Reclaiming self-worth, integrating your inner child(ren)

Trigger warning: discussion of abuse culture, and brief reference to the documentary Allan vs Farrow

Culturally we are reckoning with abuse culture in a way that has never been so sustained and is moving across demographics that were not previously engaged with anti-violence activism. The push for accountability is needed and long overdue, and yet the focus on punishment seems to be bringing the focus on conversation to the abuser rather than really reimagining what justice and healing might be for those who have experienced abuse.
There are a lot of complexities that live within the realms of survival and recovery, some in opposition and creating confusing and harmful binaries.
The public backlash against abusers, though often warranted and needed, ignores the underlying and foundations causes that our society more broadly needs to be accountable for. Namely, the ways that we are socialized to see some people as more human and deserving of respect than others.

One of the things I found most distressing and affecting about Allen vs Farrow is the way that Dylan spoke about her inner child. To be honest I don’t think we hear enough about the role of younger selves in ongoing recovery outside of spiritual healing circles and sometimes trauma therapy if it includes Internal Family Systems. Often times the younger selves who experienced abuse are still very fearful and in need of protection well into adulthood, and we can be aware of those parts quite viscerally when encountering similar personalities and behaviors to abuse we’ve experienced. And there is an added layer of complexity to sometimes having a sense of real love and connection to those who have harmed us, especially when this occurs in families, leading to confusion about what needs protecting and how to navigate fear.

More broadly when we refer to the inner child there can be an assumption that there’s only one, or that the age when we experienced some sort of trauma is the only younger self that needs healing, the only one worth acknowledging. But there are so many versions of ourselves unfolding all the time and there is a “before” and (hopefully) “after” of those events as well. We often develop our psychic protectors of the “inner child” when we are still children. It’s not one dimensional, and we may relate differently to these parts and some parts we try to forget all together. 

There are the inner children who existed before devastating trauma, or at a certain stage of trauma where there is still spontaneity, imagination, and willingness to trust. There are those who found a place to secure themselves while terrible experiences unfolded, who were able to bend the continuum of space and time to hold on to themselves even as the circumstances could have crushed them. There are those who emerged in the aftermath or continuation, often re-emerging many times to create more effective modes of protection and stability.
When the focus becomes about the age/time/experience of abuse or traumatic experience we are still flattening the wholeness of self into that of the victim/survivor. It is still a focus in some ways on the abuser, letting an experience caused by another be the defining characteristic of self.

I think about trauma healing a lot, because like many people who do this work my own life depends on it. I do think there’s benefit to the idea that it’s a process, that it’s chronic and spiralic, that there’s no “end” to reach. And yet I can’t help but feel like this can become a way of perpetuating the idea that one is fundamentally broken and will never be repaired. One way of making a start on integration that goes beyond coping is working with inner children not only who need our protection, but who actually hold keys to wisdom, healing, resilience, and creativity that we as adults have forgotten. Much in the same way that we can work to access future selves as a way to move through difficulties in the present, we can look to younger selves as guides for our innate potential and find our inner healer rather than seeking that relief from outside.

When we can do that within community or in the presence of others we access the balance of needing others while finding resources within ourselves. Below am I sharing some journaling prompts from a group I’m holding to facilitate cultivating self-worth through a rediscovery of our innate worth and allowing those parts to become guides for our future healing.  It is about remembering that we began with an inherent knowledge of our worth and value, we began embodied, and we began fully believing that we deserve love and care.

Exploring your own Inner children

When you think of the term “inner child” what comes to mind? What age, and what associations?

What is an age or era of yourself that you have neutral to warm feelings towards? What did they know, what were their qualities?

What do you think were some of the experiences of your childhood that have shaped who you are now (both positive and negative)?

Are there times you can remember where there was a shift within the way you navigated the world as a child, when your perspective and approach to relationships changed (a new “self” emerged)?

What happens when a shift occurs, where does the previous mode of being go?

Are there some versions of yourself that you really like, or that have qualities that you miss from an earlier time?

What about parts of yourself you struggle to accept, when did that emerge?

What could be different about your life if younger parts that need healing could receive it, and younger parts who hold wisdom could be invited back into conscious presence?

How would your relationships and sense of yourself change?

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