Inner Child Work: Healing the Fractured Self

Feelings have Roots. Our present feelings are repeats of feelings felt in the past, and cataloged/stored in the body and psyche. Even when a new situation arises, and we believe a feeling is a new response to this new situation, there is often a conscious or unconscious memory attached to the feeling, connected to a past event that produced a similar cognitive and emotional response.

Feelings Point Us to Where Healing is Needed

Is the feeling you are currently feeling a familiar or frequent feeling? 

So often, when painful feelings come up that are familiar, they have walked with us for many years, maybe for as long as we can remember. We recognize them distinctly. We resist them because we dread their weight and fear the dark, low places they have taken us before.

But these feelings bring meaningful messages. They are saying, “Please deeply feel me! Please don’t ignore me or distract yourself from me! I know I am painful to feel, but I am outmoded in your Being. You don’t need me anymore. You used to need me, and I served you in the past. I helped you survive. I helped protect you. But now I am ready to be deeply felt and integrated, because you don’t need me anymore.”

To avoid the pain of feeling our feelings, we may distract ourselves or intellectualize the feelings— the latter of which is meaningful to a point, but can turn into an emotional bypass. Avoidance is where all forms of addiction come from, too… a brilliant survival technique, really, used to protect ourselves from feeling our suffering. But what results is self-disconnection, more pain, and in many cases, self-sabotaging, co-dependent, or narcissistic traits and behaviors. 

Ultimately, what we are doing is suppressing the truth of our experience, and of what IS. 

Not FEELING the feels can evolve into depression. Feelings become DE-pressed within us. 

Not feeling VALIDATED in the feels can evolve into anxiety. Unvalidated feelings morph into cognitive expressions of shame, which fuels the feelings and self-harmful coping mechanisms. We can learn to validate OurSelves. Expecting others to do so leads to patterns of co-dependent ways of relating. This should be differentiated from SPEAKING our feelings. We can speak for ourSelves; to validate ourSelves. This is different from speaking so that others may validate us. 

Our feelings are attached to our inner child/adolescent/younger adult. They are bound to fragments of self, split from the cohesive selves we came in as. Because it’s these feelings we experienced as children, or in our earlier adult years, that weren’t accepted, understood, loved, and held. Potentially shamed, pathologized, neglected. We were alone inside an isolated perceptual reality, and these fragments of self continue to hang out there, in our psyches and cells, alone, waiting to be understood and loved. WE are the ones these fragments of younger self are waiting for.

Feelings Are Trying to Tell us Something

In addition to feelings functioning as messengers from a perceptual reality we have been suppressing, sometimes a feeling is telling us a boundary has been violated. We have an opportunity to respond from a self-honoring space in this moment, essentially healing past patterns of self-denial, shame, and guilt. In these moments, we are giving ourselves the gift of identifying and voluntarily practicing new— or deeper versions of— self-honoring behaviors and verbalizations. 

During these times, new circumstances may have entered our lives that are reflections of original wounds. We may experience those reflections again and again, in different contexts and situations, until we “get it” and agree to feel the feelings, and choose to honor the emotional and autonomic nervous system response via a response that reflects our true thoughts, feelings, self-knowings. Because this time, we can. We now recognize we have the choice. 

It may take many events, or a major one, for us to “get it.” There is no “bad” timing. It is all purposed, and it is certainly never too late.

Inner child work can compliment the creation and maintenance of new response patterns, and our ability to locate and hold the inner child is a barometer for our growth and healing. This includes the ability to feel anger and/or grief FOR our inner child or younger self. This is an indication of self-acceptance and self-trust, which your inner child will recognize in you. We Parent ourSelves in this way. 

When we believe ourselves, our inner child feels seen and believed as well. 

*Note: if we encounter difficulty seeing our inner child/younger self as lovable or forgivable, which is not an uncommon challenge, imagine how you would feel for another child or human who experienced the same emotions and circumstances. Then transfer those feelings to your inner child/younger self. The more we are able to do this for ourselves, the less we project our fears and self-judgments onto others, as well. And, the more we can hold others in their pain and become more deeply accountable inside our relationships. 

The Tunnel Exercise

At a certain point on the healing path, we discover we have cultivated skills to offer ourselves. We have learned to connect to ourselves and honor ourselves in our feelings and perspectives. We nurture voices that SPEAK. 

Inner child work can deeply impact our healing, by acting as a vehicle to locate the root of the feeling. The root is embodied by the younger self still within us who first experienced the feeling. 

However, we can first work with the feeling itself. Here is an exercise to try:

Close your eyes. Feel the feeling. Visualize yourself going INTO the feeling, as if it is a tunnel to enter, navigate, and then emerge out the other side. Or, go into it as deeply as you can go. As you do this, remind yourself that you are safe; it is just you here; you and the feeling. 

As you feel the feeling as deeply as you can, you will notice how it dissipates when you go INTO IT and THROUGH IT, because you agree to feel it. It is the resistance to the feeling that increases the feeling. When you agree to the feeling, it can be felt and then it can go once it has been honored, processed. It is no longer something to fight against. Because it will fight you to be felt, as feelings are meant to be felt. That’s the whole point of having feelings.  

Emotional Flashbacks 

As previously discussed, feelings of suffering which plague and persist in our emotional bodies are often emotional flashbacks of earlier events. Sometimes we must process these feelings again and again. This is common for those of us who are healing PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder), CPTSD (complex post traumatic stress disorder) or CPTSR (complex post traumatic stress response). 

I feel that all humans are walking around, to some degree, with CPTSR, whether they know it or not. This is a by-product of being human in a dense world that brings traumatic events and experiences into our realities. And, symptoms may persist long after healing begins. The nature and “severity” of the traumatic event(s) doesn’t matter, either— we all have unique responses to adverse events, and that informs our experience of the “severity.” 

It is meaningful to have awareness when emotional flashbacks bring in an intensity, or flood, of emotion that may not actually be “appropriate” to the current situation. Of course all feelings are perfect and appropriate, because they are trying to tell us something. But I am talking in terms of a response intensity that does not necessarily meet the degree of the situation. 

An example might be: Jane has a deep abandonment wound due to parental neglect as a child. When a friend doesn’t respond to her text, she assumes it’s because she doesn’t really care for her, there is something wrong with her, and she is unworthy of her attentions. These thoughts will inspire an emotional flashback, which Jane may spiral in for days or even weeks. Depression and despair may ensue. There is often an intense autonomic nervous system response (fight/flight/freeze) that accompanies the event. In this case, the emotional flashback must be attended to, rather than responding to the specific event, or person, that inspired it. Recognizing the distinction is important for creating new behaviors, cultivating healthy relationships, and creating space for energy to be poured into what the emotional flashback is asking Jane to identify, feel, and process. 

However, it is just as likely that the current situation accurately informs the emotional flashback. In this case, the flashback can be attended to first,  and then the situation can be dealt with in a self-honoring way. 

Discernment for this distinction takes self-awareness, time, and commitment to self and one’s feelings. Practicing feeling and honoring our feelings leads to the development of this discernment.

Depending on the catalyst, the latter scenario (the current situation accurately informs the emotional flashback) potentially includes the willingness to accept that a situation or relationship detracts from one’s wellbeing, which may produce more feelings reminiscent of the initial abandonment wound. Grief, rage, shame. All of the emerging feelings can be identified, accepted as one’s truth, deeply felt, and processed. As many layers of feeling may emerge over time, we can remember that this is a process, and re-commit to ourselves as needed. 

In either case, the crux is this: The flashback is purposed, meaningful, trying to tell us something important, and asking us to feel something. 

The tunnel exercise above is very purposed here as well, along with crying, screaming, whatever is needed, for as long as it takes. Allow the emotions to make cognitive connections for you, if any arise, as they want to take you to memories and associated feelings that are asking to be more deeply felt and processed.

Inner child work is purposed when you are able to parent the younger versions of yourself, as a direct result of learning to validate, love, and parent yourself in the Now via the work you have done with the tunnel exercise. This capability will continue to emerge the more deeply you connect to your feelings, be with your feelings, and validate your perceptual reality/experience.

Abandonment Wounds in Inner Child Healing

Abandonment wounds are universal and can result in much self-fragmentation. Along with their obvious inception inside normalized dysfunctional family systems and parenting styles, and within important experiences and relationships in adolescence and adulthood, abandonment wounds are also connected to physical, emotional, and sexual abuse. Ultimately, abandonment wounds can be multilayered and complex. The core belief in an abandonment wound says: “I’m not safe.” And the additional beliefs attached to this are: “I’m not lovable. I can’t trust love. If I am a ‘good girl/boy’ or if I can just do all the ‘right things’ only then will I be loved,” which all loop back to the core belief: “I’m not safe.” Shame is a leading feeling associated with abandonment wounds, as well as grief and anger. 

Abandonment wounds may need to be deeply felt again and again. And again. Layers of an onion. 

The tunnel exercise above is meaningful for feeling the feelings associated with abandonment wounds.

Once we have accessed the ability to feel and honor our feelings, inner child work can be profound. Because the point of inner child work is to hold our younger self as a loving, conscious, accepting parent would.

Inner child work can be guided by a trusted support person, or done on your own, using the above tunnel visualization/meditation. The difference is, this time, instead of entering a feeling, you locate a feeling in your body that is created by a recent or past event, enter the feeling as if it is a tunnel, and find the child hiding within.

The most profound healing I have experienced occurred when I was able to access my preverbal self, sitting on the floor and crying, afraid and feeling alone. I was able to pick her up and love her, with so much compassion and understanding. Her little arms went around my neck and I loved her so completely, the way I would my own child or any other child who needed to be held inside their valid feelings.

You can do something similar, or whatever you feel your younger self needs, with your younger self of any age that presents within the tunnel. Follow your intuition. You know what is needed, because you know what you need. The same things all humans needs: love, acceptance, understanding, and connection. 

The memory attached to the event does not need to be accessed. What is important is that the FEELING is identified and loved. This is how we repair the cracks in the cohesive self; re-bind the fragments of self; integrate all we are and feel with love and acceptance. However, if a memory emerges, allow yourself to use it to make the cognitive connections that lead to deeper self-validation and understanding. 

Connecting to Joy Through The Playful Child Within

We can also use inner child exercises to locate ourselves inside a happy childhood memory, if we are able to remember one. Through meditation/visualization, we can locate the inner child within who embodies the joyful feelings attached to the happy memory. We can bring those joyful, astonished, curious, childlike feelings into our adult daily life, by playing in the sand, by dancing. Swinging, running, playing, climbing, creating something, singing. Whatever you loved to do as a child. The joyful child is in us as well, asking to be remembered. She/he wants to come out and play, and to help us remember and more deeply embody our full, cohesive, original Self. 

Tunnel Exercise for Self-Celebration 

Sometimes, after processing deeper layers of shame or grief around abandonment wounds, it is meaningful to deeply feel how wonderful you are! To celebrate how much you’ve expanded and healed, to go into the feeling of joy in yourself. How deep can you take it? How deep is that tunnel? And you can remind yourself, as you twirl and skip and cartwheel through that tunnel of INjoy, that you are safe because you have yourSelf. And as long as you have yourSelf, you will choose yourSelf from your personal knowings and integrity. The self-trust in this space is joy-producing, as well, because there is so much freedom in it.

A variation might be speaking a mantra: “I am BEAUTIFUL, POWERFUL, BRILLIANT, and CREATIVE.” What feelings emerge when you think those thoughts about yourself? Happiness? Excitement? Courage? Close your eyes and see how deeply you can go into a tunnel of those feelings. 

If this is difficult for you, think about someone you admire and apply the feelings you feel for them to yourself. We admire others because we see something in them that is also in ourselves, asking to be self-acknowledged and/or developed.

“I Was Made For This Shit!”

This is a mantra I created for myself and have shared with clients: “I was made for this shit!” I used to use this one all the time when I was learning to voluntarily choose to do the things that once produced anxiety. This mantra, when combined with voluntarily doing the “thing,” or navigating “the shit” (which I define as the complexities, challenges, and normalized upside-down-ness in the world) helped to create new neuro pathways AND made me smile with fierceness and courage every time I spoke it to myself. Which feelings does “I was made for this shit!” evoke in you? Go into the tunnel of those feelings, and allow them to dance around you, filling your heart, mind, and spirit with strength and courage. And then, bring that self-empowerment and self-confidence into the next Now moment, and the next, and the next, for as long as you can do so while continuing to honor your experience. 

This exercise is not intended to bypass feelings; if a painful feeling comes in, it is important to honor that and go into the tunnel of that feeling. You will know when this mantra is purposed for you, on your unique, individual journey, including during times of fear or anxiety that you self-intuit are holding you back from bringing the gift that is YOU to your Self, and to the World. Sometimes, it is purposed to heal. Sometimes, it is purposed to SHIFT. 

As we go forward on our healing journeys, we find both begin to occur organically and simultaneously. 

A Spiritual Perspective: Holes

Now, a shift in my tone, as I am going to speak to what grows from emotional holes over time, when we do not re-fill/re-integrate them with ourselves as a result of the feeling and inner child work. This portion of the discussion is not intended to create fear or shame. It is a psychological and spiritual truth that exists, and we can use our awareness to better understand ourselves in the past, in the present, and our relationships.

When we are unable to access self-awareness for our feelings, and to learn to accept and honor them, something happens over time. We become more and more self-disconnected, which results in a lack of self-responsibility and self-accountability. This translates into how we interact with others, how we parent, how we love, and how well we are able to see and hear the truth of what the world is trying to show us. When we are unable to accept our own truth and engage in the internal process of self-healing, it is unlikely we will be able to accept external truths, the truths of others, connect meaningfully with the world around us, or engage in the process of bringing the light of ourselves to the world.

We may unconsciously project all of our self-judgments onto others, because we have been unable to love the truth of ourselves. We will attempt to control the choices and stories of others, and in some cases, rewrite them with narratives that reflect our fears and our unconscious need for the world to be what we need it to be so that we can feel safe, and “right.” We require the actions and beliefs of others to validate our own choices, because we have not made our choices from self-honoring spaces, but from what we believed was necessary to be seen as “good;” from what we perceived we needed to do to be “loved.” 

All of this was learned from within our own painful experiences, and was never unlearned, was never seen and loved and *felt*. Inside, there is a voice crying out in pain. It is more painful to answer and heal the voice than it is to pathologize others who do not reflect the illusion we have created for ourselves, which we cling to within our 50-foot radius. Rearranging self-perceptions and perceptions of the world is akin to dying and being re-birthed, and not all of us will answer this call, because the mostly or completely unconscious fear is too great. It is the fear that has been integrated and now leads, as opposed to the True Self. 

We will fear our children when they express who they are or what they feel, or when they forge their own paths from their unique lessons and knowings, because we fear all of that within ourselves, and hold suppressed grief and anger around not allowing it for ourselves. We will see others as extensions of self, rather than as their own entities navigating unique life paths. It is too uncomfortable to do otherwise, because our own unfelt, unaccepted, unprocessed wounds depend on stifling the truth in others. 

We derive self-worth from what others think of us, and wear invisible masks to convince others and ourselves that we really are “good.” We don’t truly believe we are “good,” deep down, and so this is necessary to reflexively soothe the deep unconscious shame. Many others around us, engaged in similar coping mechanisms, encourage this with no self-awareness, because we are reflections of their own unfelt pain and they are unconsciously grateful for that reflection, so that they do not have to engage in honest reflections about themselves, their lives, their own shame and unprocessed pain. There is a part of us that believes we will die, should we consider alternate methods of being. We aren’t even aware of the alternate methods, in many cases, because we have no awareness for the coping mechanisms themselves. They are mechanical and ingrained.

Like this, we rally together and live inside lies, smallness, materialism, empty tradition, and grandiosity. We feel deep anger and even hatred for those who do not support us in this safe space, and attack when necessary. We bolster those who reflect ourselves. We do not understand we have become tools for divide and conquer agendas to hook into, for unloving behaviors to play out. We are self-disconnected, and validate unloving behaviors together with others leading from the same unfelt, unprocessed wounds. 

There is no bird’s eye view of self, others, or the world, from this place. There is no truth. There is no authentic love. There is no creation, or creative spirit. It has all been done and said a billion times before. 

And at some point, should we continue in this way, the true, creative self is no longer in the body. It floats outside somewhere, leaving holes within. Unconscious patterns lead. We are no longer present. We wake in the morning, we eat our Cheerios and go into the day, but we are not conscious. We are human animations, speaking scripts, seeking external validation however we can. 

We do not know there is a another way. If we do, perhaps the pain is too much. The work is too long.

Both vulnerable and grandiose narcissism, passive aggressive behaviors, toxic dissociation/emotional unavailability, and other behaviors that are harmful to self and others with no remorse or desire to change/grow may prevail. Arrogance and self-reassurance leads, as opposed to self-awareness and accountability. If we can’t give ourselves the assurance we need, we will suck it from others, energy vampires disguised as compassionate do-gooders, in some cases. The masks are necessary to obtain the results we desire, because we understand that those who are obviously malevolent or needy will not receive the validation that is needed. We have forgotten how to receive love by bringing our true selves to the world. We do not trust that we will, and so trying is too scary an option.

The truth of our pain may come out inside our closest relationships. There are enablers, often who are co-dependent, self-disconnected, unconsciously self-loathing as well. There are secrets. So many secrets. We can’t even speak them to ourselves. And if someone else dares speak them, all hell breaks lose. The foundations of our illusions are threatened and so we bring that hell, until they learn not to speak. And if they don’t learn, there are other methods to keep them in their place, supported by the hordes of fellow humans around us also living from unfelt pain and the control systems that feed on it all.

We are happy to pretend “nothing just happened,” as well, which is crazy making for the person who experienced severe dysfunction but has been trained to stay silent. This is gaslighting, and many children experience this within the homes of caregivers who do not have the tools to take self-responsibility for their emotional responses and protective cognitive processes. Adults experience this within relationship all the time as well, which can serve as a catalyst for the awakening to dysfunctional ways of loving and being. And in turn, serve as a catalyst for healing.

Many of us have witnessed the inebriated or abusive human who raves like a demon and gaslights, smear campaigns, gossips, straw-mans, villainizes, plays the victim, stonewalls, withholds love, turns on those closest to them when triggered or when shame is ignited. The shame will not be felt, at all costs. Literally *everything* depends on it. Perhaps we can recognize the times in our lives when we have played those roles as well. 

These behaviors are direct results of not being honest with ourselves about our feelings and our lives for so long that we can no longer navigate the pain of living. Hence, a direct result of our own wounds, which we never learned or found a way to heal.

Like this, many humans are walking around unconscious. These holed humans represent all ages, depending on the age that the overt or covert trauma took place, and the individual biopsychosocial response. 

It is never too late to enter the healing path.

As humans, we can take self-responsibility.

We can go back to the beginning of this article, and read it again. 🙂

We can heal ourselves for ourselves, for humanity, for the world. ❤

Please reach out if I can support you. You are loved, you are seen and understood, you are beautiful. You are able to heal.

Michelle ❤


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