Sometimes, we can be grown in age but wounded children internally.
Years back, I learned that my inner child was wounded, and she had been trying to communicate with me about situations that traumatized her. She expressed herself through avoidance behaviors, anger outbursts, high achieving, and people-pleasing—all of which she did to feel safe.
My early exposure to violence was the underlying cause of my inner child’s domineering behavior in her relationships with me and others. As an adult, she hadn’t learned that life was safer, because she was still hurting, and frankly, I can’t blame her. Despite being a fully grown adult, I was a wounded eight-year-old girl emotionally, mentally, and physically, reacting to the environment around me.
WHAT IS AN INNER CHILD?
Our inner child refers to the subconscious parts of our mind that carry repressed memories and feelings that resurface in adulthood from time to time. It can be the part of us that’s carefree, innocent, loving, and playful, or if wounded, the source of our fears, phobias, and life patterns.
We tend to view the child we once were as an entirely different person, but in reality, she is only a version of ourselves from the past, and thus much closer to us than we realize.
“You may notice that you’re experiencing fear, perfectionism, anxiety, or are avoiding certain people, places, or experiences. These are all ways that your inner child is attempting to feel safe. When the inner child is running the show, it’ll choose behaviors, choices, and thoughts based on unconscious beliefs or memories from the past, and based on what the inner self would need to feel safe,” writes Esther Goldstein, Licensed Clinical Social Worker & Trauma Specialist.
Signs that you have a wounded inner child
An article by Shirley Davis with the CPTSD Foundation titled “The Wounded Inner Child,” states that some signs our inner child is wounded are:
- A deep feeling that there is something wrong with you
- Being a people-pleaser
- Being a rebel and feeling alive when in conflict with someone else
- Being a hoarder
- Not being able to let go of possessions or people
- Experiencing anxiety with something new
- Feeling guilty for setting boundaries
- Driven to be a super-achiever
- Being rigid and perfectionistic
- Having a deep feeling that there is something wrong with you
Does any of the below sound familiar?
- “Nobody cares about me. Nobody appreciates me. Nobody loves me. I am all alone.”
- “I fear being abandoned. I’ll do anything to be in a relationship.”
- “The world is unsafe. Everything is dangerous. Something bad is going to happen. Be prepared for the worst!”
- “I can’t explain it, but I know something is wrong with me.”
- “I am so inadequate and unworthy. I don’t deserve love, attention, or anything good.”
- “I feel scared—all the time. I’m scared of people, conflict, life, and anything new.”
- “I don’t trust anybody, especially not myself. People will hurt me if I let my guard down.”
If any of the above statements resonate with you, your inner child may be tugging at your soul, trying to reach you. She appears in your adult life, running the show in your relationships with yourself and others.
When the Adult Self is running the show:
The adult version of ourselves trusts our decisions, sets boundaries, receives self-love, feels secure in our humanity (most days), and protects ourselves. Someone who is not led by their inner child does not partake in frequent or unwarranted fear, self-sabotage, extended periods of avoidance, or self-deprivation. The adult self understands when the inner child is reacting to a trigger versus when the adult responds to a current situation with reasoning and intuition.
It’s not quite that all life problems go away as soon as you become an adult. Instead, when the adult self runs the show, we know how to address both favorable and unfavorable circumstances in a constructive manner rather than a destructive one; we are conscious of where the inner dialogue comes from and know how to ignore or challenge it. We understand how to extend compassion to the parts of ourselves that are not quite healed yet.
When the Inner Child running the show:
Sometimes, our inner child acts out to protect us, but their protection is often characterized by limiting beliefs, negative self-talk, and avoidance.
If we’ve been hurt or traumatized, our reactions may resemble those of a child. For example, a disagreement with a partner may result in a screaming match as opposed to constructive dialogue. It can also explain some of our behaviors in adulthood, such as craving attention, over or undereating, people-pleasing, and lacking a sense of identity.
We all have an inner child inside. Some of us are conscious of its needs, and others of us aren’t. However, with intentional connection, we can grow to become teammates with our inner child. For this reason, it is possible to heal your life at any point.
3 Things to Do If Your Wounded Inner Child Is Running the Show:
- Be gentle with yourself.
We do not always get to choose the beginnings of our lives. Sometimes situations happen in our childhoods that shape, shake, and scar us. We grow up longing for needs that we didn’t receive in childhood. As an adult, you may not know that your inner child is wounded, let alone running the show in your life. Many of us walk about life completely oblivious to its existence — after all, we aren’t taught this in school!
It may be the first time you’re making the connection between an inner human and your need for healing. Your soul most needs grace and love as you navigate this new level of consciousness. Resist the urge to criticize yourself for behaving when you didn’t know any better. Forgive yourself.
- Ask your inner child “what do I need?”
If our inner child is wounded, it has needs that haven’t been met yet, which is why it acts out in our present life. Chances are, your inner child doesn’t exactly know how to meet those needs yet, which may lead her to search externally for things like connection, safety, love, and approval—or act out by withdrawing, having anger outbursts, or not trusting others.
Although her wounded behaviors can cause chaos, she means no harm. She’s just trying to get your attention the best way she knows how and protect you from perceived danger.
So, what does your inner child need? What are the deepest parts of your soul longing for?
Three journal prompts to help you begin exploring your inner child needs:
- What did I need from my caregivers growing up that was not provided? (Process in detail what was missing from your childhood that would have helped you feel whole and loved.)
- In childhood, I missed out on_________. This affected my life and self-esteem in these ways: _________.
- More than anything, what do I want most out of life? (Ex: to be happy, loved, to feel safe). Why? Write more about it in a safe space.
- Ask your adult self, “how can I show up for myself?”
You are the source of comfort your inner child needs, even if you don’t quite know how to connect with that part of you yet. Showing up for yourself can be as simple as hugging yourself, showing yourself grace and kindness in times of distress, writing about your feelings in a journal, or saying encouraging words of safety to yourself.
Sitting for five minutes in a quiet room and exploring your thoughts and heart’s desires is also a start. The main goal is learning the voice of your inner child and understanding her needs.
The article, “8 Ways to Start Healing Your Inner Child,” provides a list of steps to begin showing up for your inner child.
Trauma and stressful childhood experiences can cause our souls to become wounded and trapped with painful memories. If not healed, our childhood wounds tend to run the show in our adult lives. While often subconsciously, our inner child’s attempts at protecting us sometimes cause chaos, fears, and maladaptive life patterns.
Understanding her needs and desires is a step towards healing. So don’t wait — she’s been wanting to meet you!
I recorded a corresponding video on this topic. Click below if you’d like to watch it!