history of physical abuse and suffer from lower self-esteem.
Trauma can also stem from financial issues that the child was a witness to. If a child saw parents struggling to make ends meet, the financial trauma may last in adult life. One might get into the habit of impulse buying as a way to bridge that gap and regret later or focus only on making money neglecting their mental health. Many such permutations determine present trauma in adult life.
Gifts of Resilience
It is not always dark clouds, there are silver linings too. A study published by Georgia Southern University provides evidence that there is an association between a history of trauma and being helpful to others. It goes like this: a child becomes empathetic because they relate to other adults’ stress, they are more resilient because they are not new to life’s adversities, they are creative as any form of art becomes their outlet to let out their emotions, their sense of humour develops as a coping mechanism.
While I agree that there might have been adversities and emotional invalidation towards all of us, it is equally important to note that our experiences do not always amount to clinical trauma. What is perceived as traumatic by one person may not be traumatic to another. Interestingly, the impact and severity of the same traumatic event have been shown to differ on siblings too — when they both grew up in the same environment! To paraphrase Dr. Richard J. McNally, Professor of Psychology at Harvard University, “Let’s not overmedicalize normal emotional responses to stressors and undermine human resilience in the face of adversity.”
Revered spiritual leader, Thich Nhat Hanh says, “The cry we hear from deep in our hearts comes from the wounded child within. Healing this inner child’s pain is the key to transforming anger, sadness, and fear.” I spoke to Areena Narang based in Thailand who is a holistic healer, a trauma therapist and practices inner child healing. Areena is also a student of renowned physician and author Dr. Gabor Maté. She helps her clients re-parent their inner child based on the kind of issues they are facing. She uses hypnotherapy — a form of psychotherapy where the individual is placed into a trance-like state in which they have heightened focus and concentration so that they can explore memories of their past. She told me: “The problems that we face are to some degree based on the disconnect from the self. Whether that problem shows up as depression, anxiety, psychosis, eating disorders, addictions, or even chronic inflammatory conditions, they often go back to childhood trauma that began with that disconnect. In the need to feel ‘in control’, we develop different coping mechanisms to avoid the real feeling.” Areena also told me about one case where the client suffered from a binge eating disorder. During hypnosis, she was able to uncover her childhood situations where she felt unsafe and unworthy. A severe family financial crisis that rendered them almost homeless rose as one of the prime causes. Food became her comfort. Through several sessions and a post-session toolkit that included behavioural and mental exercises, the client has been able to eat consciously since then. She quotes Carl Jung, “Until you make the unconscious conscious it will direct your life and you will call it fate”. In closing… Before you prepare your journey towards transformation through inner child healing, there is something that you should be aware of. There are no culprits in this scheme of things. The parental figure behaved that way because they were wounded too and never knew how to heal. If you’re deciding to heal, you are the cycle breaker- breaking the generational cycle of wound-hurt-wound. You are deciding to unlearn the unhealthy coping mechanisms and polishing your core being. That is powerful. You are powerful. May our healing journey be rewarding!