Quite literally our inner child is the child that lives within us. The Child within us whose unresolved emotional experiences create subconscious behavior. We were all once children and still have that child dwelling within us, though most adults are quite unaware of this. This lack of conscious relatedness to our own inner child is precisely where so many behavioral, emotional and relationship difficulties stem from. Even after we become adults, the inner child exists and continue to exist as a reminder that our childhood emotional needs were unmet.
How to tap our inner child – By learning to practice observing your thoughts and feelings of your inner child and how he/she shows up in the world. Begin to see patterns in your thought, feelings and behaviors that you are living each and every day. Spending about few weeks for the same to become aware of the pattern.
Some examples of expressions of wounded inner child are
Ø Chronic self-betrayal
Ø Acts in defensive manner
Ø Shutdown (silent treatment)
Ø Lack of boundaries, unable to say No
Ø Comparison to others
Ø Blaming/name calling
Some examples of narratives of wounded inner child are
Ø I feel scared
Ø I feel abandoned
Ø I am not enough
Ø Nobody loves me
Ø Bad things always happen to me
We are the only species that are born with the state of dependency. We are born physically premature that we cannot meet even our physical needs. That is why we have to have an adult caregiver. We are born with an instinctive need to be “mothered” in order to develop.
Our needs grow as we grow. Apart from physical (feeding, sleeping and excreting), our emotional needs also come into play (love and attachment from a caregiver). And growth continues with the expression of psychological needs (thoughts, language and exploration of environment, Curious questioning). If majority of the needs are met carefully and in a healthy manner by our caregivers, our inner child is nurtured. If the needs are not been taken care of properly, it may put little one’s body into stressful experiences, causing emotional wounds.
Response from these stressful experiences eventually builds and programs our subconscious behaviors and coping mechanisms.
Unmet Childhood Needs
Let us begin by understanding what consists of “childhood needs”. As children we are born out of the womb with an underdeveloped brain and nervous system, and so we lack the resources to overcome any stressful situation we might be in as a part of our environment.
It is because Stressful situations can be any discomfort caused on a continuum of different intensities – be it too many family members huddled around the baby to play with him/her, a loud sensory stimulus (sounds in a movie theatre), sounds of screams and shouts in any household fight, etc. The discomfort is caused because as children we lack a strong sensory system or nervous system for us to take all this information from environment, process and store it. The part of nervous system responsible for these phenomena and respond to it in a social setting is not yet fully developed until age of 5-7years.
As a result, a child’s nervous system may become overwhelmed with excessive stimulation and it may be shown in their emotional expression and behaviour of too much frustration, anger, crying, throwing things away, etc. This is because we naturally lack language, especially b/w 0-2yrs to communicate about it.
As adults, we have a “developed version” of autonomic nervous system and hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis for us to survive through similar daily stressful situations
As much as our parents may have always tried their best to fulfill our physical and material needs, a child’s emotional needs most of the times lack in their complete fulfillment. They are partially met and its nobody’s fault. As a society we lack healthy ways of emotional regulation. We are fully functioning emotional beings living in a society with deep rooted conditioned learning of inability to express/communicate and regulate our emotions.
I believe, as a collective, it’s less of “we don’t talk about emotions and how it affects our mental health and more of “we were never taught to do that” at first place.
Our societal conditioning starts to reflect in our parenting in very early minute instances such as, as children we are told “to sit quietly”, “stop crying” but never taught how to sit quietly or how to process our emotions in that moment to eventually stop our crying. As a result, because we are so adaptive as infants, neurologically, our nervous system and neural pathways receive a forced message and develop in a dys-regulated manner.
And, psychologically, the little one receives a message in his/her subconscious that “it’s not okay to express how I feel” and naturally, child is neurologically programmed and psychologically learns to “suppress emotions”.
Every little emotional need that was suppressed through parenting influenced by societal conditioning, is the emotional need that was not met. Later these unmet emotional needs turn into bigger pervasive emotional states of feeling lonely, feeling misunderstood all the time, resentment, anger, defensive, avoidance, low self-esteem, lack of confidence, etc.
For a child, in its foundational years, this world is like a foreign land and lacks language to communicate their needs. Their behavior is all they are equipped with to express how they feel. And not having a safe, secure, regulated care-giver who could meet our needs during infancy and fully model for us how to fulfill our needs sufficiently. We continue with older outdated mechanisms (neurologically programmed) when we are stressed and they don’t always serve us into our adulthood.
Our caregivers can only model for us for things that they know. So, a major limitation would be that our caregivers were not able to identify these needs for themselves so they didn’t know it very much existed for us.
We can start by tapping into our suppressed emotions by asking ourselves these questions-
- How much of your childhood memories do you remember?
- Did you feel happy in those times?
- I anger at my parents because?
- Words that I use to describe my childhood?
- Words I use to describe myself?
- How did my parents react to my stubbornness/frustration?
Reparenting is a process of identifying and meeting out physical, emotional and spiritual needs and working towards becoming a better version of ourselves. It aims towards breaking the cycle of trauma, confusion, betrayal, chaos that have been carried forward generations after generations, through our “conditioned parenting”. It is a journey we embark upon to heal our childhood wounds and nurture our wounded inner child.
It is a therapeutic process of becoming connected with ourselves and revaluate our identity, our values, our beliefs, etc. It is a method of consciously creating a way of life by adopting to healthy habits of loving discipline that eventually brings us joy and help us grow.
It helps us understand that it was not our choice, neither in our control to how we were treated and felt as a child, but as an adult it’s our responsibility to become able to meet our own needs.
Reparenting begins in the very moment when we are “ready” to do the “self-work” – To identify, honor and accept your childhood wounds and feel the responsibility to nurture your inner child. The work revolves around rewiring your subconscious only to unlearn the maladaptive behaviors and coping mechanisms of conditioned parenting to end the Generational Trauma.
Reparenting is a life changing way of life that enables to pass healing to your younger generations, and not societal and patriarchal trauma.
Identification of needs means direct us to understand and become aware that we have our unconscious/subconscious part of mind where we carry our unmet needs and suppressed feelings.
How to identify unmet needs –
· Ask ourselves did we have caregivers who could model how to meet our physically, emotional and spiritual needs. Did we get our needs met in any of all those areas?
· Look back and acknowledge how we were taught to fulfill our needs that we are capable to fulfill ourselves now?
· Did we actually learn understand and regulate our feelings? Look back and think of feelings that were acceptable? How the talking about feelings was considered?
· Did our caregivers help us through navigating our feelings or shut them down?
A common narrative is – "achhe bache rote nahin, bahadur bache rote nahin" (Good kids don't cry, brave kids don't cry).
As a collective in Indian Society, silence is accepted instead of communication.
When feelings don’t get voice or expression, they stay stuck, they stay suppressed.
As a result, our inner child stays wounded and hence “Avoidance of needs” continue. Even if we acknowledge our feelings, we don’t know what to do with them. Sometimes, we lack emotional vocabulary to express/process or communicate them.
So, to sum it all, re-parenting is not about correcting bad parenting, but about getting in touch with our “most authentic selves” and eventually filling the loopholes that were left in their best possible parenting.
Some Examples of expressions nurtured inner child
Ø Freedom (i.e., unscheduled time that you can devote to whatever activity feels the best for you in the moment)
Ø Observing self without judgement
Ø Resting when needed, not when forced by fatigue, exhaustion or aches
Ø Disciplined self-care
Ø Respecting Boundaries
Ø Creating (painting/writing/singing/dancing/cooking. Etc)
Some examples of Narratives of nurtured inner child
Ø I am safe
Ø I am enough
Ø I love me
Ø I feel accepted
Ø Sometimes It’s nobody’s fault for bad things happening to me
Carry ‘Parental and Societal trauma’ or ‘healing’ through generations – Our Choice
“Parenting is a Dance of Generations. Whatever affected one generation but has not been fully resolved will be passed on to the next.”
Dr. Gabor Mate
Yes, we carry our beliefs and mental habits in families through generations. In early childhood, while we have all the opportunity of learning, our neural circuits of brain were primed by the beliefs and behaviors taught by our parents, we lacked the freedom to choose from what we learned and how we behaved. As we grow up, we are so much dominated from the programming from our earlier years, that our beliefs, behaviors, emotions, everything that forms our identity is saved in our subconscious and unconscious mind. It’s extremely difficult for us to realize that now we have the choice to break this cycle and unlearn the habits and behaviors that no longer serve us.
Our sense of this world came from watching our home environment and parental modeling.
The conditioned patterns are passed down that do not reflect anything of us. We were not born as feeling shameful as a child. We were made to believe so.
Each generation learns from the previous one with survivors telling their children to ‘not trust other’, ‘not trust the world’. The trans-generational effects are not only psychological but social, cultural, neurobiological and even genetic according to epi-genetics. The trauma in form of harsh and abusive parenting, with unmet childhood needs, feeling unsafe and threatened that our great-great grandparents may have experienced can be passed on to us. Our families pass on pieces of themselves in more than just genetic inheritance. Our parents’ emotional trauma can affect our biology and their parenting can affect our biology. Unhealed, fear oriented patterns of parenting can unconsciously filtrate through each generation until someone strops the cycle.
How does therapy help?
T – Teach/Treat: personal issues
H – Heal: emotional wounds
E – Energize/Empower: one’s power
R – Release: the trauma and suffering
A – Allow/Accept: to feel your feelings, all your parts of self
P – Practice – self soothing, self-regulation
Y – Yes to Happiness
Therapy, for the starters, can provide you a safe space. An effective therapeutic alliance is the one that enables the client to form a secure attachment with their therapist. Therapy is not any medical treatment, with quick results, but a journey of exploring the unknown. Except, this time we, as individuals, won’t be alone with our struggles and suffering. Therapy is not about gaining instant magical solutions to the problems but instead building resilience in the process to deal and find solutions on ourselves.
Elements of therapy:
- Psycho-education about the problem
- Space to vent our suppressed feelings
- Vocabulary to identify and become aware of emotions
- Learning of coping strategies for better resilience
- Safe and Secure space to freely express your unfiltered thoughts
- Opportunity of personal growth
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