The relationship we have with our parents and caretakers is the most important emotional and psychological connection we will build – and it determines how we see ourselves and what we believe we deserve in life.
You may aim to be a kind and loving parent, but there could be one child you’ve been neglecting to your detriment…your Inner Child.
Your Inner Child is both the memory of your early years, and the decisions your young mind made about yourself based upon those experiences. Particularly so if they were in any way emotionally, psychologically or physically traumatic – which is inevitable to some extent, because life always brings us traumas of some description.
Your children deserve a parent who is emotionally ‘available’ and has taken the responsibility for exploring, healing and making peace with their own past.
Research into emotional attachment informs us that the biggest predictor of how well we will perform as parents, is how much we’ve been able to make sense of our own past.
No matter what the distress or trauma we’ve endured we need to be able to tell our own clear and consistent story – which includes our painful memories – and to unpick and challenge the lies we may have been believing about ourselves.
How does your inner child affect you as a parent?
Sure, if you had it bad as a kid you may since have made a conscious decision to give your own kids a much better childhood than you had.
That doesn’t mean that you won’t get in the way of doing that sometimes, and make mistakes and mess up your own good intentions. That’s inevitable – and especially if your inner child is being ignored and not getting their ongoing needs met by you as their surrogate parent.
Your inner child will be involved in all of those automatic behaviours which you might have noticed about yourself, and thought ‘that was a bit childish of me’ and ‘why on earth did I say/do THAT?’
We all carry our own early template – which holds the mixture of our programmed sub-conscious beliefs and unmet needs, as well as our own tried and tested manipulations to get others to meet those needs for us.
Assuming we haven’t given up and become emotionally detached and insular; we share a need for love, care, attention, interest from others, fun, safety and the need for a deeper connection with others and a mutual commitment to building a happy relationship.
If you’re inner child has been emotionally traumatised and wounded then these wounds will continue to express themselves until they are healed. Only we can do that healing for ourselves, and in the meantime we will continue to act like a wounded child – and this will impact all of our relationships including those with our own offspring.
Your inner child might have some deeper, and usually hidden, feelings of resentment at the needs of your child(ren) and of having to put your own needs to one side. The demanding question lingers in the back of the mind…’But what about me and what I need?!!’
An intriguing psychological battle of sibling rivalry can be created between our inner child and our offspring. The inner child wants to come first… and paradoxically they should.
I say this because when you have become acquainted with your inner child, and found out what ails them – and what they still want and need from you – you can then take responsibility for providing that deeper inner sense of loving compassion, self-care, and that ‘home of safety’ that may have been missing for you all those years ago.
Having a needy inner child will not only drain your energy (due to the inner dialogue and conflict going on), it will also distract you from giving your own children the focus and emotional connection they need and want from you.
Being a parent brings up specific triggers for a wounded inner child which include both the memories from the past – as well as the feelings about the present time interactions, and the focus of attention.
You may have your own personal triggers, but some of the more commonly shared ones are:-
* Noise and mess around the house – this feels chaotic and out of control
* Child tantrums – again out of our control and we react with anger, shame or rage instead of calm understanding and the ability to soothe our distressed toddler
* Oppositional and defiant behaviour from our toddler – which we then take personally and which activates our own fear of not being powerful enough. We retaliate with aggression and it turns into two kids fighting one another – yet one of them should be a grown up…YOU!
* Being insulted and rejected by your child – which is a natural developmental phase for a child as they begin to detach and see themselves as separate from the parent. Our inner child can feel wiped out by this and withdraw care, or they may fight back. Either way is unhelpful and counter-productive, because it doesn’t help the son or daughter to learn a better way of expressing their feelings about having an identity of their own
* Rejection of food, or playing with it instead of eating it. This one can really press our buttons because food, and what it represented in our childhood home gets quickly activated and the dramas internally replayed
* Challenges to your boundaries and lack of respect for you having them.
* Tiredness, overwhelm and too much responsibility. Your inner child needs their sleep, they need to be nourished and replenished and then they’ll be better able to give out to others, to be calm and playful
* Feel ashamed – either when your child makes a mistake or creates a scene in public, or if they aren’t as developmentally advanced as someone else’s child.
When ‘triggerered’ like this you may find yourself becoming pre-occupied with your own inner child’s feelings and unmet needs, and not focusing upon the present scenario and your child’s developmental needs.
Don’t feel bad about that if it happens… your emotional (limbic) brain and memory banks have temporarily been hijacked and you will need to remind yourself of this and give yourself time to shift back to your ‘here and now’ conscious awareness – and to keep yourself calm and compassionate towards your child(ren).
Other traits to look out for in yourself
When you get to know your inner child better, you will more easily understand how and why you have been programmed or conditioned to behave as you do.
For example, you may now see why you’ve been so overly protective and anxious about any potential threats to the child. Deep down you’ve been fearing that your history will repeat itself on them.
You may notice how you’ve been passing on your negative mindset (which was no doubt passed on to you – because no baby is born with this) – of pessimism and seeing the worst in people and situations. Your inner child has been doing this as a way to avoid further feelings of disappointment and discouragement.
If your moods have been erratic and unpredictable then empathise with your child(ren) about how this feels and what it does to their sense of safety, security and trust in you and your reliability towards them. That’s good enough reason for you to get to the bottom of your moods – whether from physical or psychological causes – and not to pass these on to your child(ren).
Some parents may inadvertently (or otherwise) neglect their child(ren)’s physical needs due to lack of awareness and may expect the child to take care of themselves.
Same goes for emotional needs – which is likely to happen if there is a lack of emotional intelligence, balance and expression in the family. This can be hard to detect – it’s tricky to notice all that you didn’t get emotionally as a child, especially if you had material things instead of time and attention from your own parents.
We can only pass on what we have. Emotional intelligence (EQ) is vital for a child’s development and successful future, and we MUST fix any deficit in EQ urgently – the first step is knowing what it is and the extent of the deficit and the book Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman will help you with this.
There are parents with a wounded inner child who then expect their actual child or children to become like a parent to them, and to take care of them – instead of the child being allowed to enjoy their own childhood. (Admittedly there are sometimes circumstances where a child has become the primary carer for a sick adult – but in the developed world there are social care agencies who can intervene and ensure that the child does actually have the childhood they need and deserve to have in order to be able to thrive themselves as adults later in their life.)
If you have noticed a pattern of choosing unstable partners and dysfunctional relationships, then please become very aware of what you are modelling to your child(ren). Instead, do your very best (with professional help if needed) to understand and change that pattern and to get off the road that leads to nowhere but drama and distress.
If you have disordered eating, lack of self care, excess drinking, gambling, or even self-harm you are also passing a powerfully negative message on to your child. No need for self-blame or guilt. Just commit to changing this – for both your child and inner child’s sakes.
Similarly, be aware if your own emotional wounds cause you to attempt to numb yourself to further actual or potential emotional pain – by overspending on clothes, and accessories. Guard against the need to spend energy (in the form of money) to overly enhance your outer appearance – and/or that of your child – to somehow ‘prove’ your worth and to overcompensate for deeper feelings of inferiority and not being ‘good enough’ as you are. (That will be one of the lies you’ve come to believe… it’s not the ‘truth’).
Perhaps you’ve been belittling yourself as a parent, with more lies such as – ‘I’m rubbish as a mother…I can’t cope with the responsibilities of being a father…My kids hate me…’
When you read that back it becomes clear that it’s the inner child voice of overwhelm, and not the voice of the competent adult that you are – the adult who has been meeting and dealing with challenges for many years with overall success to get you to where you are now in life. We are all a work in progress, sometimes we take a back step or two, and then we commit to get moving forwards again at our own pace.
The most worrying facet of a ‘wounded inner child as a parent’ is when they repeat parental violence.
You too may call it ‘discipline for your own good’ and try to justify abuse with the lie that ‘it never did me any harm’. Hurting children is always harmful.
You may find yourself sounding and acting like your own parent – even though you promised yourself, and perhaps your child(ren), that you wouldn’t do so. If you hear yourself shouting, belittling or verbally squashing your child take that as a red flag to heal your own inner child’s painful wounds.
A traumatised and abused inner child may implode and get sick when they can’t cope. Or they may explode, have a short fuse and be likely to lash out without thinking.
The emotional brain has been hijacked by the ‘wound’ and it’s then very difficult to be calm and rational. When you know your pattern you can be prepared for it and have a plan in place to avoid the implosion or explosion and replace that with ‘time-out’ and self soothing instead.
Deep slow breathing is a great starting point and emotional leveller which then allows us to get into our ‘thinking brain’ (the neo-cortex) and take care of the situation for all concerned.
There really is no need to play out the role of the victim or bully – and no need to repeat the old dramas and dynamics.
I go into more depth and show you how to cope with these triggers and behaviours in my online course How To Sort Out Your Children – without child therapy!’
What can we do to get our inner child out of the family nest?
There’s no need to kick them out – in fact that’s the last thing you should do!
Much better to make plenty of room for them – so that they don’t demand all the room, and try to nudge anyone else out of the way.
Welcome them and make them feel ‘at home’ with you…you are the only person who will never leave them so make yourself a promise to keep a watchful eye on your inner child and do your best to make them happy and to feel at peace with you.
It is very helpful to become one step removed from the emotional pull of the past. To look at the events of our past through the wise and loving eyes of the adult we now are. It’s vital that we show ourselves the patience, time, support and care that we need to heal our emotional wounds.
Think of it as you becoming your own ‘inner parent’ – and ‘re-parenting yourself’ to make up for what was missing from your childhood. That’s not about overcompensating or over-indulging yourself – that would be more of an emotional ‘medication’ than the actions of a good and guiding parent.
You need to create a secure emotional attachment not only between you and your child(ren) but between you and your inner child too.
How can we heal our inner child’s emotional wounds?
* First of all we must become aware of our inner child, and their pain and struggle to feel happy and loved. Their silent voice has been one of longing and yearning. They have been hoping and searching for a safe place to belong.
* Be prepared for your inner child to also show you their more rebellious and manipulative side too! Not all wounds show themselves as compliant people-pleasing and self-denigration.
* Notice your inner dialogue between the child you once were and the adult you have become. Observe the conflicting ideas and advice. Hear the two voices…the inner parent and the inner child. Is the inner parent a bully who squashes the vitality out of the child? We must instead learn to change that dynamic and to listen and respond to our inner child with kindness and compassion.
* Compare how you talk to yourself with how you talk to a best friend (See a link here to an article about Becoming Your Own BFF)…will you ignore them? Will you reject their call for help? Will you be rude to them? Will you criticise or ridicule them? NO – of course not!
* Yet how often do you do this to your inner child – that part of the psyche that is a necessary part of you, the part that was has been wounded and now needs you to help it to heal.
* Make a decision to change your relationship with your inner child from today – so that they can become ‘adopted’ by you. (I have written an article about this here too)
* Realise that you have developed a set of beliefs that aren’t valid or fair to you – and that’s not your fault. It’s just a bad habit you’ve got into over the years
* Those old beliefs trip you up nowadays and make you think, feel, speak and behave in ways that might have served you as a child, and in some way helped you to survive back then. But they don’t serve you well now as an adult and as a parent.
* Accept that your reality is valid – even if it’s different from your sibling’s reality and experiences in your shared childhood home.
* Realise that as an adult you do now have power and purpose. When used wisely this will help to empower your children to have a more successful life
* You may have developed ‘core beliefs’ of being unworthy, the victim, being powerless, unlovable, hopeless, helpless and somehow ‘lost’ in life. These are outdated inner messages in need of revision and a thorough update
* You are the creator of your life each day. What you choose to create has a massive impact on your children. Take time away from them to feel your old pain and let any tears flow…and then shift your energy into that of parent again and be freshly available to your child
* Allow yourself to be free and playful, maybe with dancing and creative pastimes. Don’t become too loose or too rigid. Encourage your inner child to step out of the shadows and to enjoy the brightness that they are now free to radiate
* Promise your inner child that you will never leave them and will always keep in regular contact. They are very welcome in your new nest and will always have a place there with you – even when your own children have grown up and ‘flown the nest’
There are six important steps to take along the way to creating a better life for you and your child(ren).
Don’t passively accept the life that was handed down to you by parents who didn’t know any better. Take back control and responsibility – and S.E.L.E.C.T. Your Life © from now on.
These six steps form the acronym S.E.L.E.C.T and they are:-
Learning new skills
Emotional intelligence and balance
Control, Clarity & Choice
Transformation – into a parent who offers OPTI-MUM PARENTING ©
“The more we heal ourselves, the less our children will have to heal themselves.” (Michael Brown in ‘The Presence Process’)
“No one had a ‘perfect childhood’ and some of us had a more challenging experience than others.
Yet even those with overwhelmingly difficult past experiences can come to resolve those issues and have meaningful and rewarding relationships with their children. Research has shown the exciting finding that parents who themselves did not have ‘good enough parents’ or even who had traumatic childhoods can make sense of their lives and have healthy relationships. More important for our children than merely what happened to us in the past is the way we have come to process and understand it. The opportunity to change and grow continues to be available throughout our lives.” (Dr Dan Siegel and Mary Hartzell 2004)
Maxine Harley (MSc Psychotherapy)
You’ll also find a valuable, yet inexpensive, online courses called
‘How To Sort Out Your Children – without child therapy!‘ © which focuses upon the parent’s need for ‘CARE & REPAIR FROM THE INSIDE OUT’ (c)