By: Rachel Koutnik, LCSW
We all have beginnings as children, playing, laughing, loving, and interacting with the world as if it were magical. Even though we age, our earlier life experiences are still within us. Those creative, carefree, and childlike parts are still there, and so are any challenging and traumatic experiences we may have experienced in our youth. Both the positive and challenging experiences can affect our mental health into adulthood.
As we age, it is common to consciously and/or unconsciously fall into patterns of minimizing traumatic experiences, avoid thinking about negative memories, or deny that trauma happened at all. These defense mechanisms are used initially as means of self-protection from painful emotions and reactions within the body to those earlier events. However, if left uncared for, it can affect one’s mental health and may call for the help of therapy sessions to learn how to treat the anxiety, depression, or other mental health concerns.
It is a myth that by growing older one will “get over” challenges with time. Even if the mind “forgets,” the body doesn’t. The truth is, our bodies and minds have experienced and therefore stored the impact of all the thoughts, feelings, and experiences we have from birth to present day. As we age, at some point we will remember, feel, and sometimes re-experience both the positive and negative things we went through as children, which can alter our mental health and well-being.
The inner child is the part of us that remembers those early life experiences, has feelings about events that occurred as a child, acts out and wants attention, and, just as in childhood, needs connection to thrive. As adults, we are left with the task of reconnecting with, nurturing, and healing our inner child for our mental health and well-being.
It is sometimes easier to actively engage the joyful and playful parts of our inner child because these memories are pleasant and continue to elicit positive emotions. Listening to music that triggers positive memories and feelings, playing games, dancing, being creative, playing sports and being in nature can often lead to a connection with one’s joyful inner child.
Many adults also find themselves having thoughts, feelings, and body sensations related to earlier events considered to be painful and/or traumatic such as surviving physical and/or emotional abuse, witnessing violence, grief, being neglected emotionally or physically, bullying, engaging in self-harmful behaviors such as cutting, or contemplating and/or attempting suicide. These parts of one’s inner child are often triggered during stressful times, life transitions, experiences of loss, loneliness, within relationships, and how one feels about their sense of self.
Therapy is a great space to start to get to know and listen to your inner child. Steps can be taken to strengthen the connection with your playful inner child, and consciously bring the joy that has been experienced back into your increasingly mindful body and mind. Reconnecting with the joyful inner child can be a powerful tool if you struggle with mental health concerns like depression, anxiety, relationship problems, grief and/or low self-esteem.
Your therapist can also support you in identifying childhood wounds and/or trauma, and start to listen, soothe, and protect your inner child. With you as the parent/healer of your wounded inner child, you can begin to process these painful experiences in a safe space and allow for those parts to be fully seen, heard, and cared for now.
If you would like to work on connecting with and understanding your inner child, please contact Symmetry Counseling to be linked with one of our clinicians. Send us an email through this online contact form, or give our team a call to schedule a therapy consultation at one of our two Chicago locations.