Sometimes, despite trying every medication in the book, certain chronic health conditions just don’t seem to get better. It’s like there’s some invisible block that’s shut off the possibility of wellness.
In holistic health there is no separation between our minds and bodies and it widely acknowledged that unprocessed trauma can show up in the body as a whole host of physical ailments like chronic pain, autoimmune disease and addiction. That’s why many mind-body practitioners recommend exploring our inner child as a way to regaining optimum health.
I’m an Adult - Why Do I Need to Explore My Inner Child?
Good question. We think we are adults due to the fact that we are over the age of 18. But for most of us, we carry deep seated beliefs from when we were children such as ‘I’m not good enough’, ‘I must make people happy to be loved,’ ‘I am not safe,’ or ‘I am unloveable.’ We don’t know why we feel the way we do, but for as long as we can remember, it’s been this way. That’s because these are the conclusions our 8-year-old selves came to based on what they saw happening around them. And in order to survive in the emotional landscape we encountered, we developed some childish strategies that we’ve unconsciously brought with us into adulthood. And when I say adulthood, I am 46 and I’m still driven by the life lense of little Mary aged somewhere between 5 and 9.
So what are the consequences of being small children trapped in adult bodies? Just consider when you feel tremendously hurt for no reason. Maybe your boss makes a comment and suddenly you go from being a 30-year-old professional to feeling like you’ve just been told off by your mum. And imagine the same child-adult trying to maintain a romantic relationship? Ever wondered why some people are super needy, while others seem incapable of feeling any emotion whatsoever? Yep, it’s our inner child doing its best to protect us from getting hurt, but in the process scuppering our chances of being happy, functioning adults.
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The Link Between Chronic Pain and Childhood Trauma
It turns out science is now backing up what holistic therapists have been saying for years: that if we don’t resolve childhood hurt, as adults it will affect our physical and mental health.
According to the Institute of Chronic Pain, 90% of women with fibromyalgia suffered trauma either in childhood or adulthood, and in a study entitled ‘Childhood Trauma and Pain and Pain Catastrophizing in Adulthood,’ scientists found “there were clear relationships between childhood trauma and all forms of pain assessment and pain catastrophizing.” It also seems the more traumatic events there were in the first 18 years of a child’s life, the greater the likelihood of health problems in later life, such as heart disease, cancer, chronic lung disease, and liver disease.
Serious trauma will not be healed through some guided meditations or self help books, so for anyone who has lived through serious trauma in their childhood, this is something to be explored with the support of a psychologist.
How Do I Get in Contact With My Inner Child?
The first time I heard about inner child work was when a friend lent me the book ‘Reconciliation: Healing The Inner Child’ by Zen Buddhist Master Thich Nhat Hanh.
He explains: “In each of us, there is a young, suffering child. We have all had times of difficulty as children and many of us have experienced trauma. To protect and defend ourselves against future suffering, we often try to forget those painful times. Every time we’re in touch with the experience of suffering, we believe we can’t bear it, and we stuff our feelings and memories deep down in our unconscious mind. It may be that we haven’t dared to face this child for many decades.
“The wounded child asks for care and love, but we do the opposite. We run away because we’re afraid of suffering. The block of pain and sorrow in us feels overwhelming. Even if we have time, we don’t come home to ourselves. We try to keep ourselves constantly entertained — watching television or movies, socializing, or using alcohol or drugs — because we don’t want to experience that suffering all over again.”
But what can you do when your wounded child is calling out for attention?
Thich Nhat Hanh explains: “If you are mindful, you will hear his or her voice calling for help. At that moment, instead of paying attention to whatever is in front of you, go back and tenderly embrace the wounded child.” He even suggests talking to your inner child directly: “You can say, “Darling, I am here for you. I will take good care of you. I know you suffer so much. I have been so busy. I have neglected you, and now I have learned a way to come back to you.”
Another more in-depth look at nurturing your inner child comes in the form of ‘Home Coming: Reclaiming and championing your inner child’ by psychologist and author John Bradshaw. By taking us through the key developmental stages in childhood, we learn how to reparent ourselves, allowing us to break free from the destructive patterns that may have dominated our lives until now.
And finally, for inner child podcasts and guided meditations, I love ‘The Adult Chair’ by Michelle Chalfant. Michelle explains how vital it is to work through the unprocessed and buried emotions of childhood in order to be able to take our rightful place in the adult chair. I love her ‘Connect with your inner child’ guided meditation; just be sure to have some tissues at hand as tears are almost guaranteed.
So, if you find yourself stuck, either emotionally or physically, you’d do worse making friends with your inner child. Of course, if what you find is too painful to bear, then immediately seek the help and support of a trained psychologist.
And for anyone with fibromyalgia, this great article gives some ideas on ways to relieve it naturally.