If you’ve ever been to therapy, you may have heard the therapist talk about the “inner child."
Essentially, the inner child is a metaphor for the emotional aspect of ourselves.
A “wounded” inner child refers to the unhealed emotional fragments that we, as children, just couldn’t process and heal for one reason or another.
When I was in elementary school, I witnessed a traumatic event dealing with a family member. It was a life-or-death situation, and I was paralyzed by fear.
My brain and nervous system were still developing and not quite strong enough to know how to process and integrate the flood of negative emotions I was feeling. So, it did what it’s designed to do, it put me in “survival mode."
My particular survival response was the “freeze” part of the fight, flight, or freeze responses. However, I don’t mean “freeze” in the way of just being still to gather my senses to make a rational decision as to what to do next.
I mean “freeze” as in emotional shut down.
A full disconnect of my mind and bodily sensations or emotions.
My mind went blank just after that incident and to this day, I still cannot recall what happened immediately after the terrifying event.
The emotions and bodily sensations became “fragments” that were banished to the dark side of my psyche – or what some call the shadow.
According to Jungian psychology, the shadow is the unconscious or dark side of the psyche.
It’s not dark in that it’s bad. Rather, it’s dark because you aren’t aware that it’s there.
And, you’re not aware of what’s hiding in there; things that may be tripping you up in your everyday life.
The "shadow" is a term coined by psychoanalyst Carl Jung. Shadow work is simply taking the light of your consciousness and shining it into the shadow side to see those wounded inner child parts that are wanting to be processed and healed.
Closer examination of the dark characteristics – that is, the inferiorities constituting the shadow – reveals that they have an emotional nature, a kind of autonomy, and accordingly an obsessive or, better, possessive quality. - Carl Jung
I like to think of the shadow side of myself as those parts that I’ve repressed, rejected, shunned, disowned, or forgotten about over the years. They could be emotions and/or memories.
Why should we be concerned about our shadow side?
Because when the psyche gets lopsided and the darker side (shadows) outweighs the lighter side (ego consciousness), those shadows can have a negative influence on your current life, including your thoughts, emotions, and behaviors.
You see, when you’re born, the mind develops what is called the ego.
Now, the function of the ego is to process information and store it away in the brain. However, when you experience little and big “T” trauma, the ego doesn’t always know how to fully process such.
As a result, it will relegate the negative emotions associated with the trauma to your shadow side.
But the thing is, those strong emotions don’t just disappear. They’re sort of frozen in time. That is, until later on down the road when those emotions come knocking on your door to be seen, heard, and processed.
Almost everyone could benefit from embracing an inner healing work journey. This is the kind of journey that requires you to consciously go within to see if there's any shadows lurking that are causing you to experience negative thoughts, emotions, or behaviors.
The more trauma you've experienced throughout life, the more likely you’ll benefit from doing such an inner-healing journey.
That being said, if you have experienced quite a bit of trauma throughout your life, you may want to do shadow work alongside a professional therapist.
Not everyone can do their healing work as a self-directed process. And that's alright. Give yourself permission to reach out for support if you need.
Deep, emotional work like this can bring up very powerful feelings, especially if you have been repressing them for years. Know when you need to ask for professional support and don't do it all on your own.
Want to know more about your hidden side? Read this next: Why Do We Do Things We Regret Later? A Look at Our Shadow Side
Back when I was going through a really tough time emotionally after a relationship breakup, I knew that I needed some professional support.
It didn't take long for my therapist to start talking to me about my wounded inner child.
She took me through some guided visualizations where I was envisioning me as a little girl feeling sad, broken, or scared. She encouraged me to start building a relationship with my inner child at various ages and stages throughout life.
I saw myself as a wounded little girl who experienced some traumatic things. This helped me begin to realize that some of these intense negative emotions I was feeling as an adult was a result of me repressing those emotions when I was young.
I began a journey to reparent that wounded little girl and build a relationship with her. Ultimately, this helped me process and heal some strong negative emotions surrounding some trauma.
Doing some inner inquiry and asking particular questions can help you heal a wounded inner child or process and integrate shadows.
Getting to know yourself better in a way that goes deeper than your day-to-day life can ultimately help you feel more emotionally whole.
The following are some shadow work prompts to help you do a little digging into your shadow side. They can help you get in touch with your inner child. And, tend to any wounds that your inner child may be feeling.
Some words of caution:
Envision your inner child at whatever age you feel they needed the most support.
What do they look like? What are they doing? Write a letter to “little you”, affirming them abundantly.
Let them know that you love them deeply. Let them know they are brave, worthy, lovable, and so on.
See them smiling as you read the letter to them.
Now envision your inner child when they experienced something that was tough for them.
Maybe they were bullied or fell off their bike. Perhaps someone hurt them.
Take a few moments and see what pops into your mind. Remember, whatever happened then is not happening now.
With eyes closed, see your wounded inner child standing there and envision you as an adult walking up to them.
Let them know that they are now safe and you’re there to protect them now.
Can you think of a time when someone hurt you as a child? Maybe they insulted you or physically hurt you.
Have you taken time to process that?
Do you think you’re carrying animosity regarding it?
Is this something you’d like to talk to someone supportive about?
On a scale of 1-10, how functional do you think your home life was growing up?
Do you think you had a happy home life?
Tap into your inner child and see what they think. If it wasn’t so great, write about the reasons why.
Journaling can help you process and release possible pent-up emotions about your childhood.
These are just a few inner child healing prompts, but they should be enough to give you a glimpse into your shadow side.
Again, if you’ve experienced trauma as a child, seeing a professional counselor can help immensely. If shadow work prompts trigger you emotionally, it’s best if you reach out for that supportive person who can hold space for you to revisit your past and heal.
Shadow work can be a powerful tool to help you learn more about yourself, as well as heal wounds that have been festering for a while.
There are plenty of shadow work and inner child healing journals that can help you. Take your time as you continue to do your inner healing work, and lavish abundant love and compassion on yourself too.
August 16, 2022
August 15, 2022