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The Inner Child: What is it and Why is it Important?

Mary-Lauren O’Crowley, NCC, LPC

 No matter who we are or where we are from, we will experience pain- whether through neglect, abuse, death, or disease. We are all human and thus, we will all sustain emotional injury throughout our lifetime. Many of these wounds, however, will be experienced in childhood, as we are at a pivotal stage in development and tend to be more vulnerable. Any wrongdoing done to us at such a tender age in life has the potential to leave an indelible impression on us and can follow us throughout our lives. Childhood wounds can range from sexual abuse to emotional neglect to heart break. 

Although we have no control over our childhood traumatic experiences, we can in fact heal from them. Healing the inner child is a concept by which we reflect upon and ultimately reprocess that which caused us harm at a young age. We are in essence going back in time to properly address and work through said experiences- with more wisdom and a greater understanding of ourselves. This often requires peeling back the layers of learned defenses and coping mechanisms. Those which we have used time and time again to avoid or distract ourselves from these painful memories and the subsequent painful feelings. Once we begin to lower our defenses and allow ourselves to revisit difficult memories and experiences, we can then begin to acknowledge our inner child, the part of us that was subjected to the hurt. Think of the inner child as the painful or negative thoughts, feelings, and beliefs which feel most familiar to us from childhood. These are often internalized messages or learned behaviors that resulted from our traumatic experiences. Thoughts from our inner child may sound something like, “I will be abandoned,” “No one loves me,” “I cannot trust anyone, “or the world is an unsafe place.” 

But why is healing the inner child so important, you might be asking yourself? Healing the inner child is important because the wounds of the inner child can manifest in many unhealthy patterns and behaviors in adulthood. See below: 

  • Addictive behaviors

Gambling, smoking, drinking and work avoidance are behaviors which signal an unhealed childhood wound. These behaviors are dangerous because they put the future of the person engaged in them at further risk and very often, their friends and family suffer as they engage in these acts.

  • Attachment Issues 

Withdrawing from relationships, abandonment issues, trust issues and being emotionally unavailable are issues which typically signal attachment issues stemming from childhood. These issues can lead to the break-down of the best of relationships and ultimately cause more pain and grief. Healing the inner child may save many relationships and ensure more satisfying relationships as well as friendships.

  • Over valuing Independence 

Hyper-independence is a reaction to being severely disappointed in childhood by those we depended on for our needs. Repetitively being let down by someone in our life who we trusted to provide for, love and assist us eventually leads to a belief that says “I really am not going to allow anyone else to let me down, therefore, I am going to make sure I do everything for myself, and meet my every need!”. While this line of reasoning may seem feasible to the person suffering from trauma, it is almost impossible to be and do everything for ourselves as we were created for community. Healing the inner child can restore trust and reliance in relationships where this is lacking.

  • Mental health challenges 

A wounded inner child stemming from unaddressed traumatic experiences can lead to depression, anxiety, and even suicidal thoughts. It can also lead to several mental health disorders including PTSD, Bipolar Disorder, OCD, and Schizophrenia. While mental illness cannot be entirely attributed to environment, an unsafe or unstable environment in childhood can yield significant mental health issues. 

If you are looking to begin your journey of healing the inner child, please reach out to the intake specialists at Symmetry Counseling today to find out how therapy in Chicago may help! 


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