#37 - Is My Inner Child Lost?
Updated: Oct 20
by KC Johnson
What is an Inner Child?
What does that mean?
Do I have even one?
(Through my articles I have referred to the Inner Child often, so I decided to address this aspect of our personality once again.)
We have many micro-voices within us!
We have a pure Inner Child at birth that has to develop the skills needed for navigating our physical world. I refer to these pure, unadulterated skills as micro-voices. These micro-voices are the skills our child learned to use as we discovered how to live in the physical world.
Our Inner Child is not one period, but is a combination of several ages.
“Our inner child is a part of ourselves that’s been present ever since we were conceived, through utero and all the developing years after where we were young and developing into tender selves: baby, infant, toddler, young child and middle school year.” Esther Goldstein LCSW and the Integrative Psychotherapy team gives an excellent description of our inner child in her article at https://integrativepsych.co/new-blog/what-is-an-inner-child.
We began learning our functioning skills to help us use our body while encountering the world of pleasurable and painful experiences. We learned through trial-and-error practice and these pure-skilled micro-voices began developing before we learn to interact with the emotional energies of people.
These skills are the emotional building blocks of every growing child. When an infant discovers pleasurable experiences like sucking its thumb or momma’s breast, it develops positive memories. When it falls, bumps into objects, pokes a finger into an eye, discovers hard spoons and strange toys, the infant learns what not to keep doing.
These are the pure skills being developed without the emotional baggage of imposed emotions and judgment. These are our original unadulterated micro-voices, and ‘unadulterated’ is the key to the infants greatest challenge.
Unless the child is feral it has to eventually interact with the adult world. These interactions with other people, with their own emotional challenges, with their fears and learned skills, can adversely affect our infant Child’s sense of emotional stability and sense of safety when the interactions are not supportive, nurturing, and loving.
Our Inner Child has no tools or skills to innately handle the challenges and traumas others present to us, yet we have to learn to cope in some way. We have no natural method for handling experiences that give us a feeling of discomfort or not having a sense of safety. We likely only know to cry or withdraw from those uncomfortable sensations as the experiences begin shaping our sense of our inner self, our identity.
When we experience loving support, being held, being fully nurtured, we begin building our self-identity around a sense that the world is a safe place and that we belong. This is the beginning of our true sense of self that will remain with us a lifetime. The opposite experiences also have similar impacts on our sense of self and view of our world.
Sherry Gaba, LCSW, wrote in Psychology Today in her 12-16-20 article Carrying a Wounded Inner Child Into Your Relationships?: The Emotionally Wounded Inner Child
When children are emotionally and mentally injured, neglected, or even abused in childhood, those inner wounds never heal. The child may act out, including having temper tantrums, facing challenges in making friends, and remaining suspicious of the motives of others.
As these emotionally wounded children get older, they leave some of their childhood behaviors behind, but they still have the wounded inner child deep within their psyche. When these adults are stressed, pressured, or begin to feel overwhelmed, they often drop back to familiar behavior patterns and the behaviors they used as children to get their way.
Our Inner Child learns to adjust to these behaviors of the people around us by altering the pure original micro-voice roles to become ‘emotional defenders’ when these interactions with others don’t meet our needs. Not being held, or being allowed to go hungry, or being ignored and allowed to cry without attention, or especially when being abused will trigger strong defensive behaviors shielding us from the discomfort, pain, and the sense of not being cared for in a safe, supportive manner.
As our Inner Child develops these protective mechanism, over time they take the form of judgments. It may turn into anger towards others or it may turn inwards developing into self-doubt and feeling unlovable. Every personality trait we have, every behavior we exhibit, and every thought about our self-worth begins during these early stages of life, and they continue evolving as new experiences reinforce our thoughts.
The pure micro-voice skills that our Inner Child created to handle the physical world get re-tasked with trying to make us, our little child, feel safer. When we are well nurtured we don’t need to create defensive responses, so our loving nature develops and grows in healthy ways. We laugh, we giggle, we coo, and we enjoy being with our adults, siblings, and pets. Our positive experiences allow us to develop a positive, healthy sense of self.
However, a poor nurturing experience triggers our Inner Child to create defenses to help it feel safer. Our Child uses its micro-voice skill-sets to develop responses to painful feelings as ways to provide some degree of emotional protection. We can see this beginning to take place with behaviors when our Child stops smiling, is unresponsive, strikes back, and cries uncontrollably around some people who may not be providing the nurturing we want.
These behaviors are signs of not feeling safe. As we grow older we develop greater sophistication in our learned defensive mechanisms. Fighting back, arguing, withdrawing, doing self-harm, running away are some of the tools our micro-voices develop. These judgmental protective barriers minimize and shield us from painful, unwanted experiences.
But any judgment we use is a reflection of the fears our Inner Child still holds onto about our own sense of self and safety. It is important to realize that all behaviors at every age have an origin in the early childhood experiences. When we judgmentally react to someone else’s behaviors we are actually responding from our own deeply held traumatic experiences that trigger memories and threats from back then.
Stephen A. Diamond Ph. D. writes in his Psychology Today 6-7-08 article Essential Secrets of Psychotherapy: The Inner Child:
In fact, these so-called grown-ups or adults are unwittingly being constantly influenced or covertly controlled by this unconscious inner child. For many, it is not an adult self-directing their lives, but rather an emotionally wounded inner child inhabiting an adult body. A 5-year-old running around in a 40-year-old frame. It is a hurt, angry, fearful little boy or girl calling the shots and making adult decisions. A boy or girl being sent out into the world to do a man's or woman's job. A 5- or 10-year-old (or two of them!) trying to engage in grown-up relationships.
Can a child have a mature relationship? A career? An independent life? Yet this is precisely what's happening with us all every day to some degree or another. And then we wonder why our relationships fall apart. It's why we feel so anxious. Afraid. Insecure. Inferior. Small. Lost. Lonely. But think about it: How else would any child feel having to fend for themselves in an apparently adult world? Without proper parental supervision, protection, structure, or support?
As we grow older our micro-voices become better able to respond with pleasure for our safe experiences or withdrawal and/or striking back when we feel unsafe. Our older adult self can learn tools to better manage these deeply held unsafe feelings by no longer responding from our little child point of view.
Our Inner Child Is Not A Point In Time
At every age we are constantly creating and refining our collective inner micro-self beings, our self-identity, and our responses to our world. The maturing process is learning coping skills as we figure out how best to interact with others in more satisfying ways. Without adopting these more sophisticated skills we can also remain stuck in our childhood-learned responses to experiences for a lifetime.
The significantly traumatized person may not be able to mature through their held emotions because so much emotional scarring has occurred that it could take much greater intervention to move through this process. For most people who experienced more manageable traumas this maturing process can be more easily understood and engaged in.
Our Inner Child is more like a panorama of our emotional development at every age. It’s just that during our earliest childhood years we are most vulnerable about feeling safe and our early experiences are the most intense, most impactful, most relied upon for our personality development.
The imprinting at these early ages on our future responses to our world are most strongly etched into our behaviors, on our view about our world, and on our sense of inner self. We always create ‘colored lenses’ that skew our view of the world. That is part of our personality uniqueness. It becomes a matter of whether our lenses are filtering through judgment or through clearer-eyed perceptions free from judgment.
We will continue seeing the world through our inner sense of self filters until we work to ease the traumas and fears our Inner Child has held onto. It is possible to release these old held fears. By discovering the original sources for our Child’s traumas we can begin letting go of the unwanted emotional energies. This allows us to help our Inner Child begin returning to its original pure micro-voices once again, the skills it developed to negotiate the physical world.
Richard Brouillette LCSW in his Psychology Today 8-17-20 article Are You Too Cool for Your Inner Child? writes:
We need our inner child or child selves in order to feel whole and fulfilled. Child selves carry core foundational emotions telling us what we need from others and from life. Feelings like joy, playfulness, love, nurturing care, sadness and loss, shame, pride, hate, and anger all have roots in core childhood experience. And that experience stays in our memory and psyche as a touchstone in our adulthood. If you want to know about your needs and how and why you feel, you have to talk with your inner child about it. So it’s definitely in our interest to be open-minded about checking in with our inner child.
Each age we live through creates a newer, more advanced inner self. The infant age gives way to the toddler, then to the more talented early school age giving way to the pre-teen and so on up through our young adult age and even well beyond. And each period will have significant emotional markers that we can ‘peal’ back as we work to release held fears.
To reach our Inner Child’s most deeply held emotions it may be necessary to focus on accessing these age layers in reverse order. As we uncover significant emotional behaviors we will discover even more deeply held energies a younger age is holding on to. It is a step-by-step process that triggers emotional change and growth as our understanding goes deeper. We can anticipate this process taking years to finally liberate our Child’s deepest fears.
Discovering My Micro-Voices
I had the opportunity to discover this reality about my Inner Child when I was around 45 y/o. This was during a deeply traumatic and emotional period in my life when I felt deeply confused, unloved, had no direction, and I was exploring the New Age era of seeking inner peace and personal growth.
A very delightful crystal shop run by two dynamic women was holding classes using the Voice Dialogue concept that was gaining a following at that time. I had been working long hours running my home care business and joined a class with four others to explore my Inner Child and my many micro-voices. https://www.voicedialogueinternational.com/
The culmination moment for me occurred when my facilitator held a one-on-one session in a sparse room with just a fragrant candle, two chairs and soothing music softly playing. After talking with me for a couple minutes my facilitator said, “I hear someone trying to speak.” It was my little boy!
She asked him a couple questions then requested that he find someplace where he felt comfortable. He (me) got up, walked to the far corner and sat down with his arms wrapped around his knees sitting very defensively protecting himself.
The facilitator needed to split my dominant micro-voice self from my Inner Child self. At the time I was skeptical that this would work since I never could be hypnotized and this required a type of altered-state that was quite hypnotic. I was surprised how easily I slipped into this dual self-awareness feeling my little boy and my adult ‘me’ sitting willingly there.
After a few more exchanges with him she asked my little boy if there was anything he wanted to tell me. My little boy immediately teared up and sobbed saying he just wanted me to hold him and to love him. I was aware of the dialogue, that I was crying, and I could actually feel my little boy talking to me.
Then the facilitator asked my little boy, “Is there anything you want to tell him?” and he told me that he just wanted my adult me to play with him and for me to not forget about him. I still tear up whenever I think about just how lonely and abandoned my little guy was feeling all of these years.
I promised my little boy that I would keep him in my life, play more, do things he liked to do, and to love him always. Over the next few days as I continued talking with him during my quiet times I felt a deepening connection with him and slowly learned how to include him in my thoughts and activities.
It took another thirty years before my next breakthrough led me to discover my other ages that held significant roles in my life. Working with a Shamanic therapist I once again entered a dreamy trance-state of mind and met my little boy down by my old safe river escape place. He was in a fog and was still feeling unloved. Even though I had tried to keep him closer I still had not fully recognized the pain and loneliness he continued feeling -- probably because I was not wanting to recognize my adult self pain I was feeling.
When he held his hand out through the fog I took it and vowed once again to make him a part of my daily life. That night I pulled him to me hugging him (me) as never before. I continue doing this at night to this day. I even include my other lonely ‘me’ ages sometimes, but always my little boy comes first. More than that I have conversations with him during the day and his growing trust in my adult me to care for him results in him revealing his deepest fears that we work to release together.
During my early and late adolescence I discovered new ages that expressed to my adult me their well-developed fears. These newly discovered fears, based on my Inner Child’s original fears, had been impacting my adult life behaviors and contributed to me eventually getting to experience prison. I now access these adolescent ‘me’ ages and have helped them ease their fears, too.
To a lesser or greater degree every one of us harbors early life emotions that make up our Inner Child. Most likely we have lost the intimate contact with that core part of our inner being that we desperately need to maintain contact with into adulthood. Rather than facing our held-fears we tend to engage our pain-avoidance skills and never really think about them. But our buried fears continue subtly affecting our daily thoughts and actions whether or not we realize their presence.
So What Is Our Inner Child?
It is the core energy of who we are, who we see ourselves being. A relatively fearless Inner Child will create a self-loving sense of self. A trauma-burdened sense of self becomes the hidden part of us that may hurt too much to let us easily rediscover its presence in our lives. Our micro-voices that are tasked to protect our Inner Child from feeling vulnerable can also prevent us from connecting with our Child.
Stephen A. Diamond Ph. D. writes in his Psychology Today 6-7-08 article Essential Secrets of Psychotherapy: The Inner Child:
To begin with, the inner child is real. Not literally. Nor physically. But figuratively, metaphorically real. It is—like complexes in general—a psychological or phenomenological reality, and an extraordinarily powerful one at that. Indeed, most mental disorders and destructive behavior patterns are, as Freud first intimated, more or less related to this unconscious part of ourselves. We were all once children, and still have that child dwelling within us. But most adults are quite unaware of this. And this lack of conscious relatedness to our own inner child is precisely where so many behavioral, emotional and relationship difficulties stem from.
The fact is that the majority of so-called adults are not truly adults at all. We all get older. Anyone, with a little luck, can do that. But, psychologically speaking, this is not adulthood. True adulthood hinges on acknowledging, accepting, and taking responsibility for loving and parenting one's own inner child. For most adults, this never happens. Instead, their inner child has been denied, neglected, disparaged, abandoned, or rejected. We are told by society to "grow up," putting childish things aside. To become adults, we've been taught that our inner child—representing our child-like capacity for innocence, wonder, awe, joy, sensitivity, and playfulness—must be stifled, quarantined, or even killed. The inner child comprises and potentiates these positive qualities. But it also holds our accumulated childhood hurts, traumas, fears, and anger. "Grown-ups" are convinced they have successfully outgrown, jettisoned, and left this child—and its emotional baggage—long behind. But this is far from the truth.
We need to take steps to make our Child feel safe. When we have done that our Child will let us in. As long as we are sincere, as long as we maintain that sense of safety for our Child, and as long as we remain open and supportive of our Child, then we can continue re-building a relationship between our early Inner Child ages and our adult self. It’s never too late to begin re-nurturing our younger ages.
So Our Inner Child Is Us, Our Core Being, Our Deepest Self-Identity
We will hold onto these early energies for a lifetime until we find ways to reconnect with our fragile child and help it feel safer. Our Inner Child needs to become an important part of our daily lives once again. Without developing that connection and helping our Inner Child feel safe, we will have a lifetime of challenging emotional responses to everything we do.More importantly, we will struggle with being able to love and feel love from others. Discovering how to release our long-held fears can become the most significant act of our lives, it leads us to loving every moment without fear, without judgment, our life’s purpose. - kc