When I first heard the phrase ‘inner child’ I was confused and if I’m honest, freaked out.
But because I was serious about healing and changing my behavioural patterns, I had to look back at my childhood conditioning and the messages that got wired into my brain as a result.
Our childhood (0-7 to be exact) is where our beliefs, behaviours and patterns get programmed.
I wanted to change this programming more than I wanted to stay comfortable in it, so I started working with my inner child. There are many, many ways to do this work (and some of it I explored I found complex and overwhelming to be very honest…) . I’m a fan of simplicity and action so this is the approach I took and works for me.
I looked back at how I was taught to navigate the world and myself.
When we’re children - we learn from observation, we don’t do what our parents SAY, but copy how we SEE them engaging in the world and responding to life.
So I sat quietly on my bed night after night and I asked my younger self what’s true about you and the world?
This is what came up for me (and a few examples of how it was showing up in my life at the time - there were many more…)
Feelings aren’t to be felt, but numbed or distracted from
How it showed up: Excessive drinking, numbing with work and TV, not able to be alone, always busy / running, stress, planning every moment of the day, scared of free time, mystery illnesses
I am only worthy if I’m doing or achieving something, I’m not enough as I am
How it showed up: Workaholism, constant need to be the ‘best’ and achieve, superiority, over-achieving at anything I did, burnout as a result
How things look are more important than how they feel
How it showed up: Perfectionism, making decisions based on how they looked to others rather than felt to me, excessive shopping, getting stuck in ‘prestigious’ jobs I didn’t enjoy feeling unable to quit or change things, staying thin and crash dieting before holidays / big events
Other people’s feelings are more important than my own
How it showed up: Keeping quiet at all costs, co-dependancy, people pleasing, saying yes when I wanted to say no, unable to end relationships or friendships, hyper vigilant to others feelings and reactions, fear of saying / doing the wrong thing, abandoning myself to please another
I need to be perfect to get the acceptance and I love I crave
How it showed up: Over working, checking everything I did multiple times, over planning and controlling, high expectations of others and resentful when unfulfilled
I can’t trust my instincts
How it showed up: Anaylsed things instead of taking action, trusted others / books / experts over how I felt, got into unsafe situations, telling myself I was wrong about how I felt, dating men that I didn’t really like
The world isn’t a safe place to be trusted - it’s not safe to be vulnerable
How it showed up: Controlling everything and everyone in sight to feel safe, wearing a mask, dishonesty
A lightbulb moment.
I came to see none of this was my fault - I was simply acting from how I was programmed. I wasn’t ‘bad’ or ‘wrong’ I was just running my programme. Like a computer hard drive. I became an observer of my behaviour.
From this viewpoint, my self judgement basically disappeared.
This non-judgement also extended to my parents - none of this was their fault, they adored me and me them, but like 99% of parents, they were unconscious, hadn’t done any inner work and were repeating the same programming they’d learned from their parents. Generational patterns in action.
Parents can only parent from their own level of awareness - doing anything other than that is impossible. They were both doing their absolute best given what they knew (as we all are).
Then the work began. I had to RE-TEACH that child, re-wire my brain to a new way of being, thinking and doing.
I wanted to choose how I showed up as an adult (and now mother) not just living out these old beliefs on loop.
I wanted to show up as the empowered, alive person I knew was underneath all the layers of conditioning.
I knew my job was to get back to that version of me. To give my inner child a voice at the table and a chance to heal.
I re-wrote my old beliefs into new empowering ones (literally, in my journal):
Feelings help me navigate the world and it’s safe to feel them
I am worthy just because I’m alive
How things feel for me are more important than how they look to the outside world
My feelings are just as important as other people’s
I don’t need to ‘do’ anything to get love and acceptance - I am loveable just for being me
My instincts are there to teach and guide me
I am safe, I can trust life and myself
And then slowly, slowly I started acting from these new beliefs.
As I tried to change my brain fought to keep me the same - after all it was easier and my nervous system knew what it was doing the old way - I had to process grief, fear and massive feelings along the way. But that’s the nature of change.
When this resistance came up, I was kind and gentle to myself - I asked my inner child what she needed. I wrote letters to her and meditated to stay connected.
I asked myself these questions every day in my journal and I held myself accountable to new behaviour (with the help of my 12 step recovery group, meditation, yoga and therapy).
What would I do if I knew my new belief was true?
What could a new way to approach this be?
What small action can I take today to become who I want to be?
What does my inner child need?
And my life started to change.
I met the love of my life (who also wanted to change his patterns)
I finally quit the corporate jobs I hated and started my own business
I ditched friendships that drained me
I stopped drinking and all other numbing behaviour (tv, shopping, over working)
I started speaking my truth - saying no
I started setting boundaries
Trying new things
Having fun, feeling grateful, regularly experiencing joy
Doing things on my own and loving my own company
Loving myself and being kind to myself.
This work is not easy, it’s been 9 years since I started this work and I still find myself going back to my old programming (especially in times of stress, tiredness or overwhelm). And motherhood threw a whole new level of awareness my way (but that’s for another post).
This process will look different for everyone and this is just my experience of inner child work (some people call this re-parenting too) - there are many different ways to do this but I hope me sharing my experience has been helpful.