The 25-year-old Delhi-based advocate felt lost for a long while, easily trusting people only to be hurt by them. “Despite trying therapy, I made the same mistakes, finding it difficult to judge if someone was manipulating me. I wanted to break this cycle,” he says. In 2022, a friend suggested trying inner child healing sessions. Through these, he explored periods of his childhood, identifying specific instances and remarks that made him feel belittled and hurt at the time. Understanding these childhood experiences through his adult lens helped him identify where an issue originated and how to resolve it. “Inner healing helped me regain confidence, and identify and be assertive when people crossed boundaries that made me uncomfortable. It taught me self-love and respect.”
We all have childhood experiences, positive or difficult, that shape and impact our future behaviour, relationships, and wellbeing. For instance, the embarrassment the six-year-old-you felt when kids laughed at your fall in the park, could influence your ability to try new things because you fear ridicule. The inadequacy you felt as a teenager when a relative joked about your poor arithmetic skills may echo in your hesitation to try for a promotion now. “If we return to our childhood, we will all find things that happened which impact our sense of self-esteem, security, reactions, and decisions,” says psychologist Sunil Britto in Nongpoh, Meghalaya. “Sometimes people may not even remember certain childhood experiences. Our psyches can suppress adverse experiences beyond memory, but the effects can be troubling for normal everyday life.” Inner child work, or inner child healing, involves addressing our inner child’s unmet needs and healing the resultant emotional wounds that developed by reparenting ourselves.
Inner child work has origins in Carl Jung’s concept of the inner child, which suggests that our childlike inner feelings and emotions influence our actions and decisions, and is found in various forms of therapy like trauma therapy, Internal Family Systems, somatic work, art therapy, and more. There have been several contributors to inner child work, one of the most prominent is bestselling author and educator, John Bradshaw. His book “Homecoming: Reclaiming and Healing your Inner Child” explores case histories, interactive techniques, guided meditations and more to help nurture the inner child with the parenting they craved.
“The aim of inner child work is to be whole, integrating all parts of ourselves,” says Geeta Khandelwal, a Singapore-based inner child integration therapist. “The term ‘inner child’ is used colloquially to refer to a person’s playful, childlike side, and it does include that version of you, but there are multiple inner children from different phases of your life.”
“An inner child is not just from your childhood, but from every minute we are growing,” says Delhi- and Chicago-based inner child healing facilitator, Anuradhika Roy. The problem arises if they obstruct your day-to-day functioning, indicating something in the past that was not healed or processed by them.
There are various suggested methods to connect with your inner child, like journaling, writing your inner child a letter, meditation, and visualization techniques. Even just thinking about and identifying upsetting childhood experiences is a starting point in understanding their impact. These methods can be explored independently, or through group workshops or private sessions with certified inner child healing experts and mental health professionals.
These techniques help with dialogue. For instance, writing a letter from an adult perspective to your inner child, helping them to process a childhood experience they did not understand at the time and offering words of comfort and reassurance. You can also write from the perspective of the inner child. “Talking may not work for everyone. If writing feels better, try it with your non-dominant hand,” suggests Khandelwal. Research has shown the non-dominant hand’s connection to the brain’s right hemisphere, helping one to go beyond rational and linear thoughts.
A self- or expert-led visualization technique is often used for connection. Roy suggests picturing a childhood memory within which you can be around your inner child. “You can introduce yourself to them, ask them how they are feeling and based on their response, continue the interaction. They may be reticent initially. Just reassure them that you are around and they are safe,” says Roy. “Once that connection is established, the adult-you can speak to your inner child, asking them what they need and provide them with it,” says Khandelwal.
The aim is to support your inner child, not to dismiss their feelings at the time as wrong or misjudged. Roy provides an example of a person’s unease with men perhaps stemming from a past instance of someone hugging them, which made them uneasy. “The adult reassures the inner child that it was ok to feel uncomfortable and be cautious,” says Roy. “They can be asked if there were instances when they felt safe when hugged, perhaps by their parents or siblings? The adult would work towards bringing the safety and trust from those experiences back into the picture.”
While these techniques can be tried solo, it is often useful and, in several cases, essential to have expert guidance. “It’s impossible to completely release everything because you are the one carrying it,” says Delhi-based inner child healer Natascha Shah. “You can try these techniques on your own, but eventually you need external help to guide you through your blocks.”
With external help, finding a qualified expert you are comfortable with is important. “Inner child work is very patient led. You need to feel safe to be vulnerable,” says Khandelwal.
Who needs inner child work?
There are various indicators that could signal inner child work being useful. “Issues with trust, family, intimacy; lack of self-worth; inability to set boundaries; repeated patterns in relationships, feeling stuck, shame, guilt, etc. The list is long,” says Shah. It may also be useful if one has had childhood experiences of abuse, neglect, and household dysfunction, adds Britto. “Many people are forced to get into this because they are unable to do their daily work. They may be unable to sleep or have fearful dreams, sensing or remembering something they are unsure of. Dream work is associated with inner child work,” he says.
For any form of therapy or healing to work, there must be a willingness to change. “Even with a desire to change, it depends on the level of work you want to put in,” says Roy. “Perhaps you just want to skim the first layer, or you want deep inner change. Either is alright.” The Delhi-advocate experienced benefits within two months of private sessions with an inner child healing professional. “There was also a bond that had weakened with a loved one in the past. My adult-self understands this person and their motivations better now, which I was able to explain to my inner child and accept the relationship with a renewed respect, love, and admiration.”
Experts believe inner child work can be done by anyone, because it acknowledges everything that has contributed to who we are today. It’s not only to heal past wounds, but also to celebrate the positive things. “Using inner child work to also honour these experiences can be very energizing,” says Britto.