What is this post about?
What in the world does “inner child” mean? The definition I like best it “A person’s supposed original or true self, especially when regarded as damaged or concealed by negative childhood experiences”. In other words, “inner child” means that your true self has suffered childhood traumas that have damaged the psyche in various ways.
I hope by talking about this issue I can begin to heal myself, my wounded inner self, and help others stuck along the same path that I am now on.
What got me thinking about healing my wounded inner child?
My wife has often said to me that I need to “heal the hurt little boy” inside of me. She knows much of my early childhood sufferings and abuses. While intuitively I have known that she is correct, that there are deep psychological wounds, I have never mustered the courage to start the healing process. I wouldn’t have known where to begin.
Another prodding occurred while I was watching the Netflix documentary “I Am Not Your Guru”, about personal development expert Anthony Robbins. In one extended sequence, Mr. Robbins works with a man to help him overcome his timidity, his inability to “roar”. Without getting too deep into the intervention (although I suggest you watch it – it’s powerful) at the end Mr. Robbins said something that made me break out in tears. He said, “A man just doesn’t fucking appear. Heal the boy, and a man will appear”.
What finally got me seriously thinking about ACTUALLY starting the process of healing my wounded inner child was a Mindfulness article from 2011 by Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk and peace activist called, Healing the Child Within. I suggest you read it. Powerful, powerful stuff that I will attempt to distill and apply to my situation in the rest of this post.
Some personal background
All I wanted was a mom. My parents got divorced when I was very young and I was raised by my paternal grandmother. She did the best she could and I never wanted for anything. In an effort to “make up” for my tough early childhood she spoiled me. She often praised me for non-accomplishments. She never pushed me to do anything I wasn’t inclined to do, nor finish things that I had started. Please know that I am not blaming my grandmother for anything. I am just telling you how things were. She loved me, but she wasn’t a mom. She gave me everything I needed materially, but she wasn’t the nurturing, correcting figure that good moms need to be.
When my father decided to remarry I was very excited. Finally! A mom! The first time I met her (I was 8) I ran up to her and embraced her with a loud “Hi, mom!”. She replied coolly in my ear, “I am not your mother”. Our relationship went downhill from there. I am not sure what it was about me that my step-mother hated, but hate me she did. She often made fun of my weight and would scream at me for the most minor of infractions. Berating me in front of her family was something she enjoyed for some reason. The brief time I lived with my father and step-mom was a living hell.
I was so afraid of waking my step-mom up at night (or more accurately, the repercussions I would face that next day after my dad went to work) that I would lay in my bed and urinate rather than get up and go to the bathroom, which was located next to the master bedroom. My punishment for wetting the bed – washing my mattress in the yard in front of friends and neighbors – was preferable to what I’d get if I woke her up.
Yeah, I have pushed down a lot of hurt, anger, and tears over the years.
Why do I need to heal my wounded inner child?
As you might imagine, my less than ideal childhood caused some issues while I was growing up. I would often act out, got in trouble with the law more than once. I was a thief, stealing things because I wanted them and felt I deserved to have them, I lied compulsively, littered, and had trouble establishing lasting relationships because I only cared about myself.
When I met my wife she began helping my shed these shortcomings. I think the littering was the first to go! She couldn’t believe I would throw a hamburger wrapper out the window while driving. It’s hard for me to believe I ever did that.
Over the last 27 years, my wife has raised 4 children – our 3 kids, and me. It’s been a rather unfair and thankless journey for her. Without getting too deep into personal territory, I can tell you that being a wife and mother to your husband is a burden. Carolyn has helped me grow up in some many ways, but I must take myself through the last part of the journey. She cannot do this for me.
My wounded inner child has been ignored, but he’s always there trying to get my attention. He pleads for help, “I’m here. You can’t ignore me. You can’t run away from me.” I have tried to suppress my suffering by burying his voice deep inside, staying as far away as possible. However, suppressing the voice hasn’t ended my suffering; it has only prolonged it. The healing starts now.
How can I begin healing my wounded inner child
So, now that I am ready to begin the healing journey what can I do? Below are the main points from the article by Thich Nhat Hanh that I mentioned earlier. These are the starting points for healing that wounded inner child and I intend to take them up immediately.
We must learn to listen to our inner child, and recognize when it begins calling for help or otherwise acting up. We must learn to listen, and not only hear what our inner child is saying but speak comfort to back it.
When we speak of listening with compassion, we usually think of listening to someone else. But we must also listen to the wounded child inside us. Sometimes the wounded child in us needs all our attention. That little child might emerge from the depths of your consciousness and ask for your attention. If you are mindful, you will hear his or her voice calling for help. At that moment, instead of paying attention to whatever is in front of you, go back and tenderly embrace the wounded child.
You can talk directly to the child with the language of love, saying, “In the past, I left you alone. I went away from you. Now, I am very sorry. I am going to embrace you.” You can say, “Darling, I am here for you, I will take good care of you. I know you suffer so much, I have been so busy, I have neglected you, and now I have learned a way to come back to you.” If necessary, you have to cry together with that child. Whenever you need to, you can sit and breathe with the child. “Breathing in, I go back to my wounded child; breathing out, I take good care of my wounded child.”
Being mindful is a most difficult thing for most westerners. There is so much distraction in the world. However, mindfulness is a necessary skill to develop if we are to engage its various functions to deal with the wounded inner child.
The first function of mindfulness is to recognize and not to fight. We can stop at any time and become aware of the child within us. When we recognize the wounded child for the first time, all we need to do is be aware of him or her and say hello. That’s all. Perhaps this child is sad. If we notice this we can just breathe in and say to ourselves, “Breathing in, I know that sorrow has manifested in me. Hello, my sorrow. Breathing out, I will take good care of you.”
Once we have recognized our inner child, the second function of mindfulness is to embrace him or her. This is a very pleasant practice. Instead of fighting our emotions, we are taking good care of ourselves. Mindfulness brings with her an ally — concentration. The first few minutes of recognizing and embracing our inner child with tenderness will bring some relief. The difficult emotions will still be there, but we won’t suffer as much anymore.
After recognizing and embracing our inner child, the third function of mindfulness is to soothe and relieve our difficult emotions. Just by holding this child gently, we are soothing our difficult emotions and we can begin to feel at ease. When we embrace our strong emotions with mindfulness and concentration, we’ll be able to see the roots of these mental formations. We’ll know where our suffering has come from. When we see the roots of things, our suffering will lessen. So mindfulness recognizes, embraces, and relieves.
We must not be afraid of the sufferings of our inner child. We must embrace them and dismantle them. Some of us have decades of hurt and fear and angry feelings stored up. It will take time to embrace and dismantle them. That is OK.
In the quote below “living room” means conscious mind, and “basement” means the subconscious mind.
If we can learn not to fear our knots of suffering, we slowly begin to let them circulate up into our living room. We begin to learn how to embrace them and transform them with the energy of mindfulness. When we dismantle the barrier between the basement and the living room, blocks of pain will come up and we will have to suffer a bit. Our inner child may have a lot of fear and anger stored up from being down in the basement for so long. There is no way to avoid it.
That is why the practice of mindfulness is so important. If mindfulness is not there, it is very unpleasant to have these seeds come up. But if we know how to generate the energy of mindfulness, it’s very healing to invite them up every day and embrace them.
Thank you for reading this. It has helped me tremendously to get this out of my head and into words. I will keep you updated on my progress. If you’d like to discuss this further feel free to comment or use the contact me page to drop me a more private message.
All quotes Adapted from Reconciliation: Healing The Inner Child (2010) by Thich Nhat Hanh