image by @darshan394
“In each of us, there is a suffering child,” according to Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, and “the cry we hear from deep in our hearts comes from the wounded child within. Healing this inner child’s pain is the key to transforming anger, sadness, and fear.”
Any time of intense stress including this current pandemic can bring us into contact with painful memories from the past or activate childhood wounds or trauma.
I’ve found in myself and others a need to engage lately in inner child care to resolve painful emotions, experiences or memories that our inner child may be holding onto due to the collective grief and trauma strongly present during this pandemic.
Many of us were not taught growing up how to take care of ourselves when we experienced trauma or suffering as we were raised by people who also were not taught how to take care of their childhood wounds.
There can be a tendency to forget, ignore, or suppress painful experiences from childhood. However, ignoring or attempting to forget the past doesn’t mean that our inner child no longer exists. The child is still there, seeking our attention, and for some of us making increasingly louder attempts to get our attention.
Ways to Engage in Inner Child Care:
Some of the key ingredients to inner child care are offering ourselves nurturance, acceptance, safety, play, structure, and boundaries.
It may be helpful to initiate this practice of inner child care by engaging in a contemplative inquiry about the wounds and needs of this child in the past and present as well as to set intentions on how to be with this dear little one.
Time for Reflection:
*Reflect on your childhood and adolescent years. Did you feel safe? Did you feel a sense of belonging in life? Did you feel like you were accepted as you were? Could you accept yourself as you were?
*Reflect on your relationship with your inner child presently. What is your relationship with this child? Does your inner child feel safe, like they are heard and seen by you? Is there a sense of belonging and acceptance present now?
*Reflect on current needs that would be of support to offer care to your inner child. How can a safer space be created? How can there be structure? How can boundaries be set to allow this little one to be seen, heard, and taken care of as well as for realistic expectations to be set in terms of how and when this care can be offered to avoid overwhelm or resentment.
~These reflections can be done in journal form, through creative forms like drawing, making music, or dance, or through dialogue with a person you feel safe exploring and discussing this with. Perhaps looking at old pictures of yourself as a child may help to stir some memories if adding that visual element will be of support.
Acknowledgement and Meditation/Visualization:
*Acknowledge your inner child by directly talking to them or writing them a letter identifying needs you had as a child that weren’t met and offering empathy perhaps using language like I’m sorry. I love you. I deeply appreciate you. I’m sorry you didn’t get what you needed growing up. I will take good care of you. I love you. I’m here for you.
*Engage in a mindfulness meditation practice that allows you to be aware of the emotions or sensations present in your inner child and allows space for those feelings to be present. Allow anything that arises to be acknowledged. If the need for tears arise, allow the tears to flow and release. Take care of your child however that looks or feels like for you in each moment. Offer yourself whatever is needed.
If it’s supportive, visualize your inner child’s needs being met and them being embraced by yourself. If additional support is needed, imagine yourself and this dear little one being supported and offered care by a loving protective benefactor such as an ancestor, spiritual guide, or Mother Earth.
Approaching this Care in a Playful and Light-hearted Way:
*Engage in playful or embodied activities infusing curiosity, connection to the body, creativity, and/or humor to connect with qualities typically more encouraged in childhood and qualities that help to counter shame or a strong critical voice.
*Remember you can talk to or connect with your child as often as is supportive and as time allows, embracing the child and reassuring them that you are here. Setting time for these regular interactions can be offered in a more structured format initially and as you feel comfortable with noticing when your child has a need can become more spontaneous. Feel into what is supportive for you to allow for consistency as well as to create a light-hearted nature in your time together, avoiding stress or rigidity in the schedule you make for connecting.
The Healing of Intergenerational Trauma as a Form of Inner Child Care
*Remember that this inner child care is not a form of indulgence and is vital not only for your own care but for the care of all of those who have come before you and who are to come after you.
In Reconciliation: Healing The Inner Child (2010), Thich Nhat Hanh reminds us:
“With practice, we can see that our wounded child is not only us. Our wounded child may represent several generations…So when we’re embracing the wounded child in us, we’re embracing all the wounded children of our past generations. This practice is not a practice for ourselves alone, but for numberless generations of ancestors and descendants.
Our ancestors may not have known how to care for their wounded child within, so they transmitted their wounded child to us. Our practice is to end this cycle. If we can heal our wounded child, we will not only liberate ourselves, but we will also help liberate whoever has hurt or abused us. The abuser may also have been the victim of abuse. There are people who have practiced with their inner child for a long time who have had a lessening of their suffering and have experienced transformation. Their relationships with their family and friends have become much easier….
The people around us, our family and friends, may also have a severely wounded child inside. If we’ve managed to help ourselves, we can also help them. When we’ve healed ourselves, our relationships with others become much easier. There’s more peace and more love in us.
Go back and take care of yourself. Your body needs you, your feelings need you, your perceptions need you. The wounded child in you needs you. Your suffering needs you to acknowledge it. Go home and be there for all these things.”
Heal as you’re able to for you and your little one and on behalf of all beings.
Heal as you’re able to and be gentle with all that arises during the healing process.
With love, care and appreciation for you and your little one,