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Neglect, abandonment, and shame can leave invisible wounds that travel with us throughout our lives. Psychological trauma and abuse can lead us to ignore our individual needs, tolerate bad behaviors in others, and prevent us from finding our voice.
Our childhood continues to shape us as the years pass. These memories are not always at the surface; they may become part of our unconscious or subconscious. Regardless, they continue to influence our emotional responses when left unhealed. Conversely, trauma healing is said to occur when we face similar painful obstacles that once distraught us, yet our emotional responses change. For example, maybe we no longer experience rejection the same, or anger, or loneliness. Perhaps we no longer need to find an escape from such pain (e.g., substances, work). Rather, we can navigate through tough times with a bit more mindfulness and self-compassion than ever before.
Before changing our emotional response and survival patterns, one will need to reconnect with their inner child, and do some repair work. If we have suppressed childhood emotions for too long, they may need to come to the surface through spontaneous play (see the Holistic Psychologist), creativity, feeling and accepting suffering, healing, breathing, and mindfulness. We can start to identify areas of neglect, how we are still engaging in patterns that are self-defeating, and begin to transform how we navigate this unpredictable world.
Thich Nhat Hanh wrote Reconciliation: Healing the Inner Child which uses Buddhist practices to encourage mental health and wellness. The idea of reconciliation is a form of mindfulness through meditations and exercises that helps transform emotional wounds from childhood. Through breath work, joy and tranquility are sought to release emotional burdens and suffering that stem from childhood trauma.
Some examples of breath work (as Diana Raab, PhD shares in Deep Secrets and Inner Child Healing):
Thich Nhat Hanh suggests a mindfulness technique where we use breath while saying,
“I go back to my inner child,” and breathing out and saying,
“I take care of my inner child.”
In No Mud, No Lotuz (Thich Nhat Hanh), some breathing exercises for happiness are shared.
“Breathing in, I feel joy. Breathing out, I feel joy.”
“Breathing in, I am aware of a painful feeling. Breathing out, I am aware of a painful feeling.”
For many adults, our inner child has been historically neglected, abandoned, rejected, whereas, adulthood encompassed our ability to accept and take responsibility for loving and parenting our own inner child (Stephen Diamond, PhD).
Dr. Diamond shared a few tips about Essential Secrets of Psychotherapy: The Inner Child. Has your adult self spent time with your inner child today?
Raise our awareness of our inner child. How do we feel shame, anxiety, sadness, harsh inner critics, and/or fear of rejection? Begin the process of empowering ourselves through exploring how our shame or unmet needs show up.
Listen to these emotions, as they are powerful. What are they telling you?
Begin the process of healing and accepting these emotions. We cannot change our trauma, or childhood, or decisions, but we can come to peace with them.
Authentic adulthood is cultivating that intersection of healing the past, and identifying our current needs as an adult.
Learn to identify how our wounded inner child has impacted our current relationships. How are we recreating attachments in adulthood (attachment style), or how are we finding relationships and friendships that essentially serve to nurture our wounded inner child?