“Hold the hand of the child that lives in your soul. For this child, nothing is impossible.”

– Paulo Coelho, Author of The Alchemist

Given that a plethora of self-help books, articles, gurus, and apps exist in today’s world, you’re probably familiar with the phrase “inner child”…but just what does it mean? Well, it’s a complex, multifaceted term therapists use to describe the childlike component of our identity and personality that exists in our adult lives. It’s a subconscious part of us that steadfastly seeks to get its emotional needs met, especially if they weren’t met during childhood. In other words, our inner child is a mixture of our early pains, struggles, traumas, beliefs, environments, and caregiver attachment type – all wrapped into one.

Children want their parents to be there – both physically and emotionally, to be supportive, and to give them a good base for life. Sometimes (too often, unfortunately), parents or caregivers aren’t available, leaving the child to learn to heal their wounds on their own or to repress them completely. As adults, these individuals may desperately seek their parents’ approval, attention, and/or affection. The adult child continues pursuing a relationship with their parents, who appear unwilling or unable to meet their needs, potentially resulting in the adult child experiencing a “feelings cocktail” – an unruly blend of anger, sadness, fear, and/or frustration, to name a few common ingredients.

When parents aren’t able to be there (for whatever reason), a veiled opportunity is then presented to the adult child: to nurture their inner child. Rather than relying on external sources, such as parents, to treat or heal our childhood wounds, we can learn how to find that healing from ourselves. It’s about incorporating, loving, honoring, protecting, and nurturing those parts of your identity that were emotionally or mentally injured long ago. This means that we look within to rebuild that part of ourselves. We all have this innate power to overcome obstacles, setbacks, and past hurts. For some, this ability might be buried a bit deeper than others…and that’s okay! We’re all uniquely wired and, as humans, we simply have differing experiences and thresholds for situations.

It’s worth noting that our inner child can’t be “fixed”. Once it’s done, the damage and its effects are irreversible. Here’s the good news, though: Wounds can heal…it just takes some awareness, a willingness to explore the innards of your psyche, and time. Yes, time. This shift doesn’t happen overnight. In fact, it could take years for the inner child to feel safe enough to come out to play. It’s about telling the inner child what it needed to be told all those years ago, but now it gets said by you – the adult you. The adult you is taking care of the child in you. Thus, the timeframe in which this connection is made may be longer for those who aren’t at all in touch with their youthful side.

Accept that your inner child exists. It needs the adult you to acknowledge its thoughts and feelings back then, as well as to validate, normalize, embrace, and teach it how to successfully function and live in today’s world. By taking care of your inner child, its demands are met. It no longer seeks to make an appearance in a boisterous way, as there’s no need. The adult you, then, is able to become more mature and whole. If the sheer thought of doing inner child work produces discomfort or conjures traumatic memories, it’s probably a good idea to seek some support. Becoming an emotionally healthy “child” helps you to become an emotionally healthy adult.

TAKE-AWAY: Over the next couple of weeks, if you’re overcome with emotion, take a moment to reflect if it was your inner child making an appearance. If so, make time to give loving thoughts and offer comfort to the child you (e.g., such as saying “You are loved” or “You’re sweet, just as you are.”). Also, allow yourself to have moments of silliness and spontaneity. Strive to fully and authentically be in the moment, whether you’re alone or with others. Play some of the same games, do the same activities, and sing the same songs you enjoyed back in the day – chances are if you liked them then, you’ll enjoy them today. Our inner child exists in order to remind us to be playful, love life, and to not take it so seriously!