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Alcohol and Mental Health

Inner Child: Healing From Within

Published:
July 12, 2023
·
27 min read
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Written by
Reframe Content Team
A team of researchers and psychologists who specialize in behavioral health and neuroscience. This group collaborates to produce insightful and evidence-based content.
July 12, 2023
·
27 min read
Reframe App LogoReframe App Logo
Certified recovery coach specialized in helping everyone redefine their relationship with alcohol. His approach in coaching focuses on habit formation and addressing the stress in our lives.
July 12, 2023
·
27 min read
Reframe App LogoReframe App Logo
Recognized by Fortune and Fast Company as a top innovator shaping the future of health and known for his pivotal role in helping individuals change their relationship with alcohol.
July 12, 2023
·
27 min read
Reframe App LogoReframe App Logo
Reframe Content Team
July 12, 2023
·
27 min read

Do you often find yourself feeling inexplicably overwhelmed when faced with criticism, even if it's constructive? Or perhaps, when someone raises their voice, do you feel an unexpected urge to retreat or hide? Do you sometimes hesitate to express your needs and wants, fearing they might be “too much” for others? Or what about group situations — do you feel the need either to blend in (avoiding attention at all costs) or to constantly prove yourself (seeking validation)? 

If any of these rang true for you, it might be time to focus on your inner child. 

According to famous Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Carl Jung, our inner child (or “divine child”) is the part of our psyche that retains our childhood experiences. That means every joy, fear, and disappointment we faced as children lives on as part of our adult selves.

It may sound mystical or metaphorical, but inner child healing is a science-backed practice that can help us understand our present-day emotions and behavioral patterns. Not only that, it can lead to lasting change.

Meet the Inner Child

The inner child might sound like a cutesy concept or a holdover from a 70's therapy group, but there's actual scientific backing behind this term. Psychologists recognize it as a sort of sub-personality or secondary aspect of a person’s identity that encapsulates their childhood self.

Psychologists have long agreed that our childhood experiences and emotions leave a lasting impact, shaping our adult behaviors, reactions, and life choices. The inner child is a metaphorical representation of these memories and emotions. This child within us could be holding onto past traumas, unresolved issues, or feelings of insecurity, leading us to react to present situations based on past experiences.

The core belief behind inner child therapy is that unresolved childhood experiences can influence adult behavior, feelings, and attitudes. You know your irrational fear of spiders? Or your tendency to people-please? Say hello to your inner child!

A Peek Into the Science

Our inner child isn't an actual kid lounging around in our brain, eating Cheerios and watching Saturday morning cartoons. It's a result of how our brain processes and stores memories.

The brain's response to stress is a crucial component of the inner child's reactions. When we encounter a stressful situation, our brain's amygdala — our emotional response headquarters — sends out a distress signal. If this distress isn't resolved, the memory of the situation, along with associated emotions, can get stored in our hippocampus, the brain’s memory bank. 

Later in life, similar stressors can trigger these memories, causing us to react emotionally as if we were back in the original situation. While this acute response is crucial for survival, chronic exposure to stressors (like repeated childhood traumas) can lead to overactivity of the stress response system even when the danger — real or perceived — has long passed.

If these traumas aren't appropriately addressed, the brain remains hyper-vigilant, reacting to even minor triggers with an exaggerated stress response. This can explain why certain comments or situations in adulthood might elicit reactions that seem out of proportion — it's the brain reverting to its old, familiar stress pathways.

Wired To Connect

Our ability to connect emotionally with others is anchored in a brain mechanism called limbic resonance. When we’re around someone who’s experiencing strong emotions, our limbic system resonates with theirs, allowing us to "feel" their pain. This is the basis of empathy — a vital part of being human. However, if our inner child holds onto unresolved emotional traumas, limbic resonance can get disrupted, making certain emotional connections challenging or overwhelming. 

The Dual Power of Neuroplasticity

Our brains are constantly evolving thanks to a phenomenon called neuroplasticity — the brain's ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections throughout life. Rather than static, hardwired machines, or brains are dynamic entities that can reshape themselves based on our experiences.

Childhood is the prime time for neuroplasticity. Childhood experiences, both positive and negative, leave lasting imprints in the form of neural pathways. If a child repeatedly faces adversity, their brain becomes wired to anticipate and react to similar situations even in adulthood, giving rise to the reactions we attribute to our inner child.

However, the same process also works in reverse! Recent advances in neuroscience have highlighted the possibility of neurogenesis — the birth of new neurons — in the adult brain. One particularly malleable area is the hippocampus, associated with memory and emotional regulation.

Engaging in inner child healing practices like meditation, guided visualization (more on that later), or even certain therapeutic interventions, can stimulate neurogenesis. This can reshape our neural pathways, allowing us to respond to triggers in healthier, more adaptive ways.

Signs of Trouble: Is Your Inner Child Waving a Red Flag?

First, we need to learn how to recognize the subtle (or not-so-subtle) hints our inner child might be dropping. Here's a guide to help you spot these clues:

  • Emotional amplification. Find yourself reacting more intensely than a situation warrants? Does a minor criticism feel like a personal affront? Your inner child might be amplifying past wounds, warranting for a second look.
  • The solitary retreat. Consistently dodging social commitments or going into introspection overdrive at minor hiccups? It could signal that your inner child feels safer in solitude, guarding past vulnerabilities.
  • Champion people-pleaser. If your default setting is to appease everyone around, possibly sidelining your own needs in the process, your inner child might be seeking the validation it once missed.
  • Perfection's pursuit. Continuously chasing perfection? A tad too obsessive? Your inner youngster could be yearning for an assurance that they're enough.
  • The FOMO phenomenon. The need to be part of every event, every moment, might hint at deeper seated anxieties. Maybe there's a past regret or missed opportunity that your younger self doesn't want to replay.
  • Trust troubles. Finding it challenging to trust your colleagues, friends, or partners? Past letdowns or betrayals might have made your inner child cautious and untrusting.
  • Commitment cold feet. Feeling queasy at the idea of long-term plans or deep commitments? Your inner child might have some reservations stemming from previous experiences.
  • Mysterious maladies. Experiencing physical discomfort without apparent cause? While it's crucial to consult a medical professional, our bodies sometimes mirror our emotional state. Your inner child could be signaling distress.
  • Dreamland drama. Distinctive, recurring dreams stirring up emotions? Dreams can serve as a subconscious canvas, on which your inner child paints scenes that demand attention.
  • Déjà vu moments. Certain triggers yank you back to vivid childhood memories? Your inner child might be spotlighting moments that deserve a revisit.

If you recognize several of these signs, consider them an invitation from your inner child. The good news? It's a chance to reacquaint, reflect, and embark on a fulfilling journey of self-understanding. 

Healing Your Inner Child: Why Bother?

Why drag up all that messy emotional stuff? Isn't it better left in the past? Well, not quite. Unresolved emotions can lead to self-sabotage, make us overreact to stressors, and even contribute to mental health disorders. Healing our inner child can help us live a more balanced, emotionally healthy life.

Studies have shown that inner child therapy can be a potent tool to tackle deep-seated trauma and find emotional healing. For example, scientists have found that this therapy can lead to a significant boost in self-esteem and a reduction of self-criticism.

Here's a glance at some benefits and how they can manifest in everyday scenarios:

  • Enhanced self-awareness. You're at a meeting, and a colleague's dismissal of your idea subconsciously reminds you of a time when your ideas were ridiculed as a child. Instead of feeling deflated or defensive, your knowledge of your inner child helps you recognize the origin of your discomfort, allowing you to address the current situation objectively.
  • Improved relationships. Your partner forgets a date night. Instead of reacting with disproportionate anger because it reminds you of times you felt overlooked as a child, you communicate your feelings calmly and work towards a solution together.
  • Boosted self-esteem. Someone offers you constructive criticism. You might once have internalized this as personal failure, reminiscent of times you didn't feel good enough as a kid, but now you see it as an opportunity to learn and grow.
  • Better emotional regulation. When faced with stressful situations like missing a train, instead of spiraling into anxiety reminiscent of feelings of helplessness from childhood, you're able to approach the situation with calmness and perspective.
  • Unleashed creativity. You're given a challenging project at work. Rather than sticking to tried and tested methods, you tap into your inner child's limitless imagination and come up with a fresh, innovative solution.
  • Greater empathy towards others. When a friend is having difficulties, instead of offering platitudes and generic advice, you're able to put yourself in their shoes, possibly relating to a time your inner child felt similar emotions, and provide more heartfelt support.
  • Reduced fear of failure. You've always wanted to try salsa dancing but were afraid of looking foolish. Embracing your inner child's fearless nature, you sign up for a class, understanding that the joy is in the journey, not just the outcome.
  • Increased joy and playfulness. On a weekend getaway, instead of meticulously planning every moment, you let your inner child take the lead, opting for spontaneous decisions like an impromptu picnic or a detour to a quirky roadside attraction.
  • Deeper connection with self. During moments of solitude, rather than feeling lonely or seeking distractions, you cherish the time, connecting with memories, dreams, and desires, finding a profound sense of inner contentment.
  • Holistic personal growth. Faced with a personal dilemma, you integrate both the wisdom of your adult self and the emotions of your inner child to arrive at a decision that honors both logic and heart.

These benefits of healing your inner child aren't just momentary. They build on one another, fostering a more fulfilling, well-rounded, and joyful life. It's about nurturing every facet of yourself, understanding that both your adult self and your inner child have invaluable insights to offer.

The Booze Connection

One of the most common ways inner child trauma can show up in our lives has to do with substance use. The link is backed by science: many studies have found that childhood trauma significantly increases the risk of substance use disorders in adulthood.

When a child experiences trauma — physical, emotional, or sexual abuse — it creates a crack in their psychological and emotional foundation. This crack can widen over time, creating a gaping hole that people may try to fill with alcohol.

Why alcohol? Why not something else? Alcohol has a sneaky way of creating an illusion of comfort and control. It provides a temporary escape from the hurt, guilt, or fear stemming from past trauma. But that's the problem — the escape is only temporary. Once alcohol’s effects wear off, the pain returns, often magnified, creating a vicious cycle.

A Word of Caution

Of course, not all alcohol misuse stems from our inner child; it can have other origins. It’s especially crucial to keep this in mind given that there’s a tendency in our society to automatically attribute nearly all negative patterns to childhood trauma. 

In What You Can Change and What You Can't: The Complete Guide to Successful Self-Improvement, psychologist Martin E.P. Seligman explores this potential thought trap in detail, using examples from film and theater to illustrate his point. He points to the 1991 film version of Pat Conroy’s The Prince of Tides, which features a football coach whose alcohol misuse and the troubles that result from it get “cured” by a psychoanalyst who connects them to repressed childhood trauma. Seligman writes, “The audience is in tears. The audience seems to have no doubt about the premises. But I do.”

Seligman also warns that using the “inner child” theory to explain present-day troubles can steer us into the trap of permanent victim mentality. Although connecting our current struggles to our troubled past might actually raise self-esteem by making our struggles less personal, seeing the inner child as “wounded” can add an element of permanence that might keep us feeling stuck. 

Seligman sees self-esteem itself as a secondary effect of life: according to him, it’s “a mere reflection that your commerce with the world is going badly.” He believes low self-esteem signals a need to shift our relationship with the world, and he warns against “blaming others for our troubles.”

Staying in the Present

So where do we go from here? Instead of falling into a victim mentality, we can explore inner child trauma as a route to change.

Most importantly, we can look at the exploration of childhood trauma and our relationship with alcohol as two separate tracks. We don’t “need” to address everything that happened in the past to start changing the behavioral and emotional patterns that keep us from living the life we want.

Instead, by seeing the past as a potential source of insight about our automatic thoughts and embedded beliefs, inner child healing can be a way to get to know our own mind and spot the behavioral patterns it keeps repeating. “Resolving” the past isn’t a prerequisite for recovery; it’s just a tool that can make recovery easier. 

Still, if past trauma is, in fact, getting in our way, inner child healing can work wonders. By addressing the root of the problem, this form of therapy releases our pent-up fear, anger, or sadness and can help break our cycle of dependency.  Inner child therapy helps us declutter our minds, providing us with more resources that can be put to work building new habits.

Unlocking the Healing Potential

How can you embrace your inner child in a way that leads to healing? Here are some ideas:

  • Self-reflection. Carve out some quiet time each day to connect with your childhood self. Think about what made “little you” tick — your dreams, fears, and joys. Use this time to revisit your childhood memories, feeling the texture of past emotions, understanding what made the younger you feel safe and loved, insecure and uneasy.
  • Journaling. Putting pen to paper isn’t just about recording memories. It’s about creating a dialogue between your present self and your inner child. This ongoing conversation can be enlightening, providing insights into patterns, fears, and aspirations. Plus, it provides a tangible record you can revisit as needed.
  • Meditation. Take a meditative journey to your past. Let the stillness guide you to your childhood memories. There are many inner child healing meditations available online — check them out! These sessions often focus on visualizing meeting your younger self, offering comfort and guidance, and even seeking wisdom from their unsullied perspective.
  • Embrace play. Who says adults can't have fun? Rekindle an old hobby or take up a new one. Dancing, painting, or even Lego-building can be a great start.
  • Nurture your childlike wonder. See the world through the lens of curiosity and wonder, just like your childhood self. Be amazed by the simple beauties of life.
  • Memory lane music. Curate a playlist of songs from your childhood or those that evoke powerful memories. Close your eyes and let each tune teleport you back in time. Feel the emotions, recall the sceneries, and let your inner child groove to the beats of yesteryear.
  • Embrace your inner artist. Art can be a great way to release pent-up emotions and turn them into creative fuel. As author Cary Weldy writes, “Art is spiritual alchemy. It necessitates being completely open to new ideas, just as your playful inner child is inside of you. And it also requires that you are willing to look at what is working and what is not working so well in your life.” Art therapy can be a great way of tuning in to our inner child.
  • Forgive and let go. Harboring old wounds? Practice self-forgiveness and compassion. Holding onto past grudges or resentments is like carrying a backpack filled with rocks. Deliberate acts of forgiveness, whether directed towards others or oneself, lighten this load. Understand that mistakes and wounds, while painful, are also stepping stones to growth. Embrace them, learn from them, and free your inner child from the past.
  • Seek professional help. If the journey seems overwhelming, don't hesitate to seek guidance from a professional therapist. They can provide valuable insights and tools to navigate this path. (But keep in mind that if a particular approach isn’t right for you, it’s more than okay to switch gears and find one that works better. Listen to your intuition!)

The Growing Benefits

Bringing your inner child into your adult world isn't about being childish — it's about incorporating the unabashed curiosity, creativity, joy, and resilience of your childhood self into your grown-up life. The inner child can serve as a powerful ally in self-discovery, personal growth, and healing. 

When you acknowledge and accept your inner child, you’re opening up channels of communication with your deepest emotions and fears. This can lead to a greater understanding of your needs, allowing for more fulfilling relationships and effective coping strategies. 

As poet Silvery Afternoon writes, “Growing up is not just about moving forward, but also an endless cycle of returning to our childhood wonders and wounds.” Your inner child is your teammate, not your enemy. Nurture them, respect them, and have fun with them. Embrace the chaos, unleash the joy, and let the healing begin!

Do you often find yourself feeling inexplicably overwhelmed when faced with criticism, even if it's constructive? Or perhaps, when someone raises their voice, do you feel an unexpected urge to retreat or hide? Do you sometimes hesitate to express your needs and wants, fearing they might be “too much” for others? Or what about group situations — do you feel the need either to blend in (avoiding attention at all costs) or to constantly prove yourself (seeking validation)? 

If any of these rang true for you, it might be time to focus on your inner child. 

According to famous Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Carl Jung, our inner child (or “divine child”) is the part of our psyche that retains our childhood experiences. That means every joy, fear, and disappointment we faced as children lives on as part of our adult selves.

It may sound mystical or metaphorical, but inner child healing is a science-backed practice that can help us understand our present-day emotions and behavioral patterns. Not only that, it can lead to lasting change.

Meet the Inner Child

The inner child might sound like a cutesy concept or a holdover from a 70's therapy group, but there's actual scientific backing behind this term. Psychologists recognize it as a sort of sub-personality or secondary aspect of a person’s identity that encapsulates their childhood self.

Psychologists have long agreed that our childhood experiences and emotions leave a lasting impact, shaping our adult behaviors, reactions, and life choices. The inner child is a metaphorical representation of these memories and emotions. This child within us could be holding onto past traumas, unresolved issues, or feelings of insecurity, leading us to react to present situations based on past experiences.

The core belief behind inner child therapy is that unresolved childhood experiences can influence adult behavior, feelings, and attitudes. You know your irrational fear of spiders? Or your tendency to people-please? Say hello to your inner child!

A Peek Into the Science

Our inner child isn't an actual kid lounging around in our brain, eating Cheerios and watching Saturday morning cartoons. It's a result of how our brain processes and stores memories.

The brain's response to stress is a crucial component of the inner child's reactions. When we encounter a stressful situation, our brain's amygdala — our emotional response headquarters — sends out a distress signal. If this distress isn't resolved, the memory of the situation, along with associated emotions, can get stored in our hippocampus, the brain’s memory bank. 

Later in life, similar stressors can trigger these memories, causing us to react emotionally as if we were back in the original situation. While this acute response is crucial for survival, chronic exposure to stressors (like repeated childhood traumas) can lead to overactivity of the stress response system even when the danger — real or perceived — has long passed.

If these traumas aren't appropriately addressed, the brain remains hyper-vigilant, reacting to even minor triggers with an exaggerated stress response. This can explain why certain comments or situations in adulthood might elicit reactions that seem out of proportion — it's the brain reverting to its old, familiar stress pathways.

Wired To Connect

Our ability to connect emotionally with others is anchored in a brain mechanism called limbic resonance. When we’re around someone who’s experiencing strong emotions, our limbic system resonates with theirs, allowing us to "feel" their pain. This is the basis of empathy — a vital part of being human. However, if our inner child holds onto unresolved emotional traumas, limbic resonance can get disrupted, making certain emotional connections challenging or overwhelming. 

The Dual Power of Neuroplasticity

Our brains are constantly evolving thanks to a phenomenon called neuroplasticity — the brain's ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections throughout life. Rather than static, hardwired machines, or brains are dynamic entities that can reshape themselves based on our experiences.

Childhood is the prime time for neuroplasticity. Childhood experiences, both positive and negative, leave lasting imprints in the form of neural pathways. If a child repeatedly faces adversity, their brain becomes wired to anticipate and react to similar situations even in adulthood, giving rise to the reactions we attribute to our inner child.

However, the same process also works in reverse! Recent advances in neuroscience have highlighted the possibility of neurogenesis — the birth of new neurons — in the adult brain. One particularly malleable area is the hippocampus, associated with memory and emotional regulation.

Engaging in inner child healing practices like meditation, guided visualization (more on that later), or even certain therapeutic interventions, can stimulate neurogenesis. This can reshape our neural pathways, allowing us to respond to triggers in healthier, more adaptive ways.

Signs of Trouble: Is Your Inner Child Waving a Red Flag?

First, we need to learn how to recognize the subtle (or not-so-subtle) hints our inner child might be dropping. Here's a guide to help you spot these clues:

  • Emotional amplification. Find yourself reacting more intensely than a situation warrants? Does a minor criticism feel like a personal affront? Your inner child might be amplifying past wounds, warranting for a second look.
  • The solitary retreat. Consistently dodging social commitments or going into introspection overdrive at minor hiccups? It could signal that your inner child feels safer in solitude, guarding past vulnerabilities.
  • Champion people-pleaser. If your default setting is to appease everyone around, possibly sidelining your own needs in the process, your inner child might be seeking the validation it once missed.
  • Perfection's pursuit. Continuously chasing perfection? A tad too obsessive? Your inner youngster could be yearning for an assurance that they're enough.
  • The FOMO phenomenon. The need to be part of every event, every moment, might hint at deeper seated anxieties. Maybe there's a past regret or missed opportunity that your younger self doesn't want to replay.
  • Trust troubles. Finding it challenging to trust your colleagues, friends, or partners? Past letdowns or betrayals might have made your inner child cautious and untrusting.
  • Commitment cold feet. Feeling queasy at the idea of long-term plans or deep commitments? Your inner child might have some reservations stemming from previous experiences.
  • Mysterious maladies. Experiencing physical discomfort without apparent cause? While it's crucial to consult a medical professional, our bodies sometimes mirror our emotional state. Your inner child could be signaling distress.
  • Dreamland drama. Distinctive, recurring dreams stirring up emotions? Dreams can serve as a subconscious canvas, on which your inner child paints scenes that demand attention.
  • Déjà vu moments. Certain triggers yank you back to vivid childhood memories? Your inner child might be spotlighting moments that deserve a revisit.

If you recognize several of these signs, consider them an invitation from your inner child. The good news? It's a chance to reacquaint, reflect, and embark on a fulfilling journey of self-understanding. 

Healing Your Inner Child: Why Bother?

Why drag up all that messy emotional stuff? Isn't it better left in the past? Well, not quite. Unresolved emotions can lead to self-sabotage, make us overreact to stressors, and even contribute to mental health disorders. Healing our inner child can help us live a more balanced, emotionally healthy life.

Studies have shown that inner child therapy can be a potent tool to tackle deep-seated trauma and find emotional healing. For example, scientists have found that this therapy can lead to a significant boost in self-esteem and a reduction of self-criticism.

Here's a glance at some benefits and how they can manifest in everyday scenarios:

  • Enhanced self-awareness. You're at a meeting, and a colleague's dismissal of your idea subconsciously reminds you of a time when your ideas were ridiculed as a child. Instead of feeling deflated or defensive, your knowledge of your inner child helps you recognize the origin of your discomfort, allowing you to address the current situation objectively.
  • Improved relationships. Your partner forgets a date night. Instead of reacting with disproportionate anger because it reminds you of times you felt overlooked as a child, you communicate your feelings calmly and work towards a solution together.
  • Boosted self-esteem. Someone offers you constructive criticism. You might once have internalized this as personal failure, reminiscent of times you didn't feel good enough as a kid, but now you see it as an opportunity to learn and grow.
  • Better emotional regulation. When faced with stressful situations like missing a train, instead of spiraling into anxiety reminiscent of feelings of helplessness from childhood, you're able to approach the situation with calmness and perspective.
  • Unleashed creativity. You're given a challenging project at work. Rather than sticking to tried and tested methods, you tap into your inner child's limitless imagination and come up with a fresh, innovative solution.
  • Greater empathy towards others. When a friend is having difficulties, instead of offering platitudes and generic advice, you're able to put yourself in their shoes, possibly relating to a time your inner child felt similar emotions, and provide more heartfelt support.
  • Reduced fear of failure. You've always wanted to try salsa dancing but were afraid of looking foolish. Embracing your inner child's fearless nature, you sign up for a class, understanding that the joy is in the journey, not just the outcome.
  • Increased joy and playfulness. On a weekend getaway, instead of meticulously planning every moment, you let your inner child take the lead, opting for spontaneous decisions like an impromptu picnic or a detour to a quirky roadside attraction.
  • Deeper connection with self. During moments of solitude, rather than feeling lonely or seeking distractions, you cherish the time, connecting with memories, dreams, and desires, finding a profound sense of inner contentment.
  • Holistic personal growth. Faced with a personal dilemma, you integrate both the wisdom of your adult self and the emotions of your inner child to arrive at a decision that honors both logic and heart.

These benefits of healing your inner child aren't just momentary. They build on one another, fostering a more fulfilling, well-rounded, and joyful life. It's about nurturing every facet of yourself, understanding that both your adult self and your inner child have invaluable insights to offer.

The Booze Connection

One of the most common ways inner child trauma can show up in our lives has to do with substance use. The link is backed by science: many studies have found that childhood trauma significantly increases the risk of substance use disorders in adulthood.

When a child experiences trauma — physical, emotional, or sexual abuse — it creates a crack in their psychological and emotional foundation. This crack can widen over time, creating a gaping hole that people may try to fill with alcohol.

Why alcohol? Why not something else? Alcohol has a sneaky way of creating an illusion of comfort and control. It provides a temporary escape from the hurt, guilt, or fear stemming from past trauma. But that's the problem — the escape is only temporary. Once alcohol’s effects wear off, the pain returns, often magnified, creating a vicious cycle.

A Word of Caution

Of course, not all alcohol misuse stems from our inner child; it can have other origins. It’s especially crucial to keep this in mind given that there’s a tendency in our society to automatically attribute nearly all negative patterns to childhood trauma. 

In What You Can Change and What You Can't: The Complete Guide to Successful Self-Improvement, psychologist Martin E.P. Seligman explores this potential thought trap in detail, using examples from film and theater to illustrate his point. He points to the 1991 film version of Pat Conroy’s The Prince of Tides, which features a football coach whose alcohol misuse and the troubles that result from it get “cured” by a psychoanalyst who connects them to repressed childhood trauma. Seligman writes, “The audience is in tears. The audience seems to have no doubt about the premises. But I do.”

Seligman also warns that using the “inner child” theory to explain present-day troubles can steer us into the trap of permanent victim mentality. Although connecting our current struggles to our troubled past might actually raise self-esteem by making our struggles less personal, seeing the inner child as “wounded” can add an element of permanence that might keep us feeling stuck. 

Seligman sees self-esteem itself as a secondary effect of life: according to him, it’s “a mere reflection that your commerce with the world is going badly.” He believes low self-esteem signals a need to shift our relationship with the world, and he warns against “blaming others for our troubles.”

Staying in the Present

So where do we go from here? Instead of falling into a victim mentality, we can explore inner child trauma as a route to change.

Most importantly, we can look at the exploration of childhood trauma and our relationship with alcohol as two separate tracks. We don’t “need” to address everything that happened in the past to start changing the behavioral and emotional patterns that keep us from living the life we want.

Instead, by seeing the past as a potential source of insight about our automatic thoughts and embedded beliefs, inner child healing can be a way to get to know our own mind and spot the behavioral patterns it keeps repeating. “Resolving” the past isn’t a prerequisite for recovery; it’s just a tool that can make recovery easier. 

Still, if past trauma is, in fact, getting in our way, inner child healing can work wonders. By addressing the root of the problem, this form of therapy releases our pent-up fear, anger, or sadness and can help break our cycle of dependency.  Inner child therapy helps us declutter our minds, providing us with more resources that can be put to work building new habits.

Unlocking the Healing Potential

How can you embrace your inner child in a way that leads to healing? Here are some ideas:

  • Self-reflection. Carve out some quiet time each day to connect with your childhood self. Think about what made “little you” tick — your dreams, fears, and joys. Use this time to revisit your childhood memories, feeling the texture of past emotions, understanding what made the younger you feel safe and loved, insecure and uneasy.
  • Journaling. Putting pen to paper isn’t just about recording memories. It’s about creating a dialogue between your present self and your inner child. This ongoing conversation can be enlightening, providing insights into patterns, fears, and aspirations. Plus, it provides a tangible record you can revisit as needed.
  • Meditation. Take a meditative journey to your past. Let the stillness guide you to your childhood memories. There are many inner child healing meditations available online — check them out! These sessions often focus on visualizing meeting your younger self, offering comfort and guidance, and even seeking wisdom from their unsullied perspective.
  • Embrace play. Who says adults can't have fun? Rekindle an old hobby or take up a new one. Dancing, painting, or even Lego-building can be a great start.
  • Nurture your childlike wonder. See the world through the lens of curiosity and wonder, just like your childhood self. Be amazed by the simple beauties of life.
  • Memory lane music. Curate a playlist of songs from your childhood or those that evoke powerful memories. Close your eyes and let each tune teleport you back in time. Feel the emotions, recall the sceneries, and let your inner child groove to the beats of yesteryear.
  • Embrace your inner artist. Art can be a great way to release pent-up emotions and turn them into creative fuel. As author Cary Weldy writes, “Art is spiritual alchemy. It necessitates being completely open to new ideas, just as your playful inner child is inside of you. And it also requires that you are willing to look at what is working and what is not working so well in your life.” Art therapy can be a great way of tuning in to our inner child.
  • Forgive and let go. Harboring old wounds? Practice self-forgiveness and compassion. Holding onto past grudges or resentments is like carrying a backpack filled with rocks. Deliberate acts of forgiveness, whether directed towards others or oneself, lighten this load. Understand that mistakes and wounds, while painful, are also stepping stones to growth. Embrace them, learn from them, and free your inner child from the past.
  • Seek professional help. If the journey seems overwhelming, don't hesitate to seek guidance from a professional therapist. They can provide valuable insights and tools to navigate this path. (But keep in mind that if a particular approach isn’t right for you, it’s more than okay to switch gears and find one that works better. Listen to your intuition!)

The Growing Benefits

Bringing your inner child into your adult world isn't about being childish — it's about incorporating the unabashed curiosity, creativity, joy, and resilience of your childhood self into your grown-up life. The inner child can serve as a powerful ally in self-discovery, personal growth, and healing. 

When you acknowledge and accept your inner child, you’re opening up channels of communication with your deepest emotions and fears. This can lead to a greater understanding of your needs, allowing for more fulfilling relationships and effective coping strategies. 

As poet Silvery Afternoon writes, “Growing up is not just about moving forward, but also an endless cycle of returning to our childhood wonders and wounds.” Your inner child is your teammate, not your enemy. Nurture them, respect them, and have fun with them. Embrace the chaos, unleash the joy, and let the healing begin!

Summary FAQs

1. What exactly is the "inner child"?

The inner child isn't a literal child within you, but rather a symbolic representation of your childhood self. It encapsulates all your childhood memories, experiences, traumas, and emotions that shape your reactions, behaviors, and choices as an adult.

2. Is the concept of the inner child scientifically supported?

Yes! The idea of the inner child is rooted in psychology and neuroscience. Our brain processes and stores memories in the hippocampus, and when we face similar stressors later in life, these memories can be triggered, making us react emotionally based on past experiences.

3. Why should I bother healing my inner child?

Healing your inner child can lead to better emotional balance and mental health. Unresolved childhood traumas can influence self-sabotage, overreactions, and even contribute to mental health disorders. Addressing these traumas can lead to improved self-awareness, enhanced relationships, and personal growth.

4. How can I recognize signs of inner child trauma?

Some signs include having disproportionate reactions to criticism, feeling an urge to hide when someone raises their voice, hesitating to express your needs, or seeking constant validation in group situations. Recognizing these patterns is the first step toward healing.

5. Are there unique ways to connect with and heal my inner child?

Absolutely! Beyond traditional methods, you can embrace unique actions like curating a nostalgic playlist, engaging in unrestricted art sessions, walking barefoot in nature, daydreaming, and even revisiting toys from your childhood to rekindle your connection with the inner child.

6. What benefits can I expect from this healing process?

The benefits are manifold! Expect to see improved self-awareness, stronger relationships, better emotional regulation, unleashed creativity, a deeper connection with yourself, and holistic personal growth.

7. Can unresolved childhood experiences be linked to substance use?

Yes, there's a significant connection between early life trauma and substance use in adulthood. Inner child trauma can create emotional voids that some individuals might attempt to fill with substances like alcohol, leading to a cyclical pattern of dependency and emotional pain.

Heal Your Inner Child and Start Your Journey to Better Health!

Although it isn’t a treatment for alcohol use disorder (AUD), the Reframe app can help you cut back on drinking gradually, with the science-backed knowledge to empower you 100% of the way. Our proven program has helped millions of people around the world drink less and live more. And we want to help you get there, too!

The Reframe app equips you with the knowledge and skills you need to not only survive drinking less, but to thrive while you navigate the journey. Our daily research-backed readings teach you the neuroscience of alcohol, and our in-app Toolkit provides the resources and activities you need to navigate each challenge.

You’ll meet millions of fellow Reframers in our 24/7 Forum chat and daily Zoom check-in meetings. Receive encouragement from people worldwide who know exactly what you’re going through! You’ll also have the opportunity to connect with our licensed Reframe coaches for more personalized guidance.

Plus, we’re always introducing new features to optimize your in-app experience. We recently launched our in-app chatbot, Melody, powered by the world’s most powerful AI technology. Melody is here to help as you adjust to a life with less (or no) alcohol.

And that’s not all! Every month, we launch fun challenges, like Dry/Damp January, Mental Health May, and Outdoorsy June. You won’t want to miss out on the chance to participate alongside fellow Reframers (or solo if that’s more your thing!).

The Reframe app is free for 7 days, so you don’t have anything to lose by trying it. Are you ready to feel empowered and discover life beyond alcohol? Then download our app today!

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At Reframe, we do science, not stigma. We base our articles on the latest peer-reviewed research in psychology, neuroscience, and behavioral science. We follow the Reframe Content Creation Guidelines, to ensure that we share accurate and actionable information with our readers. This aids them in making informed decisions on their wellness journey.
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