Becoming a loving parent to you inner child is an imperative step in becoming a fully grown and psychologically healthy adult.
While everyone grows up to become an adult in a physical sense, many of us are still children in our minds. We act out from the unconscious and unaddressed programs we learnt in our past.
In this post we will learn how to become the loving parent of these inner children. But first, we need to get clear on what, exactly, an inner child is.
What is an Inner Child?
When we were young, we had powerful developing brains. As things happened to us, good or bad, we learned to categorise our experience. When an event was particularly impactful, we filed it away as “how things are”. For example: if you had to cope in an unsafe environment your child brain may have concluded “the world is unsafe”. If a kid on the playground punched you in the belly after you asked them to play with you, you may have concluded “people don’t like me”.
Sometimes, these are called defining moments, and they can be good or bad. Jim Carey, for example, talks frequently about receiving a bike when he was quite young and poor, the day after praying for one. That moment he saw the bike, he concluded that the world would give him anything he wants. This shows the power of the “how things are” beliefs we create as a child. Jim Carey is now one of the most successful men in the world (and reportedly, extremely happy).
Unfortunately, most of us did not have the Jim Carey experience. Later in this post, I’ll offer an exercise of how to uncover your defining moments, and sadly, for most of us, they’re pretty negative beliefs. Many of us did not receive the kind of love, support or nourishment we needed to grow up healthy and complete. Many of us were physically or emotionally abused or neglected.
To make it through each experience as a child, we created what I like to call a “program”. We could only create that program with the resources we had at the time. As young children, those resources weren’t very good.
A program includes our new beliefs about how things are, and also our damaging beliefs of how we are (I am bad, I am wrong, I am worthless, I am unlovable). Then, it creates an operating system to carry us through those new beliefs. This system, or program, may include a variety of mechanisms, like striking out at people first, or isolating from social situations, or becoming a people pleaser. We pick a program that works for us at the time, using the best resources available to us, and we lock it in.
How Your Inner Child plays out as an adult
As humans, our tendency is to only accept information that aligns with our existing beliefs. Therefore, as we grow into adulthood, we are unlikely to change the powerful defining moments we learned as kids. We will act out from these wounds as long as they remain untended to.
This is best demonstrated using an example: so let’s continue with our inner child that was punched in the belly at four years old, and let’s call him Jim. Jim is now 39 and has become a successful business man. He’s secretly a little depressed, but mostly, he thinks life has worked out for him. He’s just been invited to a party and his hands are sweating as he enters the room. His feels sick, and he can’t understand why this is so hard for him.
Jim has always hated parties, though he’s not sure why. His heart is racing and he wishes he’d just stayed home with a movie. Problem is, Jim is incredibly lonely, He’s been single since his last break up, over six years ago, and all he wants is a companion. He’s afraid he’s running out of time to become a father. Jim finds his friends and relaxes little. He smashes a shot and a beer and starts to calm down.
Jim has no idea that he is acting out a program that is thirty five years old. Since he hasn’t done any investigation into his childhood defining moments, he has barely thought about being punched in the belly. If Jim sat down quietly and did an inner child exercise, he would most likely remember the event clearly. Jim might even cry when he realises how much that punch hurt, not for the physical injury, but for the lasting scar in his heart. For Jim to realise his dream of being a loving partner and father, he will need to update his program to an adult version.
Creating a New Program
So how does Jim make the unconscious conscious? How does he update this belief he learned as a child that people don’t like him? The first step is the become aware of the inner children that are unconsciously running your adult life. There are a few ways to do this.
- Sit quietly in a safe place where you wont be interrupted. Grab a journal and a pen and draw a line down the middle of the page. In the lefthand column, write down every significant childhood memory you have, from the earliest time you can remember. Trust that you know which ones want to be addressed. Then, go through and write the belief and program (if you can identify one) that came out of that event in the righthand column.
- Sit or lie quietly and close your eyes. Visualise yourself as a child, if you can, focussing on times that were difficult for you. What was your experience like? Do you feel any emotion arising? Can you feel what emotions or beliefs are tied to this memory?
- If there are strong emotions tied to your childhood memories, you may want to seek the help of a trained therapist, coach or psychologist to explore your childhood memories with. They will guide you to explore what beliefs you learned as a child.
Parenting your Inner Child
Looking into your past in this way allows you to make contact with your inner child, or children. You may be able to specifically visualise, or feel, the different versions of yourself that are still present, running the show. You can ask, is there a child in me that was teased, beaten, neglected or assaulted that is still running the old program that it used to survive? Once you have found him or her, you can begin to be a loving parent to those children.
Parenting you Inner child means that you are attentive to their needs. You are aware enough to notice when they are hurt, or throwing a tantrum, or stamping their feet to be heard. You might be at a party, like Jim, and be conscious enough to acknowledge (when one is looking) that there is a scared little boy inside, longing to be accepted, and that it is HIM running the show.
When this happens, you can quietly acknowledge that version of you. You can give the child what he or she needs: whether it is love, attention, safety, or care. When you are there for your inner child, it’s like you put them to rest. Now the adult you can take the driver’s seat, which is far safer, and more appropriate than letting a kid run the show.