Healing the wounded inner child
Each person has an inner child — a younger version of ourselves who holds our earlier experiences, thoughts, and beliefs about ourselves and the world around us.
Experts say this part of us is a representation of our journey through early developmental stages, where we were cared for until we learned how to care for ourselves and where we first learned how to be in relationship with others. Depending on who cared for you and how, your inner child may have varying degrees of unmet needs, gaps in relational bonding, or a lack of trust in oneself and others. When we don’t do the healing work to better understand and meet these needs, our inner child can unconsciously sabotage our lives and relationships.
“When negative things happen, a child may internalise some messages such as, you are not good enough, you are not lovable, safe or capable,” shares Grace Kariuki-Nderitu, a marriage and family therapist.
The expert shares how inner child wounds can mould an adult’s thought processes and reactions. How for instance one may feel a sense of abandonment when her partner goes for a one-week work trip as it may remind them how they were abandoned when they were young. A child who was burdened with a lot of responsibilities and housechores, may struggle to accept help as an adult.
Adverse childhood experiences
“No matter how long it has been, I never forget what I went through after my mother abandoned me. I like to compare a child to a seedling. For a seedling to grow into a healthy plant, it needs to be planted in fertile soil, receive adequate sunshine and moisture, and be protected from weeds and pests. A child comes into this world helpless and in need of protection just like a seedling. It needs protection in order to grow into a healthy, well-adjusted adult,’ says Juliet Kinya.
Juliet, 30, a mother of two, shares how she was abandoned by her mum when she was only three weeks old. She lacked that very basic emotional need that she needed from that tender age. And due to that, it greatly affected her emotional well-being.
“Much can be said about being neglected at the age of three weeks. One is identity crisis, which resulted to low self-esteem. I kept on undermining myself and asking if my own mother rejected and neglected me, what value do I have? I used to hate myself so much and thought God was so unfair to me,” says Juliet.
Susan Catherine Keter, a transformation life coach says people who have unhealed childhood wounds result to behaviours that would be considered immature when they face difficulties.
The expert says understanding Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) forms the foundation of understanding human behaviour, health, relationships and everything about humanity. “ACEs are situations and experiences that impact the lives of children negatively. It could be one parent being unavailable to play parenting roles leaving the other parent overwhelmed. This can be due to separation or a parent working away from home and failing to play an active role in the children’s lives. Substance abuse, domestic violence, severe and chronic illness, imprisonment, death all make a parent unavailable to the children leaving gaps that result in ACEs. Other causes of ACEs include physical neglect and abuse — which not only include lack of basic needs, but also abuse such as mistreatment and sexual abuse. Emotional and psychological neglect are other ways that children are made to feel unsafe, she explains.
Manifestation in adulthood
Adults with unhealed childhood wounds may experience emotional stability struggles, struggles in romantic relationships and their sex life, parenting struggles, personal management struggles, struggles to be productive, struggles with physical health and struggles with interpersonal relationships.
Someone who has abandonment and neglect wounds feels left out, fears being left alone, has low self-worth, gets angry easily, represses emotions, normally attracts people who don’t appreciate them and struggles to let things go.
Juliet concurs. She shares how abandonment affects her emotional well-being, even now that she is a wife and mother. Juliet offers: “I am easily broken by something small (emotional wise). When someone talks ill about me or anything related to me, the first thing that comes into my mind is ‘all this is because the one who was to love and shield me never did’. Sometimes I feel so lonely despite the fact that I have a husband, children and a guardian. When I need someone to rant to, I normally wish I had that good relationship with my mother just to hear me out.”
She is also easily agitated. The cry of her babies makes her so upset as well as finding her house in a mess or people speaking lies about her. She has trust issues and trusts no one, not even her own shadow.
“I have no idea how this happens because one moment I am so happy and the next I’m shouting and quarreling. I have tried to stop it, but I’m overwhelmed. As an adult with a childhood inner wound, I have been unlucky in getting true and sincere friends. I am so lonely under the sun. I have no close friends,” Juliet laments.
When she looks at her sons, she feels she should protect them from all harm and grant them everything she never had.
Keter offers: “You cannot heal from what you don’t know and don’t acknowledge. The first step in healing is self-awareness. Acknowledge that your childhood was not perfect and that it impacted you negatively. There are self-help tips one can use to heal, as long as the strategies target both the mind and body because people who have unhealed childhood wounds are prone to diverse health conditions. The strategies need to target the mind; journaling, meditation, affirmations and declarations. Target emotional healing such as practicing compassion and unconditional forgiveness and letting go of wrongs done to you. Target the body such as taking walks, dancing, working out, stretching, massage, yoga, among others.”
On her part, Grace says one needs to change the message that helps the inner child to grow. “The best way to help a wounded child is to offer what was not offered to them. Speak words of comfort and validation. Therapy helps a lot in healing the inner child,” says Grace.
The experts agree professional help for healing from childhood emotional wounds needs to be dynamic, meaning that it targets diverse areas of your life; working on yourself every day and practicing self-love, practicing compassion, forgiveness and gratitude, taking care of your physical health and wellbeing, nurturing life skills such as establishing healthy boundaries, improving communication skills, among others. “It is important to have support systems as you take the baby steps learning how to rebuild your life. Be intentional about having support systems. Joining support groups or communities of people who are on the same journey whether online or offline will go a long way in supporting your recovery from childhood emotional wounds,” Keter explains.