What is meant by the term, “Inner Child?” Consider the inner child as the part of you that was hurt in childhood and needs healing; it contains your needs and vulnerabilities. This part of you does not have a true existence in reality, but it is the part of you that captures the stages of early development in your life. Of course, the inner child captures all experiences, not just unhealthy ones. The inner child exists in our mind’s eye; in our imagination.
Since the purpose of this article is to heal hurts from childhood, the focus will be on the “hurt” inner child. This is the part of you that captures the stages of your early life that involved psychological (emotional and mental) damage.
The process of healing involves dialogue and feelings expressed from the inner child. Sometimes you may have various stages of development that are affected; in this case, you may need to visualize “inner children,” each expressing a different stage of life. For example, your inner “five year old self” and inner “teenager” may represent specific stages of abuse or neglect that need to be addressed.
In order to do “inner child healing,” you will need to visualize a couple of other “inner selves.” These could be an inner parent and an inner therapist; or, an inner compassionate parent and an inner protector. You decide what is needed for your case. Healing is a personal endeavor and there really is no “one size fits all” approach to recovery from childhood trauma, abuse, or neglect.
Imagery is an important intervention for healing. Using imagery is synonymous to using your imagination. Think of yourself as a child. Do you remember pretending? Children often use their imaginations to create stories and act them out. All people use their imagination to fantasize. Your imagination is a powerful tool for recovery. It is necessary for doing “inner child work.”
Use your imagination to visualize your inner child. Use your imagination to visualize your inner parent. The way inner child healing works is that you must reparent yourself. One way of thinking about it is to view your hurt inner child as a foster child who has been entrusted to your care and you must do everything in your power to help this child develop resilience, structure, safety, and a healthy upbringing. In essence, you are mentally raising yourself up to maturity.
This is why imagery is so important – because you’re healing is done by imagery. Studies have shown that the same parts of your brain are utilized by doing an action as are used by thinking about doing an action. In addition, imagining the crucial components of a task, instead of actually performing them on a perceptual stimulus, can enhance performance of the task. This is why imagery is such a powerful tool for recovery from childhood abuse.
Most likely, as a child, your needs did not get met adequately. Using imagery to visualize the healing components necessary to reparent yourself will be powerful enough to heal. You are, in essence, rewiring your brain, installing the necessary components needed to live better. Some of the components needed are validation, empathy, caring, protection, structure, enjoyment, etc. You can imagine yourself doing the healing activities needed to right the wrongs done in childhood.
During recovery, you can learn to look at your inner child, pay attention, and meet his/her previously unmet needs. Remind yourself to “do not abandon yourself.” Be there for yourself. Turn and look at your inner child when he/she is distressed, and rather than looking outside for an external “hero” learn to be your own hero.
Since you are being your own parent, it might be helpful to equip yourself to be a good parent. You can read good books on parenting and use the skills you read about on yourself. For instance, make sure you get enough sleep and exercise and eat enough fruit!
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Pearson, J., Naselaris, T., Holmes, E., Kosslyn, S. (2015, Oct. 19). Mental Imagery: Functional Mechanisms and Clinical Applications. Trends in Cognitive Science. 2015 Oct; 19(10): 590–602. doi: 10.1016/j.tics.2015.08.003
Robarge, A. (2016, April 19). How to Heal Love Addiction Attachment Wounds. Published by YouTube.
Siegel, D. (2013). Parenting from the Inside Out: How a Deeper Self-Understanding Can Help You Raise Children Who Thrive. New York, NY: The Penguin Group