How Connecting With My Inner Child Helped Me Heal And Improve My Mental Health
I spent far too much of my life reacting instead of acting. However, unbeknownst to me until recently, I wasn’t even responding to things happening in the moment. Instead, I was driven by behavioral patterns learned in childhood, regardless of how maladaptive they were to me as an adult. It took a lot of time and therapy to get where I am today, although I’m still a work in progress. Here’s how connecting with my inner child helped me heal and improve my mental health.
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What is the “inner child” concept, anyway?
Psychologists don’t all agree on what your “inner child” is, so it’s okay to play a little fast and loose by interpreting this term to suit your purposes. Psychologist Carl Jung describes this concept as an archetype in his work. Others describe this phenomenon as a collective of your lived experiences through each stage of your life. Getting in tune with this inner being isn’t always warm and fuzzy. For example, those who struggle with addiction often seek to dull painful memories with mind-altering substances instead of processing the emotions associated with these events. These coping mechanisms become cemented over time and prove hard to break, even when they cause problems in adult life.
Therefore, when I think of my “inner child,” I’m referring to my core wounds. Core wounds refer to traumas suffered early in life that influence your outlook on life, sometimes cataclysmically. For example, if one of your earliest childhood memories consists of one of your parents walking out on you, never to return, your core wound might consist of a feeling of never being good enough. This sensation can lead to a deep-seated fear of abandonment. These core wounds often get activated when you experience sensory triggers in daily life. It’s like picking off an unripe scab — the psychological blood starts spilling anew. Behaviorally, you react the same way you did when you were young, even if that behavior is maladaptive as an adult.
For example, you might self-isolate if your childhood reaction to perceived threats was to flee or freeze. Doing so as an adult can keep you from seeking the very help you need, however. If your childhood role models behaved aggressively when under pressure, you might do the same, leading to job loss or even legal trouble after age 18. The triggers that cause maladaptive behaviors can be internal or external. You might not be able to identify what, specifically, happened that made you explode at your spouse or take that first drink leading to a devastating bender. That’s why it’s so vital to connect with your inner child and identify what causes your erratic actions.
Techniques for identifying your core wounds and triggers
Unearthing your inner child by identifying your core wounds and what triggers them isn’t a journey for the weak. It takes tremendous courage to face your deepest fears and how they drive you to act — then mindfully and purposefully choose new behaviors. Please be gentle with yourself. While most folks benefit from a trained therapist’s help, not everyone has the luxury of sufficient time and money to see one. One thing that you can do for free, however, is starting a regular meditation practice. Doing so will clear the external clutter and allow you to focus inward on what drives the things you do.
Use techniques such as writing a simple question on a piece of paper and free-writing your answer to it. Try not to censor yourself as you brainstorm possible solutions. Doing so interrupts the panic that can cause erratic decision-making and helps you discover a realistic way to react more positively. Another method you can use is examining your physiological responses to uncover your core wounds and triggers. When an external event causes a strong emotional reaction, like sweaty hands and a racing heart, take a half-hour or so to sit quietly and reflect on other situations that have aroused similar feelings. Sometimes, it helps to do this activity before bed so that your subconscious can work while you sleep.
You might discover through this reflection, for example, that any suggestions for improvement from your boss trigger your core wound of inadequacy from when you were a child. Maybe you seemingly could do nothing right to please your overbearing parents. Once you make the emotional connection — “I feel the same way I did when I was eight” — you remove the blinders that make you react the same way now as you did back then. You free yourself to choose an alternative reaction, perhaps asking for more specific tips on how you can improve, rather than a knee-jerk “take this job and shove it,” leaving you unemployed.
Healing your core wounds
Your goal is to reach a point where triggers no longer sneak up out of the blue and prompt maladaptive behaviors that negatively impact your current life. Again, a trained therapist can become an invaluable help here. However, if you don’t have access to this resource, please continue your daily mindfulness practice. Your soul can often find the answers it seeks if you give it time to do so free from distracting external stimuli. The most important thing to remember is to please be gentle with yourself throughout this process. Instead of striving for perfection, try to react a little better each day. If you make a mistake, look at it as a chance to learn and grow, not a reason to beat yourself up. It might help to picture your inner child here — how would you coach that precious toddler through this experience and help them get to the lesson?
Connecting with my inner child helped me heal and improve My mental health — it can help you, too.
Connecting with my inner child by identifying my core wounds and triggers significantly improved my overall mental health. I hope the techniques above will help you do the same!
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