On my journey of healing my relationship with food and my body one of the most profound concepts that was introduced to me, is inner child work. For those who don’t know, we all have an inner child within us. This part of us developed beliefs and fears, as well as different behaviours to keep her safe. Until we bring this part of us out of the subconscious, she will often sabotage our efforts to create a behaviour change. I talked all about Self-Sabotage in my last blog post. In today’s post I’m going to share more about the inner child and how we can get into relationship with her.
Our inner child has so much leverage over us, because she’s actually been with us longer.
I’m 34 right now so my inner child has been with me for 34 years, whereas the more evolved part of me has only been around for maybe 10 years (if that! Ha!). So when we look at it this way we can see how our inner child would know more about us. At some point along the way we abandon our inner child, which also contributes to the abandonment wound we all carry. This is a topic for another post though.
Until we do the work of discovering our inner child her fears, beliefs and coping mechanisms run the show.
Enter binge eating. It’s so common to turn to food as a child to self-soothe and deal with pain. We are taught we need to get rid of pain as soon as possible, whether it’s physical pain or emotional pain. Emotional pain includes anxiety, fear, sadness, anger, etc. Food is the most socially acceptable, readily accessible drug in the world and we learn to use it to self-soothe. Often our parents or caregivers taught us this by giving us food when we were sad, acting out, etc.
Inner child work is not about pointing the finger or blaming our parents. They did the best they could with what they were given. We’re now living in a world where we have more information at our fingertips than they did, so it’s easier for us to do this work. No matter how amazing your childhood was, it’s impossible for your parents to meet all your needs. As children we can metabolize certain incidents as trauma in our bodies and this creates an inner child wound that as adults, continues to get triggered and leads to us reacting in different ways if we aren’t aware of it.
Some of these childhood wounds can include not feeling heard, not feeling loved, not being accepted, not having a sense of autonomy, not feeling safe, not being allowed to express authentically, thinking we’re dumb, etc. Only with exploration will you discover what you’re wounds are.
Once we have this awareness we get to meet our inner child’s needs internally and reparent her.
I’ll share an example with you of one of the first times I was able to integrate my adult self (evolved woman) with my inner child and meet her needs internally when I experienced a trigger. I came into work one day at my old job and I’d just been moved into an office with 6 desks, instead of the 2 desks I was used to. One of my co-workers had moved a garbage can and put it right in front of my desk and actually in my way. This co-workers energy always seemed to agitate me as she was anxious and seemed to be constantly seeking control. This created a visceral reaction in my body.
When I came in that morning and saw that garbage can by my desk, I immediately felt triggered and noticed tension coil up in my stomach. I moved the garbage can back to where it was and as I stood at my stand-up desk I was observing this reaction within myself. I let myself feel what I was experiencing and asked myself why that insignificant act, in the grand scheme of things, had created such a reaction within me. I asked what the lesson was. I know that when I feel triggered it’s always an opportunity to go deeper into healing a wound. What I realized is that it had triggered that wound around feeling like others were trying to control me and I had no autonomy. It also mirrored back to me that at times I still externalize the overwhelm I feel internally by trying to control things outside of me too.
With this awareness I was able to connect to my breath to calm my nervous system. I let my inner child know that she was safe and that I wouldn’t let anyone take away her autonomy or control her. I let her know she was free to be who she was and on my break I took her for a walk outside. On that walk I resourced the feelings and safety and love in my body, so that she could feel the truth in my words. This is the important piece of inner child work. It can be easy to stay up in our heads about inner child work, but the magic happens when we drop into our body and feel.
Without the awareness and understanding I have about my inner child now, I may have become defensive or shut down in the example I shared. This would have also been an incident that would have led to binge eating in the past. I wouldn’t have known what was going on in my internal environment or even have fully been aware of what I was feeling. Subconsciously I would have wanted to suppress that anxiety and fear my body was feeling.
To heal our relationship with food and our body, we need to come back home to our bodies.
The thing is, our inner child is afraid to be in our bodies because she didn’t know how to deal with all the feelings. At the same time, we connect with our inner child through sensation in our body. So we get to simultaneously work together with her and create safety so that we can deepen our relationship and become embodied. A great place to start with the inner child is starting by communicating with her and asking her what she needs and how you can love her more.
It might take time before you get a response but it’s important to keep showing up. A powerful tool to allow your inner child to emerge is play. So often we’ve suppressed our inner child’s desire for play and become so serious as adults. When we’re in the energy of play it’s easier to connect with the inner child part of us. Think back to how you used to love playing as a child. For me I loved swimming and playing in the forest. I also loved to sing and dance.
The beautiful thing is that once we have awareness and a connection with this part of us, we’re able to step back when our inner child’s fears or beliefs are showing up and soothe her. We’re able to look at the need that’s not being met and meet that need ourselves so that we don’t turn to behaviours to meet her need. Then we’re able to connect to our truth and move forward from that place, rather than allowing the wounded inner child to run the show.
Another way to uncover the inner child is to look at all the behaviours that aren’t in alignment, anything you feel shame about or ways in which you see yourself doing/saying things to get something from others. You can guarantee your inner child is trying to have a need met with all of these. Get curious about what the need is and how you can meet it internally. The journey of rediscovering your inner child, building a relationship with her and learning how to meet her needs internally is a powerful one and one I go in depth with with the client’s I work with. So I’m curious, how are you going to add more play into your life so that you can start building that relationship with your inner child?