How do you begin to recover and heal a damaged inner child?
The child part of you holds many important components of the spiritual path: innocence (beginner’s mind), unbounded imagination, the capacity for play and wonder, unconventional creativity, and an ability to connect to nature and the unseen world (spirits, guides, angels) in a way that the adult mind overcomplicates.
There comes a time on the journey when you must reintegrate this missing piece in order to continue your growth. Unfortunately, having disowned or hidden away our inner child so long ago, it’s hard to know where to find them, how to get their attention, what to say.
Here are some initial steps that I suggest trying:
1. Give them your attention: Send out the signal that you want to know them again. Tell them you recognize that they are important and that you want to fully include them in your life again. Apologize for what was done to them and how long they suffered in exile. Make a space internally or externally that is just for them and promise to visit it frequently.
2. Create safety: Take inventory of what harmed them and either eliminate it from your life or make boundaries that shelter them from ever coming in contact with it again. Your child needs to see that you understand their fears and concerns and are willing to take responsibility for addressing them.
No bargaining or manipulation. “If you come out and talk to me, I’ll take you to the zoo” is conditional love. “If you don’t come out soon, I’m going to give up on this whole thing” is more abuse. So is “Please come out. Without you my life will be ruined and I’ll never be happy!”
Be careful about expressing hostility toward children in general, even in jest. That running joke about how you hate kids, or complaining about the screaming unruly children at the supermarket or on the airplane is often an unconscious retelling of the attitude you experienced as a child.
3. Make them a priority: Ask them for their opinion about things in your life. Include them in choices you make (what to wear, eat, or do). Ask if they need anything, what you can do to make them feel safe, or what they would enjoy. Even if you don’t get a reply, being taken into consideration builds trust. Children need to know they matter. Listen for their promptings and, when they do speak up, take it very seriously. Honor their wants and needs.
4. Follow through and be patient: Do what you say you’re going to do. Create and keep enforcing important boundaries for them (and you). Show up to the space you made for them. Often. Do not accidentally re-abandon them. You have to prove that you are capable of being the adult for them that they didn’t have.
You have probably organized your life around not exposing your child-energy, and that doesn’t always create the most hospitable environment. The child is stuck in the time and place where they were exiled, so you have to demonstrate that things are different now and that there’s someone who can protect them and create an environment in which they can thrive. This can be a very gradual process and there may be some testing.
They need to be convinced that you are safe, you won’t leave, and you can handle whatever comes up. They need to be free from concern in order to share their gifts. It has to be okay for them to respond in their own time. In fact, you might consider telling them that it’s okay if they never feel safe enough to reappear, and that you will continue to hold that space for them and work to create their safety. The idea is to show up with no agenda, no pressure, no expectations.
5. Meet them where they are: Maybe they show up but don’t want to talk. Maybe they need to play. Maybe they’re hurt and angry and want to remind you what it’s like to be them. The key is to be willing to be present with them, no matter how they feel. Don’t be in a rush to fix them or talk them out of it. Whatever they feel or believe, let them be right. It WAS horrible. They WERE treated unfairly. Those people WERE wrong and bad.
There’s one more step I would like to go into at greater length, but I’ll save it for next time.
This is the kind of Spiritual terrain that I help people navigate. If your Spirit is prompting you to have a conversation about reuniting with your inner child, I encourage you to get in touch with me.