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  • Writer's picture Zalman Nelson - Therapist

Inner Child: Kids in Adult Bodies

Updated: Aug 29, 2022

inner child work

Everyone has an Inner Child, a child self. It's the part of us that responded to the particular emotional environment in which we grew up. It's the part that responded to challenges and stresses of not getting core basic emotional needs met or being emotionally abandoned, abused, or neglected in some form.

Where the Inner Child Comes From

And the ways the Inner Child responded to all that, were the only thing she discovered, by trial and error, somewhat worked. Meaning, it helped her survive and get through the experiences on some level. That child was receiving emotional treatment that was hurtful, as well as going without some important emotional needs: validation, acceptance, reassurance, and feel loved, worthy, and valid. Those unmet needs don't just go away. Rather, they remain something the child continues to seek external, for years, sometimes a lifetime, in the hopes of getting them met. Or, until you learn how to meet those needs yourself, and start to enjoy also getting them met by the people around you that are healthy, positive, and good for you.

For example, in response to harsh, critical, never-good-enough parenting, kids often absorb it and tell themselves that it's their fault they get treated that way. It works. It helps them continue to trust they are safe and loved and okay, but it leaves a mark and causes damage in their sense of self. It's also a false belief that's not true, and thus leaves a child living with a sense of self at odds with who they truly are. That's deeply uncomfortable, anxiety-provoking, and depressing.

Moreover, this false sense of self is deeply embedded and absorbed, and escorts the child throughout their school years and relationships, and all the way into adult life. That's the Inner Child: that kid part who responded to the childhood environment, and picked up a sense of self as a result, and still remains a very strong, vocal part of ourselves here and now in the present.

Everyone Has An Inner Child

But, just as you have that Inner Child part, you can be confident that everyone around you and everyone you meet has that as well. The people you meet are either healthy and mature, or unhealthy and immature, to the extent that they've connected to that kid part, begun to meet those emotional unmet needs their own through their own efforts like in therapy. In addition, as those emotional needs finally get met, those old defenses transform into strengths, like sensitivity and compassion, insight and awareness, attention to detail, drive to be great, and more.

Kids in Adult Bodies

The more a person heals and grows, working in therapy and engaging in personal growth work, meeting their emotional needs consistently each day, the more they realize that the vast majority of people around them are still dominated by the emotionally out of control Inner Child. In effect, they remain children in adult bodies, which explains the temper tantrums, immature behavior, and emotional extremes so many people display. Use this awareness to help you feel good about your own personal growth, as well as a guide on how to better interact with others.

For example, you would never lecture or enter a deep discussion with a child having a temper tantrum. As far as your friend and other people are concerned, just remember that you can never know what someone else thinks and feels or what their intentions are unless you ask and they tell you. You may have insights or ideas or thoughts, and they may sometimes be true, or pretty close. But it's never your job to play mind reader, and you can never get to the truth unless the person shares it, since their thoughts and feelings are knowable only by them.

Ongoing Relationship With Your Inner Child

You can do what it is that you're doing: beginning to be on the lookout for everything around you guiding you and supporting you and directing you, and providing you examples and further support in your own personal growth efforts. Building a relationship with your Inner Child enables you to experience his emotions less intensely, feel more secure and safe and valid, and deal with others more effectively. Daily interactions now become opportunities to practice getting in touch with your own triggered feelings, hearing and accepting them, and using them to further build and develop your relationship with your Inner Child. When done regularly, your confidence, esteem, validation, and worth grow strong, and you're empowered to be assertive and speak up on your own behalf in all of your relationships.


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