“To love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance.” ~Oscar Wilde
The journey to meeting, loving, and re-parenting my inner child was a long time coming.
In 2018, I went through a devastating breakup. I’d been through breakups before. They suck, they hurt, some of them left me in deep abysses of sadness for a long time, but this one was something different.
I can honestly say I felt levels of pain I did not know were survivable for a human being. Many days, I did not want to survive; I couldn’t imagine continuing to be in that level of pain for another moment. It is indeed a miracle I survived and came out on the other side thriving!
So, what was the cause of so much pain?
Well, it wasn’t him, I’ll tell you that much. While I loved that man more deeply than I previously knew possible to love someone, and so it made sense for it to be more painful, it didn’t make sense for me to be crying non-stop for months. I felt like I was being ripped to shreds from the inside out. The pain was relentless and wasn’t lifting even a tiny bit as time went on.
So, I sought help to get to the root issue. The real cause of my pain was the tremendous amount unresolved trauma I was carrying, a complete inability to love myself—in fact, I had no real understanding of what it meant to love oneself—and a massively wounded and scared little girl running the show at my core.
To sum up: I had a great amount of sexual trauma, abandonment trauma, Complex PTSD, and low self-worth, and only understood validation as coming from outside of me. This breakup unearthed all these issues in one violent movement, like ripping a Band-Aid off a scab.
All this ugly, unhealed stuff was exposed and shot into my awareness like a volcanic eruption, and I had no means of escape. All I could do was deal and heal. So that’s what I did.
There were a lot of things I did, and still do, to facilitate this healing. Therapies, somatic healing modalities, and spiritual methods. None are necessarily better than the other. They all worked together to weave a rich tapestry of healing approaches to choose from at any moment.
But since this is about inner child work, that’s what I am going to talk about.
I believe many of us have wounded inner children running the show. Everyone we meet has an inner child expressing themselves through adult bodies. To what degree that inner child is wounded ranges on a wide spectrum, mostly based on how well their needs were met by their caregivers.
My therapist suggested I purchase The Abandonment Recovery Workbook, by Susan Anderson, and begin working through it on my own in between our sessions. I furiously raced through the chapters hoping that once I finished, I could date and find someone to hopefully mitigate the unrelenting pain. However, as I worked through and neared the end of the book, it became clear to me that I was in no way ready for someone else yet.
The workbook contains several exercises, but there were a few dedicated specifically to identifying, visualizing, or meeting your inner child—a younger, more tender, innocent version of yourself that just needed to be seen, heard, and accepted for who they are.
It helped for me to find photographs of myself from three to five years of age to aid in visualizing this child. Looking at that little girl and imagining she still lived inside me, deep inside my being.
Once adult me was able to see her, I had to learn how to hear her, and how to communicate with her. Via meditation, I’d visualize her and ask her questions:
What does she need right now?
How can I make things better for her right now?
What is she feeling about this situation?
I’d have to sit until I received an answer from her. This came as a thought or a feeling, sometimes a visual image or memory. Oftentimes, all she wanted was to be held, so I’d visualize my adult-self holding this small girl and giving her the comfort and compassion she desperately needed.
This is the re-parenting. The part where we respond to ourselves in the ways that we would have wanted or needed when we were small children. To be seen and heard, rather than molded to act or behave a certain way. To be truly responded to, based on the needs we were expressing.
The dialogue exercises with my little girl continued daily, sometimes multiple times in a day. It just depended on how intensely my inner child needed something from me that day, or how intently I was listening at the time.
Sometime after I’d began this dialogue, I was at work and delivered a small thank you token to a colleague for doing a quick project for my office. He kissed me on the forehead in return. It made me very uncomfortable, and I quickly exited his workspace.
I walked out to the street to run an errand, and within me, my little girl was raging. It felt like there was an inferno of anger brewing within my gut. I recognized in that moment I was not listening to my inner child, and she wasn’t having it, now that we had begun communicating with each other.
So, I stopped. I tuned in. I asked her what she needed.
She told me this man had violated her space, she felt unsafe, and I promised, capital “P” promised she said, stomping her feet as young children often do, that I would take care of her from now on, and I hadn’t when I allowed someone to violate my physical space without saying something. She would not be appeased until the matter was resolved.
The inferno continued to rage inside my belly until I walked back down the street, back into his office, and told him, “I do not want to be kissed by my coworkers. I’m sure others may not be bothered by it, but this is a boundary for me.”
Of course, he apologized profusely, and we have never had any inappropriate run-ins again. But more importantly, immediately upon taking care of myself and my little girl, the inferno subsided.
I took care of her and made her feel safe and secure. I continue to do so in my day-to-day life now.
The above example was an extreme one. She is not always so easily heard. Sometimes I ask her what she needs and it’s just to move the body, go for a walk. Other times it’s a cookie she wants. Often, it’s just to be acknowledged. Validated. To be told, “I hear you, I see you, your feelings matter.”
As with any relationship, the needs, communication, and dynamics are ever evolving.
But I can say without a doubt, the connection between my adult-self and my inner child is the most valuable relationship I have, and today the amount of love I have for myself, due to inner child work, is above and beyond anything I could have ever imagined.
I used to feel, most of the time, that I was not enough. Since doing this healing work I now know I am enough, in all situations and places.
Where there was typically a sense of impending doom and danger, there is now a lightness and delight, and a true, deep happiness that has nothing to do with outside circumstances; just the pure joy of an inner wholeness I never even could have dreamt for.
That’s what happens when we truly see and hear our inner child and respond to their needs without judgment. We feel love and safety like we’ve never known, and we finally realize we deserve nothing less.