Many clients enter therapy because they have relationship patterns that they are tired of repeating (Jackman, 2020).
They may arrive at the first session asking, “Why do I push good people away?” or “Why do I keep making the same mistakes?”
Inner child healing believes that the answers lie deep within. The consequences of a wounded inner child and pain must be heard. With help, the client can get to know their emotional hurt, heal, and embrace an authentic life (Jackman, 2020).
In the documentary I Am Not Your Guru, (Berlinger, 2016), Tony Robbins says:
“Heal the boy, and the man will appear.”
Tony Robbins: I am not your guru
In this article, we explore inner child healing and some tools and techniques available to therapists.
Before you continue, we thought you might like to download our three Self-Compassion Exercises for free. These detailed, science-based exercises will help you increase the compassion and kindness you show yourself and give you the tools to help your clients, students, or employees show more compassion to themselves.
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Inner Child Healing: A Brief Definition
If your client feels like they’ve spent their entire life attracting people who only bring drama and hurt with them, they could be right. “Hurt people find other hurt people” (Jackman, 2020, p. 7).
Their wounded part, deep within, may be unconsciously choosing to be in relationships with other hurt people. And it may result from experiences they faced when growing up: feeling ignored, rejected, dismissed, or even abused, neglected, or traumatized (Jackman, 2020). Such wounds find an emotional space deep within, changing how clients see themselves and the world.
As we age, we find our wellbeing both in the present (environment, family, friendships, and career) and in our past life experiences, particularly our childhood. This inner child includes “all of the past hidden ages that have made up one’s life journey” – a psychosynthesis of all ages, each developmental stage forming one part of our overall self (Sjöblom et al., 2016, p. 1).
Maintaining our present wellbeing requires us to keep the “best aspect of each age alive”; nurturing the child is essential to relating to ourselves. (Sjöblom et al., 2016, p. 2).
Managing that internal attachment system regulates how we think, perceive, and behave. Feeling listened to, heard, and understood with a more positive evaluation of our life history can increase a sense of wellbeing and play an essential role in treatment and empowerment (Sjöblom et al., 2016).
Otherwise, memories of being alone, scared, and sad can surface as feelings of abandonment and trauma in early life that continue through adulthood.
Becoming more aware of the inner child through therapy or a personal journey can help unearth that pain and ultimately offer healing. Acknowledging the inner child involves recognizing and accepting things that caused pain in childhood, bringing them to light to understand their impact now (Raypole, 2021).
A Look at Inner Child Meditation
Meditation can help provide stillness and calm to a busy, worried, or upset mind (Shapiro, 2020).
Robert Jackman (2020), an inner child healing therapist, suggests a meditation known as “Simple Breath” for those struggling to come to terms with their childhood memories.
Find a place that feels calm, where you will not be disturbed. You may find that the sounds of nature or some relaxing music may help.
Sit comfortably and start breathing easily, yet slowly. With one hand on your stomach, breathe slowly through the nose, then take a longer out-breath gently through the mouth.
Feel your chest and stomach rise and fall with each breath.
As you breathe – unhurried and relaxed – view yourself and your breathing with kindness and without judgment.
Try to meditate or practice mindfulness daily. Over time, generating stillness and a less reactive outlook will benefit health, wellbeing, and happiness (Williams & Penman, 2016).
6 Exercises, Activities, and Techniques
The inner child healing process can be helped and facilitated by revisiting the client’s past, confronting their truths, and recognizing their pain while understanding its impact on who they are now (Jackman, 2020).
The following exercises, activities, and techniques support that journey.
Confronting Our Defenses
It is vital to confront what is holding the client back and derailing the process of inner child healing (Jackman, 2020).
Use the questions in the Confronting Our Defenses worksheet to reflect on the self-imposed obstacles in the client’s way.
Ask the client to reflect on each of the following points:
- Are you discounting or minimizing the difficult and traumatic experiences you had in your childhood?
- Are you making what was abnormal normal?
- Are you protecting those who cared for you out of embarrassment, honor, or guilt?
- Are you denying that healing is possible?
- Are you avoiding the bad memories that you must confront and explore?
Only through openness, honesty, and compassion can the client truly face their past and find healing.
Past emotions and difficult memories can be tough to face. It can help to capture a timeline of the key events of childhood (Jackman, 2020).
Use the Childhood Timeline worksheet to focus on the development years from birth to 21 to identify wounding patterns or specific events that caused challenges in later life.
Ask the client to capture events and situations recognized as important during childhood or on reflection as an adult.
Age 5, Mom and Dad got divorced
Age 8, Mom met someone new and had a baby
Age 9, Dad moved abroad
Age 10, Dad got sick
Age 15, started drinking alcohol
Once completed, emotional scores along with event descriptions provide a picture of the emotional patterns and path the client’s childhood took.
Identifying Childhood Triggers
As the client becomes increasingly in touch with their past and recognizes emotional events in their childhood, it’s helpful to look for triggers in the present (Jackman, 2020).
Use the Identifying Childhood Triggers worksheet to review one or more situations that upset the client. The therapist and client are looking for patterns of emotional response and recurring triggers.
Ask the client to think of a situation that recently happened where they responded more strongly than they wished and then answer a series of questions, including:
- Is it a regular occurrence?
- Where and when does it happen?
- What are your immediate feelings when this happens?
- Where do you feel this in your body (for example, shoulders, stomach, etc.)?
- Do you find you want to react or stay quiet and withdraw?
- What situation from your past does this remind you of?
A Conversation With the Inner Child
It is important to recognize that the part of us who is still a child needs love and support (Raypole, 2021).
Use the A Conversation With the Inner Child worksheet to show compassion to the child within and recognize the difficult times faced with kindness.
Ask the client to use the following prompts to discuss with their earlier selves how they felt and their present selves what they are going through now.
- How do you (the younger you) feel about what is happening?
- What could others have done for you to help?
- Can you accept that you were a child and could not fix the situation? You have nothing to feel bad about.
The client should be encouraged to review what they have written with kindness and see that while they could not control their past as a child, they have a choice over how they react now.
Exploring a Childhood Event
While it can be difficult, it is helpful to revisit the environment in which an upsetting event or situation took place. By using visualization, it is possible to vary its intensity.
Use the Exploring a Childhood Event worksheet to help the client visualize a time from their childhood.
Ask the client to find somewhere quiet where they will not be interrupted and consider each of the following questions (modified from Jackman, 2020):
- What was happening?
- How old were you (be approximate if unsure)?
- What was going on in your family at that time?
- Who was around?
- What were the sounds, feelings, smells?
- What were your emotions?
- What secrets are you holding about this time?
- What deep hurts do you carry about this time?
- What would your inner child like to say to you as an adult?
Setting Internal Boundaries
We all have control as adults over how we respond to situations. It can help the client consider and agree to boundaries around what is personally acceptable or not acceptable.
Use the Setting Internal Boundaries worksheet to determine what constitutes acceptable behavior and what is out of bounds.
Ask the client to create and sign off on a series of commitments; for example (modified from Jackman, 2020):
I am going to …
… be honest and vulnerable with myself.
… find a therapist to help me on my path.
… keep a gratitude journal.
I am NOT going to …
… yell, scream, or be demanding of others.
… get drunk with my friends, as it makes me sad the next day.
Inner Child Healing Worksheets and Journal Prompts
Many clients find journaling a valuable coping tool that easily fits into busy schedules while providing time to reflect on the feelings, thoughts, and behaviors of the day.
Getting thoughts and feelings out on paper can be particularly helpful for clients struggling with difficult emotions, memories, stress, anxiety, or depression (Utley & Garza, 2011).
Helpful prompts for completing a gratitude journal (particularly those wishing to embrace their inner child) include:
What am I grateful for today?
What have I learned in the past that I found useful today?
Who supported me in the past that benefited me today?
What difficult situations in the past helped me overcome obstacles today?
Journaling can be helpful for understanding how we feel about ourselves.
A dedicated self-esteem journal can answer the following:
What five things made me feel peaceful today?
What does my family admire me for?
What was the highlight of my day?
We often forget to treat ourselves with love and kindness, particularly if we did not receive such emotional recognition in our childhood.
A self-love journal can ask the following:
What do you admire about yourself?
What one thing will you forgive yourself for this week?
What three compliments did you receive?
15 Best Questions for Your Sessions
Questions can provide valuable prompts for reflecting on past events and present triggers, emotions, and behaviors.
Try the following with your client, adapting as appropriate (modified from Jackman, 2020; McDonald, 2019):
What is blocking an accurate and clear perception of yourself?
How do you sabotage your life?
What negative beliefs do you have about yourself? Where do they come from?
What situations do you find most difficult?
Who did you get your beliefs from that you are not important?
Which unhelpful feelings or ideas did you get from someone in your childhood? From whom?
Do you play the victim? Why do you think that is?
Do you let others dictate how you feel?
Do you feel you don’t deserve anything?
Have you tried to set boundaries in your relationships?
What mistakes do you think you make and repeat? Why?
How do you react to upsetting situations?
Are your reactions appropriate, or do you go overboard or shut down?
What do you think triggers your negative or unhelpful behavior?
Do you feel safer when you put up barriers? Why is that?
The answers to these questions will provide valuable insights into the client’s inner child and what influences how they now react.
6 Helpful Inner Child Resources
There are several inner child resources available in a variety of formats, including:
- This article published on Healthline is a valuable introduction to inner child healing and a set of approaches to begin the healing journey.
- This article published in The American Journal of Psychotherapy offers a challenging yet informative read on reclaiming the inner child through Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy.
- The Inner Child Podcast is a weekly podcast providing practical tips for healing childhood wounds and feelings of low self-worth.
- Okay Now Breath Podcast is dedicated to sharing stories of personal childhood trauma and helping to heal the inner child.
Psychotherapist Robert Jackman takes the reader on a journey to inner child healing, introducing essential concepts and techniques along the way.
Find the book on Amazon.
Healing the Child Within – Charles Whitfield
In this classic book within this field, Dr. Whitfield describes the core issues of recovery from childhood trauma and the pain that must be healed.
Find the book on Amazon.
We have many helpful tools for practicing self-compassion, revisiting difficult events, and overcoming negative thoughts.
Some free resources include:
- Grounding and Centering
Monitoring sensations using grounding exercises can help avoid overriding the nervous system.
- Inside and Outside
This worksheet helps kids compare how they think, feel, and behave when struggling with difficult emotions.
- Childhood Frustrations
This is a helpful worksheet for reflecting on and capturing childhood frustrations.
- Finding Your Imago
Picturing our childhood home and those who cared for us can help understand the emotions in our lives.
More extensive versions of the following tools are available with a subscription to the Positive Psychology Toolkit©, but they are described briefly below:
- The Most Helpful Thoughts
Inaccurate and unhelpful thoughts can make our lives difficult and unhappy. This worksheet helps clients identify and challenge such thoughts and replace them with more helpful ones:
- Step one – Identify the unhelpful thought.
- Step two – Assess the helpfulness of the thought.
- Step three – Identify a more helpful thought.
- Step four – Reflect on the more helpful thought.
With practice, replacing unhelpful thoughts will become more automatic.
Our past can influence the degree to which we accept who we are. And yet self-acceptance is the hallmark of a healthy relationship with the self.
Use the meditation script or the audio to help the client accept that they are no less of a person because of their weaknesses and no better than others because of their strengths.
- 17 Self-Compassion Exercises
If you’re looking for more science-based ways to help others develop self-compassion, check out this collection of 17 validated self-compassion tools for practitioners. Use them to help others create a kinder and more nurturing relationship with the self.
A Take-Home Message
Our childhood memories can be compelling, shaping our beliefs, emotions, thinking, and behavior in adulthood.
While we do not have control over what happened in our past, we can find ways to deal with the pain arising from our wounded inner child.
Maintaining our mental wellness requires a positive relationship with ourselves and managing our internal attachment system. Being heard and understood can help us uncover and more positively evaluate our life history, nurture our inner child, and find a more positive way to relate to ourselves.
Meditation, revisiting our past, confronting our defenses, recognizing present-day triggers, journaling, and setting out what is acceptable are all helpful techniques. Our aim should be to acknowledge our past with compassion and kindness while seeking to regain awareness and control in our present.
This article introduces the idea of inner child healing and some of the tools that can either help in therapy or when walking the path alone. Try them out on yourself or with your client to form a deeper connection with who you are now and start healing the child within.
We hope you enjoyed reading this article. Don’t forget to download our three Self-Compassion Exercises for free.
- Berlinger, J. (Director). (2016). Tony Robbins: I am not your guru. Netflix.
- Jackman, R. (2020). Healing your lost inner child: How to stop impulsive reactions, set healthy boundaries and embrace an authentic life. Practical Wisdom Press.
- McDonald, M. (2019). The inner child workbook. Author.
- Raypole, C. (2021). 8 tips for healing your inner child. Healthline. Retrieved February 21, 2022, from https://www.healthline.com/health/mental-health/inner-child-healing
- Shapiro, S. L. (2020). Rewire your mind: Discover the science + practice of mindfulness. Aster.
- Sjöblom, M., Öhrling, K., Prellwitz, M., & Kostenius, C. (2016). Health throughout the lifespan: The phenomenon of the inner child reflected in events during childhood experienced by older persons. International Journal of Qualitative Studies on Health and Well-being, 11(1), 31486.
- Utley, A., & Garza, Y. (2011). The therapeutic use of journaling with adolescents. Journal of Creativity in Mental Health, 6(1), 29–41.
- Whitfield, C. L. (1987). Healing the child within: Discovery and recovery for adult children of dysfunctional families. Health Communications.
- Williams, M., & Penman, D. (2016). Mindfulness: A practical guide to finding peace in a frantic world. Joosr.