The concept of the inner child has been around for a long time; Carl Jung is thought to have coined the term in the early 1900s, but as time moved on and psychology evolved, archaic frameworks for understanding the mind have been put into the archives of self-improvement. Nowadays references to the inner child are considered a more woo-woo approach to self-exploration, but that's not to say we can't combine science with theory to improve our adult lives.
Who is the inner child?
So, what is an inner child? The concept can be thought of as another label for our subconscious; the part of our brain that has been picking up and internalising physical and emotional signals from the moment we were born. An important role of the inner child is holding onto beliefs, emotions, and dreams that were internalised during our childhood, and manifesting them into present-day behaviours.
Identifying the inner child
Identifying the inner child can become second nature; from recognising a smell that reminds you of your grandma's cooking, to remembering being left out of a game by friends on the playground, to thinking back to when you were recognised for your hard work at school are all emotions and memories linked to your inner child. Emotional responses to our surroundings are considered to be evidence of the inner child trying to communicate; when you feel calm and content in a place or with a person, it's the activation of your inner child, likewise when you feel hurt, sad, or betrayed you can probably think back to a similar experience when you were younger that translates into your present emotional state.
Some signs that your inner child is hurting include:
Feeling shame or guilt
Perfectionism and rigidity
Experiencing fear and anxiety
Negative self talk
Underachievement, or conversely, an unhealthy relationship with overachievement
Unhealthy relationship patterns & boundaries
Communicating with the inner child
Once you've recognised emotional patterns that can be traced back to your childhood, you can learn how to communicate better with your inner child. Doing so not only leads to greater self-awareness, but it can also help you progress and grow into a better version of yourself.
When you experience anxiety, fear, or fall into habits such as perfectionism or avoidance, you can put it down to your inner child wanting to feel safe. Understanding behaviour from this perspective can help you undo beliefs internalised during your childhood, and help free yourself of negative thought patterns and behaviours. Asking why we feel scared, anxious, happy, or content in certain situations can guide us to working through our beliefs and being more gentle with ourselves in the process.
A happy inner child
So what does a happy inner child look like? Someone who is content in their relationships, confident without arrogance, and is on a continuous path of growth without being afraid of the unknown is the sign of someone who has listened to their inner child, with their adult self now in sync. A happy inner child translates into powerful, strong relationship with those around you, positive progress in your professional life, and a deeper sense of gratitude and awe of the world around you.
Tips to nourish a happy inner child:
Make more time for hobbies you love
Acknowledge and process painful memories and experiences
Develop a routine that nourishes you
Place value on doing your best, not being perfect
Work on your inner beliefs (this is often aided by therapy)
Connecting with and benefitting from the inner child is similar to much of mindfulness practice; taking the time to make space and listen to your internal needs as opposed to external pulls and desires. If you're interested in more reading on the inner child, take a look at this blog written by one of our contributors, Daisy Andrews.