Over the many years that I’ve facilitated inner child work, I’ve found that most people (at least initially) find it very difficult to connect with their younger selves in a positive way. Often they carry guilt, shame, annoyance, indifference, or even animosity towards their various child selves. This frequently stands in contrast with intellectual work around not blaming themselves for adverse experiences of childhood. They may experience younger parts as naive, foolish, afraid, weak, or insecure; or sometimes it’s more like those parts are “out of control,” impulsive, argumentative, difficult, or unlikeable. When prompted to consider some point in time before those feelings, some time before whatever happened that created these insecurities and self-doubt, some time when they were embodied and present, I would often get the answer “I can’t remember a time like that.”
Our bodies hold memory, for better and for worse. Our unconscious memory is powerful, but it is also somewhat biased. We tend to validate embodied memory that can fit into some sort of cognitive frame, or “remembered” experience. Whereas the knowing that is more unconscious (intuitive) is less valid and suppressed.
You don’t need to have survived childhood trauma to struggle with embodiment. In general we are encouraged from an early age to “use our words” and experience feelings intellectually. We may also struggle with connecting this way due to gender dysphoria, chronic illness and injury, neurodivergence, and other experiences that create tension between the actual experience of the body and how we want to feel/think we should feel.
I often say that we are all born embodied, but we may not be given time to anchor that feeling. Certainly even in utero and infancy we can experience extreme stress, with no “safety” to remember. In accessing our core self we are able to get below the crashing waves, so to speak, and find that center to build new foundations. Embodiment is about something more than the physical body. It’s the experience within the body. Our physical bodies are imperfect, but they are ours to define. They are vessels in which our spirit or core self lives. They sometimes work the way we want them to, and sometimes not, but they are not the essence of us. Our bodies are a physical form in which we exist and interact.
Babies illustrate good examples of this kind of embodiment. They haven’t yet learned “what’s wrong with them.” Generally speaking they seem amazed at the miracle of being embodied. Look at my hands! This is my foot! I am making this incredible sound with my mouth!
They are also highly dependent on others to survive and right off the bat this creates tension in the relationship with the body. I believe that just like how the presence of an attuned caregiver forms the emotional relationship with the self (am I worthy of love, will I be taken care of?), it also forms the relationship with the body (do I have a “good body” that is easy to take care of and love, or a “problem body” that doesn’t work the way it should?).
Spiritually this is a lifelong conflict, to be an energetic being limited to a human body experience. We may travel to far off places in meditation, trance, and energywork, but at some point we have to come back. Sometimes that adjustment when we return is quite uncomfortable.
I find it interesting to consider that we’ve been having those little moments, consciously or not, probably since birth.
Milton Erickson, who developed a person-centered form of hypnosis, conceptualized the core self as a part of several layers of awareness: the content of consciousness, the conscious mind, the subconscious mind, the unconscious mind, and the “deep self.” The first layer is whatever you’re thinking about currently, followed by what you tend to think about and patterns of thought— a limited set of options. The subconscious is where information from your unconscious may become more available to the thinking mind, but also may be ignored. This is the realm of imagination and story, much of our emotional experience, and that more physical sense of embodied awareness. Our unconscious mind holds the totality of experience, from our entire lives, and is too vast and expansive to hold consciously at one time. It is also where we can easily hold contradictions without conflict, access non-verbal memory, and find the non-physical experience of the body. It percolates up through the layers of conscious awareness through effort or through survival need. It can also influence actions without our awareness.
Finally, that deep self which predates consciousness. It is the more fundamental element of who you are, who you have been, and who you can be. Something I find interesting is that in a diagram illustrating this idea (it’s in the book Therapeutic Trances if you’re curious), showing concentric circles, the innermost circle is the conscious content and it expands out towards that deep self. Which is to say we must reach out to find it, whereas the conscious content is what we hold “closest” to us. This conscious content holds ideas of who we think we are, our conscious memories, things that have been told to us that we believe, things we need to do, and the physical manifestations of our unconscious conflicts and desires.
Connecting with your core self or “deep self” is inner child work. Those versions of you before conscious memory, and conscious content, are where you were most intimately connected to the essence of your being. You simply were your deep self, there wasn’t anything else. Trance and hypnosis can be a great tools to connect with these inner parts but it’s not easy to get there. When we move into trance the first things that come into view are the topics floating in so conscious awareness that require some resolution or illumination. If you’ve ever done trancework that was not strictly goal directed (something other than classical hypnosis), you know that once we go into trance we may have certain plans but we can’t predict exactly what’s going to happen.
And to be honest, using deeper trance techniques for the expressed purpose of inner child work is a little risky. It can stir things up in a way that isn’t always therapeutic. Sometimes it happens spontaneously, which is different. I think it’s better to either let it happen naturally or keep things in a more light trance— an exploratory mode. (Not judging here! I just think that our unconscious is wise and it’s more therapeutic to trust it rather than try to “hack” our unconscious)
One of my first moments of seeing Reiki as something that could be deeply healing on an emotional level was working with my own younger selves. From the perspective of energy work, there is continuity in your energy throughout your life, related to your core self. Alongside aspects of energy that are developed and acquired over time. Much like in Erickson’s model, in the human biofield perspective our energetic experience is generated from the midline of the body like rings of a tree. The oldest energetic layers are continually moving to the outer edges of the energy field with the most recent events held in the confines of the physical body. As we expand our awareness out into the edges of our energy fields we can begin to access the pure experience of times before our memory.
Using reiki for self-healing with our inner child(ren) allows for accessing any place in our own timeline, it’s not necessary to “remember” it.
Similarly to how I approach trancework, I find it even more beneficial to allow the energy to work with you and for your core self to “show” you where to work. Reiki has a consciousness of its own, it sees from its own perspective. It can help illuminate the consciousness of our own energy (which is the unconscious!). Just like our unconscious mind, energy can be in more than one place at a time, more that one point in time, even in multiple timelines and lives simultaneously.
It creates space for inviting those past selves, some cast off and fragmented, back into the energetic fold, part of the same tapestry.
After a couple of shorter workshops at Get Right Wellness this past winter I’m feeling inspired to bring back Restorative Reiki for Inner Child(dren) work, as four week series in June. Some of you may recall that a couple years ago I conceptualized a therapeutic program for inner child work that included a lot of journaling and self-inquiry (that unfortunately never came to fruition as a group). I’ve decided to incorporate the use of those journal prompts into this version of the reiki group, as a way to explore between sessions. I never offer the same exact group twice, so if you’ve been to previous versions you can expect some new techniques and experiences, and it’s also a great introduction if you’re new to this type of work.
You could also bring an intention for inner child healing to Rinse & Repeat, which will be IN PERSON (!) this Thursday. There’s still a few spaces left