Everybody needs to do inner child work, or inner child healing, to become an emotionally mature adult.
In every adult there lurks a child… that is always becoming, is never completed, and calls for unceasing care, attention, and education. That is the part of the personality which wants to develop and become whole.Carl Jung
This article is part 3 of our Shadow Work Guide series.
What is the Inner Child?
Your inner child, similar to your shadow, is part of your unconscious mind.
The inner child is the true, uncontaminated essence of who we are; that which is spirited, creative, authentic, and accepting.
Your wounded inner child is a part of yourself that’s stuck in a time where you didn’t fully process your emotions.
This wounding typically involves learning to disown a part of yourself and leaving it behind.
Family and culture make you embrace some parts of your Self, while completely abandoning others.
This happens when a child idealizes her parents and follows arbitrary rules for survival.
These rules implicitly embed the child with the unconscious idea that she is “bad”—which is a typical childhood experience.
When the child sees that some of her feelings and thoughts are unacceptable, she chooses to get rid of them.
(This creates the child’s “inner parent”, which encourages obedience at the cost of being whole.)
Then the rules and unconscious beliefs you learned as a child evolve and are carried into adulthood.
What is inner child work?
Inner child work, or inner child healing, is becoming aware of what was denied and redeeming them via conscious integration.
By becoming aware of your inner child you are giving it the validation it wants.
You can also do inner child healing through shadow work prompts.
Why inner child work is important
Your wounded inner child acts out unconsciously to get validation from other people.
While getting validation can be normal and healthy, most people have formed unconscious, dysfunctional patterns to get this validation.
These unconscious patterns evolved from unconscious beliefs that you’ve built up since childhood.
However, these patterns are inherently dysfunctional and dishonest.
For example, a manipulative person has built dysfunctional patterns that get them the validation they seek.
However, they’re stuck between not ever letting someone see who they truly are and the reality that they can’t force someone to love them.
The same way a bully falls for the illusion that he is in control is the same way a people-pleaser believes being ‘nice’ is some secret to a good life.
Both people are under a delusion that they’re living life correctly. When in actuality, they are both immature and incomplete.
In fact, when you look at the dysfunctional patterns in unconscious relationships, you’ll notice that you can’t tell which side started manipulating the other first.
You need to do inner child shadow work because you can’t have healthy relationships without it.
You will unconsciously seek to be validated the same way you did in childhood.
This leads to you finding validation in these dysfunctional, unconscious patterns.
This is why you spend a lot of time around people who match well to appease your inner child.
In a sense, you put yourself in shitty relationships because you like it.
Why heal the inner child
The purpose of these unconscious patterns is to enforce the unconscious beliefs of one’s role in life (which we’ll get to soon).
If you haven’t figured it out—whatever the unconscious wants, the unconscious gets.
If the unconscious wants validation, then it’s going to seek it.
However, it’s impossible to get true fulfillment and validation from unhealthy relationships.
The only person who can give your inner child lasting validation is yourself. And to do this you must heal the inner child.
Because healing the inner child, processing your emotions and healing your wounds, helps build you into an emotionally mature adult.
The Difference Between a mature adult and an immature adult
Most people aren’t aware that they live their lives under unconscious invalidation.
This is why they live out these dysfunctional patterns with each other.
They give themselves momentary relief from their self-invalidation by invalidating others.
This happens either when your inner child wants validation, or your inner parent (the arbitrary rule-maker of “how things should be”) gets triggered.
For example, an immature adult engages others from the unconscious mindset of: “I’m not okay” or “You’re not okay”.
From here, you will unconsciously seek to fulfill the existential position that gives you the validation you’re used to:
- Nobody can be trusted
- I’m blameless & you’ll always forgive me
- I’m always wrong
- I am pure
- I am helpless
- The world wants to dominate me
- I’ve always been a loser
- Everyone is ungrateful
You will unconsciously live out these positions in your relationships—even when it’s against your self-interest.
Until you become aware of this, your psyche is in arrested development.
— TIPS TO BECOME MORE MATURE —
The following is a list of beliefs mistaken for feelings:
Immature people believe these are emotions, but they’re not.
Instead, it’s a list of beliefs that are created to point blame.
For example, anger comes from the belief that you should be treated fairly, expected honesty, and believe yourself to be insulted by a betrayal.
This is immaturity.
Instead, you must drop the entitlement and seek agreements. Ask for amends when necessary, and reject those who act to indignify you.
The lessons in the following readings are important skills for navigating life as an adult:
- How to Build Self-Respect
- Why You Should Trust Your Gut Instinct
- How to Remove Toxic People From Your Life
The most notable quality of maturity is that he or she understands that everyone, including oneself, is perfectly okay.
Here is a list of qualities of a healthy, mature, and presently conscious adult:
- Emotionally appropriate and level-headed
- Doesn’t baby, advise, or console other adults about their problems
- Gently redirects people to help themselves (“What do you plan to do about it?”, “What do you expect out of yourself?”)
- Stays as objectively present as possible
- Doesn’t persecute or judge others with “how things *should* be”
- Doesn’t complain and instead focuses on what can be done in reality
- Remain indifferent so others can learn to help themselves and deal with their personal preference issues
- Understands people are neutral beings
- Does not need to control others and understands he already isn’t in control
- Understands that an adult isn’t entitled to love, respect, or to be taken care of
Becoming mature involves shaking off the unconscious rules you grew up with. Learning from experience which beliefs hold true and which don’t.
You also need to make sure your emotional reactions (from your inner child) are appropriate as an adult.
A mature adult seeks the truth behind the unconscious rules from the inner parent and appropriating the emotions and fantasies from their inner child.
— AN EXAMPLE OF A MATURE PERSPECTIVE —
When an adult woman calls an adult man “daddy”, the explicit message is caretaking, while the implicit message is sexual.
A mature adult is aware of the implicit message and accepts the paradox of it.
The immature adult is judgmental towards the implicit message because they still follow the unconscious, arbitrary beliefs of the inner parent (“daddy is parent, there is nothing sexual about it”).
The mature adult learns how things really are through experience.
An emerging adult whose inner parent aligns with reality hits the ground running. Meanwhile, an emerging adult whose inner parent doesn’t align with reality ends up a late bloomer. This is most common among those who’ve suffered abuse in their youth or those who’ve grown up in affluence.
Benefits of inner child work
These shadow work benefits include:
- Complete Self-Knowledge
Most people are lying to themselves, wanting to believe they are good. But in reality, they are unconsciously hostile and want to hurt people.
By becoming conscious of this you can catch yourself being dysfunctional and channel this energy to constructive pursuits
- Defused Emotions
You have a better understanding of emotions and how they aren’t beliefs, as mentioned earlier.
- Accurate View of Reality
You understand you aren’t a child. Your sense of well-being isn’t dependent on others.
You also do things because you genuinely want to experience the benefits. Not because you arbitrarily “should”.
- Healthy Relationships
When you mature you no longer have any interest in unhealthy relationships.
Awareness of these patterns typically means “outgrowing” some of your relationships.
Your sudden change comes as a shock to others because your sudden awareness breaks their patterns.
- Reclaim Life Ownership
By making yourself conscious of your unconscious patterns, you can discard your feelings of powerlessness and resume ownership of your life.
Inner child healing exercises
As children, we needed validation and we were capable of getting fulfillment out of it. But as adults, we no longer get fulfillment out of validation.
Now you can only get some short-lived fulfillment out of validation since it’s no longer tied to your survival.
For people who never experienced emotional fulfillment and validation in childhood, it’s important to grieve for what they didn’t get to experience.
You will never be able to get what you didn’t get in childhood.
And you can’t rewrite your childhood because it’s not within.
You must let out this grief and understand that you can only be loved in an adult-adult relationship.
Accept that you are an adult—and you are perfectly okay as you are.
There is nothing anybody can do to give you the fulfillment you’re looking for.
They don’t have it—nobody does.
My experience using active imagination for inner child work
It started with me asking questions to myself in my car. I wanted to get in touch with this inner child.
I called out for the boy, demanding it responds.
It meekly affirmed it was there.
After much questioning, it was clear my inner child was hurt. Sad, depressed, overworked.
I gave the boy permission to play, he didn’t have to take life so seriously. He was allowed to play and have fun without being afraid of making anyone angry.
I assured him everything would be okay because I was here now. I wouldn’t let anything happen to him.
Then I apologized.
I started to get emotional.
“I’m sorry I wasn’t there when you needed somebody like me”.
Somebody who could defend him. To reassure him that everything would be okay and that no one would hurt him.
I told him that’s okay for him to be sad. But it’s okay for him to go play. It’s okay for him to be happy. It’s okay for him to make noise and smile.
I felt terrible because the boy was restrained. He didn’t feel like anybody cared about him. No matter what the boy did he’d be punished.
“I’m so sorry I wasn’t there when you needed me.”
“You don’t have to worry anymore. Nobody will hurt you. I’m here.”
Then I imagined the boy sitting within a dark void inside of me.
“Nobody will hurt you”, I reassured the boy.
And I apologized. Again and again and again.
“I’M SO SORRY!!!”
I got more emotional the more I reassured the boy.
Not because I felt guilty—It was impossible for me to be there for the boy way back when.
I became emotional because I came to a deep realization…
That the boy was dead.
That poor child died a long time ago and what I was only doing was sending off its spirit in the best way I could.
As far as I know, I carry the boy’s spirit inside me where he’s safe. Where nobody can hurt him.
Because I’m here now.
Like someone should’ve done for him.
From that day on I’ve felt lighter.
My workaholism diminished, dependency issues subsided, and that very night I woke up in anger.
I wrote the most beautiful piece of writing, made of pure anger.
I rarely expressed anger.
But from that day on, many of my vices disappeared and internal restraints unlocked.
Perhaps for the first time, I felt loved.
Thanks for reading.
Check out the Shadow Work Course here.