Healing the Inner Child

By now, it’s well documented that we acquired most of our limiting beliefs about ourselves and life by the age of 6. Some of these beliefs came from being repeatedly told we couldn’t do, be or have what we wanted. Others came from difficult experiences that, as young children, we were simply not sophisticated enough to understand. We just knew they were bad because we hurt, and we might erroneously internalize that somehow we deserved those experiences, that we weren’t worthy of better treatment or circumstances. Our conclusions might not be accurate, but their impact on our self-image and our perceived place in life is nonetheless potent. These conclusions are stored as active—even if forgotten—programming in our subconscious mind. That’s the habitual part of our brain that runs our decisions and actions on auto-pilot—a staggering 95% or more of the time. When one of these programs gets triggered, we revert right back to the little kid who wasn’t good enough, or who couldn’t. In those moments of being triggered, we’re once again the helpless young child, not the fully grown, capable adult. That’s why we unknowingly limit ourselves so often—until we make a point of shedding light on this subconscious process each time it kicks into gear.

To break free from this self-limiting pattern, one of the things we are advised to do is inner child healing. By uncovering the wounding messages we have internalized as children, we give voice to the younger versions of ourselves, who may not have felt (sufficiently) seen, heard, understood, and, most importantly, safe. Doing so allows us to heal that inner child within us, so it won’t limit us anymore out of fear and self-preservation in what we wish to pursue in our adult lives that are for our highest good.

Healing the 5-year-old

Earlier this year, during a period of deep healing, I went in search of resources on this topic of inner child healing. One of the books I came across was Reconcilation by Thich Nhat Hanh. This loving Buddhist monk advocates that we all talk to the 5-year-old version of us on a regular basis in meditation. In doing so, we become the loving parent to the wounded child who’s still inside us and gets triggered time and again. In turn, we allow inner healing to occur.

Following Hanh’s advice, I invited the 5-year-old me to talk with me earlier this year. When I asked her what she wanted to tell me, she immediately started sobbing. She said that no one saw her, no one cared about her, and she wasn’t important to anyone. I held her close to me, rocked back and forth with her, as we sobbed together. Even though my eyes were closed for the meditation, I kept repeating aloud, “We are loved. We are loved. We are loved.” When we finally stopped crying, I told her that we were all grown up, that she was very, very important to me, that I loved her very, very much.

Healing the 10-year-old

In addition to the above experience, I did another more involved visualization process out of the book, Three Keys to Self-Understanding by Pat Wyman. The process led me to my childhood home, where I visited with who turned out to be me at about age 10. She was wearing her school uniform and drawing at her desk in her small bedroom that was shared with two of her three brothers. Drawing was her escape from the chaotic, volatile and fractious household in which she felt grossly lost and unsafe. Withdrawing into her inner world of imagination was one of her coping strategies. When I asked her why she was wearing her school uniform at home, she said it was because she could then blend in with everyone and not have to worry about why she didn’t fit in or why she was even around.

She had her back to me the entire time we had the above exchange. When she finally turned to face me, she had a look of such deep loneliness that I felt as if, in that moment, someone reached into my heart and squeezed it hard. It really hurt. Unlike the 5-year-old me with whom I visited a few weeks prior, the 10-year-old me didn’t cry. By that age, she had learned to hold it together and not cry. Crying was bad, and, from internalizing all the pain she felt in watching mom cry often over the years, she learned that crying would also hurt the people she loved.

When she was ready for me to get close to her, I sat holding her for a long time. Her arms were wrapped so tightly around my ribcage that I almost couldn’t breathe. She didn’t want to let go because she couldn’t remember feeling that safe or loved. I told her that we were all grown up, and that we had plenty of love within for ourselves and for everyone. Love was why we were born. Again, she didn’t cry, but just held onto me with her dear life. I, on the other hand, couldn’t stop my own silent tears from falling—like endless emancipated water, broken free at long last from years of being trapped behind a dam that finally caved. I cried as quietly as I possibly could so as not to startle the young me. I felt so viscerally in my heart and soul her loneliness, which, of course, was mine that had been buried deep within all these years.

When it was finally time for me to go, I left her a present, which was an instruction from the visualization exercise. I tied a pink ribbon around her hair because she was denied all things girly, being raised among three boys. She was really happy about that and also the fact that I promised to visit again.

I did revisit the 10-year-old me about a month ago. She was, once again, seated at her desk drawing. However, upon my arrival, she immediately turned around and ran toward me. She was still wearing the pink ribbon in her hair that I gave her. She was also wearing a yellow dress, instead of her school uniform. The adult me knew that the color symbolized personal power. Even though she was still escaping through drawing, she had felt more empowered since our first visit. I plan to visit with her again periodically in the future, in addition to possibly other childhood versions of me at other ages, who may be in need of being seen, heard, understood and healed.

Healing your inner child

If you find that you’re blocked in some unexplainable fashion from living with the joy that you deserve to have, you may want to consider visiting with your inner child to uncover and heal forgotten wounds. The above two books are great resources I’d highly recommend. With Wyman’s book, you’ll also have a chance to learn about your Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) and Enneagram profiles, should these interest you. According to Wyman, our MBTI type tells us what our authentic self is like, while our Enneagram type describes the learned persona we have adopted in response to unhealed childhood woundings to defend our authentic self from being hurt further.

If you have experience with inner child healing or have comments about this topic, please share below, as we can all benefit from sharing our perspectives. Thank you!

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About Alice Chan, Ph.D.

Dr. Alice Chan is passionate about developing conscious leaders and organizations. Her path to serve her life purpose has included being an award-winning Cornell professor and a leader in the corporate world for nearly 15 years. She’s the author of the book, REACH Your Dreams: Five Steps to be a Conscious Creator in Your Life, and creator of the program, 30 Days to Living Your Best Life. All content on this blog and website is her own, not the opinions of her employer.

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4 comments
Mimi Shannon
Mimi Shannon

Alice this is so beautiful. Thank you for sharing with such honesty and vulnerability. I have learned through my own journey that every step you take on behalf of your inner child helps them to trust and heal and grow. It can be painful but also so rich at the same time. I vividly remember my first experience doing this work...My little girl was around 2-3 years old and she wouldn't even take my hand. It was excruciating, heart-wrenching actually, but eventually through patience, love and much reassurance she reached out, held it and never let it go again. So much grace. I have many ages I have had to retrieve and they all live happily in my heart now receiving the love that was absent throughout most of my life. Thank you for sharing...me and my inner girls love you for it...XXOO

Joy Cardyn
Joy Cardyn

Reading your awesome message reminded me of how consistently I've procrastinated with this critical inner child work I desperately need to do. Then, I was interrupted by another message I needed to attend to in connection with my work; as I paused to reach for a book from the shelf beside me, another book literally popped off the shelf above falling into my hands. Guess what it was; yes, Thich Nhat Hanh's "Reconciliation ~ healing the inner child". Well, there's nothing obscure about that; I will begin making use of this resource. Thank you for initiating the inspiration. Love and blessing, Joy

Alice Chan, Ph.D.
Alice Chan, Ph.D.

Mimi, thank you so much for sharing a little bit of your own experience with your 2/3-year-old. I'm so happy to read that you're able to nurture her--and all of your other inner girls--to trust and to feel loved. You are true embodiment of self love, Mimi! Thank you for sharing your wisdom and grace here!

Alice Chan, Ph.D.
Alice Chan, Ph.D.

Joy, what a perfect example of synchronicity at work! And so much credit to you for holding the high consciousness to recognize the message. It tickles me and makes me feel honored all at the same time that my post served as part of the message from the universe to you. Much Love and Many Blessings, Alice

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