View this post on Instagram
“Inner child work” was introduced to me a decade ago by my terrific psychotherapist, at the time, in New York City.
I had stepped into her office after a brutal breakup that had brought me to my knees. She told me that I was suffering from a cumulative grief.
Her approach was “East meets West,” which I appreciated given my yoga background. She had me read all sorts of books about the wounded child. That said, I became an A+ student on all things pertaining to pathological narcissism and dysfunctional families, and my psychological vocabulary started to expand by the week.
The veil had been lifted, the rose-colored glasses had been removed, and I finally started looking at my upbringing. It was time to heal my inner child.
Even though there were vacations, nice restaurants, and gifts at Christmas, there was a lot of drama, unhealthy communication, and triangulation in my childhood. Consequently, I was hungry for more in each week in therapy. My therapist always seemed to know exactly where I was in my recovery, which book I should be reading, which poem I should meditate on, and whatever new terms I needed to hear.
>> “Stop the maternal legacy.”
>> “Have radical self-acceptance.”
>> “Have compassion for the little girl in you.”
>> “Protect yourself, keep boundaries, and know that your parents are limited.”
>> I loved that one at the time; it was so accurate.
What psychoanalysis has taught me is the “why:” why I was not having healthy love relationships, why I was either all-in or completely avoidant, why I couldn’t let things go, and why I was so self-critical.
When I moved to L.A., I found another therapist with whom I worked for only 12 weeks. She introduced me to the next chapter which was the “how to:” How to love yourself, how to self-parent, and how to change the dance.
She explained to me that she, as my therapist, was to be (what they called in her training) a “good enough mother” to me. Well, God sent me two good enough mothers—my therapist for ten years in N.Y.C., then the one in L.A.
She was the missing piece to the puzzle.
It’s true that the former had introduced the inner child work way back then, but it did not sink in until I was in L.A. I am reminded of that adage, “the teacher shows up when the student is ready.”
The word healing has an “ing” at the end because it is ongoing. There isn’t an “ed” as in healed. Healing is a path, a journey—and it is deeply personal. Having the seed planted years ago to heal my inner child reminds me that we never truly know when something will stick. But, when it does, it truly is awesome, and another reminder of how mysterious and exciting the healing path can be; only if we allow it. I am grateful for this nugget of healing now, and the feeling that it will really stick this time.
Here are three ways to connect and help nurture the wounded inner child:
1. Find photographs of yourself as a young child.
This was a huge help for me in the healing of my childhood wound, or mother wound, as it’s often called. It has given me the ability to look at myself as a child from my adult perspective, as if I were looking at any child, not me.
I started seeing myself in a few chosen photographs as a child who was sweet, loving, and innocent. I had seen the photographs many times before, but during the healing phase I began seeing her as a girl who was little, unformed, and adorable as heck. I spoke to her and told her that I would adopt her so that she would be free of danger.
I heard her speak back to me saying, “What if they don’t let you take me?” I answered, “You have nothing to worry about; sweetheart, I’m here.” I posted two photos on my bulletin board: one little me and one adult me. The photo of me as an adult now is a photo where I look quite serious and empowered. Consequently, whenever I see the two photos side by side, I feel safe knowing that together we can handle anything that comes our way.
In the morning and before going to bed, I look at the photo of the little girl and tell her that I love her. It’s important to see the innocence and detach from the photograph a little, so that it is clear that your higher self is the mommy and the little girl is the daughter.
In the past, I had a hard time separating the two—it felt silly to me. But, when I see her in the photos now, I see that she did nothing wrong and didn’t ask to be demeaned, attacked, or undercut. She, like any child, is worthy of love, respect, and guidance. She is getting stronger and, as a result, more confident and intolerant of disrespect or any passive-aggressive tactics coming from anyone.
2. Keep your adopted child away from ingesting more poison.
As I started getting more clear visions of my upbringing and the players who were involved, I got real with myself: all the members in my family who were there at the time of the parental emotional trauma are unhealed themselves.
Involving my adopted child in any communication with them in the present time was just poisoning her little, innocent self more. The PTSD was getting worse after every interaction causing what Freud called “repetition compulsion.” The more I interacted with narcissists in my life, the more I recognized how they’d never change.
My solitude whilst in quarantine has sharpened my ability to see things even more clearly. The little girl in me had innocently kept trying. For more than two decades, I had tried to have what I felt was a healthy relationship with my inner child, and with 10 years of therapy and enough awareness at this point on my journey, I finally put my foot down. The higher self needs to reparent the adopted child.
Little me was taught incorrectly. Our parents are our first teachers, and, unfortunately, some of us have had parents lacking important skills. The silver lining in all of it is that if you want to heal, you can ultimately become a self-made bad*ss. But, you have to put in the work. My childhood experiences affected me on so many levels—relationships with men, my self-esteem, and my perception of relationships in general. It had to stop.
For the time being, while I retrain and reteach my inner child to love herself first, I will not put her in harm’s way. My hope is that I can someday, at least, have a civil connection with those in my past that I feel can control, on my own terms.
3. Pin up quotes, reminders, and sayings around your home.
My apartment has become a healing sanctuary. Luckily, the only one who sees what I tack on the walls is me, and I am so grateful for that at this time on my path. However, if that were not the case, I suppose I would keep it on my phone. I do keep a photo of my adopted little self on my iPhone, however.
The reason why the path to healing the inner child is a long one is because our inner child is forever hopeful that it will be different. A kind of amnesia develops around what really happened. I was not the victim of physical abuse, nor were my physical needs (such as shelter and food) not provided—they most certainly were. The wound happened a long time ago when my brain was still clay. If the people around us as children were not fully formed, had low self-esteem issues, and had emotionally depraved childhoods themselves, they simply pass on those traits to the child.
It’s easier to see the issue in others, but it’s challenging to identify it in ourselves. As I began the healing work ten years ago, I recall having plenty of “one step forward, two steps back” moments. I believe it’s because my little child inside me was still hopeful to get a loving, encouraging, supportive, and authentic relationship with those whom she felt had emotionally wounded her most, but also because I would simply forget what happened during our last phone conversation.
Plus, toxic people aren’t toxic 100 percent of the time. Oftentimes, they seem separate from us and maybe even supportive. But, as Maya Angelou famously said, “When people show you who they are, believe them.”
I have discovered throughout my life that the hallmark of a truly toxic person is that they are good at trickery. They trick us into thinking they are on our side, before they blindside us with a cutting remark about ourselves that we never saw coming.
I’ve finally accepted that when some people call me, they “seem” normal, but ultimately try to drag me down. They can’t help themselves; it’s their wiring. I can have compassion for them, but I don’t want my adopted child exposed to it any longer. It’s like the old story of the scorpion. Let’s say if I want to vent or need support, I call a friend to help me process my emotions. But, I wouldn’t out of nowhere bring the friend into my issue by targeting her insecurities.
A toxic person will call to vent, but you soon find out that they want you to feel bad so that they feel better—you become a garbage can for their misery. However, you are tricked initially. This is why you need reminders around you, especially when you are in the nascent stages of healing your little child. We might forget and we might expose the child to the poison.
By all means, there are more ways to develop the relationship you have with your wounded child, and tons on the internet about the topic. I would love to hear what others have done that works for them. For now, I will continue to talk to my photographs of my little child, keep her safe from further poisoning, and read those posted reminders until they are tattooed into my subconscious, thereby eliminating bouts of emotional amnesia.
It’s all work, but she deserves to be loved. Together, we’re having so much fun.