Do you remember your first heartbreak or disappointment? How did it make you feel? As children, our expectations of life and others can be somewhat dreamy. Kid’s programming conditions us to believe in fairytale and superhero endings from an early age. When reality hits, we eventually realize that society is not all sunshine and rainbows.
Unrealistic expectations of equally imperfect people may have caused most of us to repeatedly hurt our own feelings. Hope-deferred and jaded experiences could have tainted our imaginative thoughts, playful personalities, and boldest desires. Many of our childhoods were filled with hopes and dreams, only to be later disappointed by the fact that not all dreams may come true or materialize when we expect them to. At some point, we discover that we have to grow up and prioritize work, bills…you know, adulting. This may prompt regret and resentment that spills into our relationships, thwarting healthy connections with those around us.
When life’s earlier stages put you through the wringer and unaddressed childhood traumas carry over to your adult life, the unhealed you can have you feeling like a kid trapped in a grown woman’s body. This could lead to inhibited growth and affect your ability to adapt to the changing times. To avoid staying stuck in the same place, healing those previous versions of you is a must—which may call for a reintroduction to your inner child.
Inner child work involves revisiting painful past experiences that, if you haven’t moved on from them, can negatively shape your present-day behaviors and mindset. The new Barbie movie depicts this very scenario and it resonated with so many women worldwide. While things can get messy when reexamining those core, distant memories, it creates space for inner healing. Inner child work equips you to heal childhood trauma that may have kept you from evolving, but this time, from an adult’s perspective. It’s sort of like reparenting ourselves and showing up as the person we needed when we were younger. When done correctly, it can result in a restoration of our passions, peace, joy, and ability to play well with others. Here are a few ways that it particularly leads to healthier bonds with loved ones, peers, and our communities.
Healed People, Heal People
Misdirected or internalized anger can severely jeopardize relationships, which can be a symptom of unhealed childhood trauma. Previous offenses can provoke you into remaining on the defense with practically everyone, like being teased as a child, rejected by a crush, backstabbed by someone you considered a friend, or mistreated in your household.
You may not recollect all that happened to you in the past, but you likely remember how painful situations made you feel—the hurt, the embarrassment, the tears. First and foremost, let us start by saying that you are validated in your experiences and a fighter for making it through. The unfortunate thing about bearing untreated battle scars, however, is that it can cause us to bleed on others and destroy budding relationships that have great potential. A skinned knee left unhealed is more prone to kneejerk reactions, in a metaphorical sense, exposing all emotional triggers in the unhealthiest ways (i.e., temper tantrums, emotional outbursts, and ghosting). Being easily irritated may force people to walk on eggshells around you for fear of being attacked or cut off without notice. Some of us put up emotional walls to avoid never being burned again, making it difficult for others to come in.
An unhealed inner child can have you wreaking havoc in your relationships without meaning to. You may be an adult but with a wounded inner child pulling the puppet strings, your mindset surrounding relationships and how you act/react around others are all at risk. Hurt people, hurt people. Toxic coping mechanisms used to process trauma are a recipe for destructive and broken relationships—but it doesn’t have to be this way.
Inner child work challenges you to adopt healthier coping mechanisms and methods of conflict management, which transforms your narrative into a healed person healing other people. “One thing I love to see is that when someone is confident and they truly love themselves…and work on themselves, they genuinely want to see that in other people,” says Jalissa Shelby, LCPC, a dating and relationships therapist who also specializes in the area of self-love. “Everything changes when you do the work, and that starts a process of you being able to uplift, love on, and support other people,” she continued.
You’re More Equipped to Give/Receive Love and Support
It’s hard to love others when you aren’t loved properly. With self-discovery, we can gain clarity on how we expect others to show up for us (in a realistic sense). Self-discovery is an important part of the inner child work process that truly starts from within. This requires delving deeper into your vulnerable side, in which case, therapy, journaling, and Dr. Joy Bradford’s new book Sisterhood Heals could be helpful. “ I tell people that although it can hurt, being vulnerable, you’ll never lose,” Shelby explained. “It is going to show you exactly how people [and you] handle that vulnerability, and then, you’ll be able to make healthy adjustments from there.”
Self-discovery begins with asking yourself questions like:
- What are your likes and dislikes?
- What triggers you?
- What’s your love language?
- What are your needs, wants, and desires?
- How do you prefer to be loved and supported?
Shelby also shared how she and her clients navigate this process. “We do assessments so that they can look at themselves on paper essentially, based on being raw and open,” Shelby explained. “We [also] look at attachment styles, and we look at what that is rooted in, and we go back and talk about childhood trauma,” she continued. “We [then] work on reframing and looking at situations in the adult mind and being able to shift the perspective [to a healthier one].”
Self-discovery further equips us to establish healthy boundaries surrounding our needs, wants, and desires in relationships. It can also teach you to tap into self-love, which is also crucial because you have to love yourself before you can love anyone else. What that looks like? Being your biggest cheerleader, practicing self-compassion, and engaging in positive self-talk are just a few examples of self-love in action.
You Begin to Shift Towards a Secure Attachment Style
We were born to live out loud and not shrink in uncomfortable environments–that includes our relationships. Unhealed childhood trauma can have you navigating relationships with a fear of rejection and abandonment, causing you to hold back your true self for fear of people leaving you behind. This may result in you feeling misunderstood when all along, people just found it hard to read you due to not communicating your needs and emotions. It’s also a sign of an unhealthy attachment style (ex., anxious or avoidant).
The healed you makes way for a more secure attachment style. “A lot of times, we develop these attachment styles at a very early age,” says Shelby. “You do what you know based on what you have to work with, and so if you develop an anxious attachment, avoidant, or combination [attachment style], when you do the inner work, you do start to gravitate towards secure because some of those things that happened to you caused you to become [otherwise],” she added.
Healing your inner child ultimately enables you to attract healthier relationships—ones that don’t require you to shrink for others’ comfort, and where you feel a sense of safety in being yourself and asking for what you need.