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Show up For Your Inner Wounded Child The Way You Do For Others

Our experiences in childhood impact us in many ways. 

One of the ways we respond to childhood wounds or our inner wounded child is by adapting our behaviours or creating defences to protect ourselves- this is known as the adaptive child

These adaptive behaviours can be effective as a way to survive our original trauma and experience, but they can become destructive and maladaptive later on because they no longer match the situation and our ability to cope. These adaptive behaviours then become destructive not only to ourselves but our relationships with others. In working towards healing our wounded child, we must learn to shift our mindset and recognize that we are no longer that child being hurt. So, we must once again learn to adapt and find balance in order to be the functioning adult

Today, we’re diving deeper into these three pieces of ourselves- the wounded child, adaptive child and functioning adult and discussing ways to develop skills to challenge your woundedness and heal your inner child!

What is the wounded child and adaptive child?

Your wounded inner child feels the pain from your past; when you experience similar pain as an adult, this child comes out. 

The adaptive child tries to protect the wounded child; they figure out how to adapt in order to survive. For example, if you experienced emotional neglect as a child, you might have interpreted this to mean that your emotions were not valid, and your adaptive child response is to push down your emotions in order to avoid pain, judgement, or fear of persecution for vulnerability. 

Based on your experiences as a child and messaging you received, your adaptive child might show up as…

  • People-pleasing and manipulation to gain sense of control
  • Insecurity and reactivity due to fear of vulnerability
  • Perfectionism in an attempt to adhere to internal and external pressures
  • Workaholism as an avoidance strategy 

Do some of these behaviours resonate with you? Can you think of experiences in your childhood that might have contributed to your adaptive child reacting in these ways?

What is the “functioning adult”?

The functioning adult is your mature self. The functioning adult:

  • Can see when they feel wounded
  • Has developed skills to work with woundedness
  • Knows how to self-soothe and validate the inner child
  • Can articulate their feelings and be vulnerable with others
  • Is able to set limits with those who invade their space
  • Is able to listen and try to understand others without defending or criticizing

In my opinion, the hallmark of the functioning adult is the piece about self-awareness and being able to see when you feel wounded. If we cannot first acknowledge our wounds and our maladaptive responses to them, we cannot fully embrace healing. 

“Without conscious awareness, we live our lives thinking we’re functional adults, never knowing we are merely wounded children in adult clothing.” -David Baumrind

Knowing where to start can be tricky- but you are not alone. The truth is, no one escapes childhood without developing adaptive behaviours or defences in response to childhood traumas and what was modelled for us. 

So, how can you begin to connect with and heal your inner child?

Aletheia Luna, prolific author and spiritual mentor, makes some suggestions on ways you can nourish your relationship with your inner child:

  1. Reflect on the timeline for your childhood: record memories or physical sensations you had. Record the tones of voice, expressions, and words your parents or teachers used when interacting with you.
  2. Write a letter to your inner child: tell your inner child how much you love them and want to spend time with them. Write in a way that makes you feel safe, cared for, and understood
  3. Write a letter from your inner child: using your non-dominant hand (in order to bypass your logical side of the brain), write yourself a letter from the perspective of your inner child.
  4. Share your pain with a trusted person: we are social creatures who need others to hold space for us. Your pain needs to be lovingly validated!
  5. Loving and supportive affirmations: affirmations have a way of rewiring the brain and sinking down into unconscious layers of programming; this can result in deep change and healing at a primal level.
  6. Do an inner child visualization/meditation: this can help to build an internal feeling of calm, safety and security (you can check out this previous blog post for step-by-step instructions on how to do this)
  7. Be your own protector and nurturer: take responsibility for your own mental well-being- engage in positive self-talk, set healthy boundaries and don’t ignore your needs!

Therapy can also be a great tool for healing your inner child- you don’t need to do this alone! One useful methodology is Internal Family Systems (IFS) therapy. IFS is a model of understanding rooted in the belief that “our inner parts contain valuable qualities and our core Self knows how to heal, allowing us to become integrated and whole.” IFS can be utilized as a stand-alone therapy or integrated with other therapies such as Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR) and Emotion-Focused Therapy (EFT).

Remember, healing is not a destination, it's a journey and process. I call on you this week to reflect on your childhood trauma and experiences and how they show up in your everyday life through your behaviours, responses and reactions. And of course, I encourage you to reach out and share with me, or with someone you value and trust. Sharing can be therapeutic, and a valuable first step in your journey to healing your inner child and transitioning to embracing yourself as a functioning adult!

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Katie MacNeill

A Registered Psychotherapist (Qualifying) and promoter of health and mental wellness. Born and raised in Mississauga, she currently lives in Niagara with her sweet rescue dog Bailey. Katie is a sushi enthusiast, avid camper and loves to play board games. 

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