July 09, 2009


Helping Your Inner Child Help You

Alice Miller in, Pictures of Childhood, refers to the "child within me." John Bradshaw, in Healing The Shame That Binds You, talks about "liberating your lost inner child."

There are entire books dedicated to "the inner child." One author, Lucia Capacchione, talks about becoming more creative, intuitive and playful by getting in touch with him/her in Recovery of Your Inner Child. This book's got great inner child exercises that are easy to do and I highly recommend it.

Even medical doctors are hopping on the "inner child" band wagon.
Charles L. Whitfield, M.D. has written Healing the Child Within for adult children of dysfunctional families. Many of these books are listed at my Survivors Can Thrive! dot com site's Resources section, "Books for Survivors," with direct links to Amazon dot com.

But who is this inner child and why would we--as abuse and assault survivors--want to get to know him or her? I get asked this question a lot. I've also been asked to write about this topic for a guest post that will appear soon over at Michele's blog about healing PTSD.

Actually, this is one of my favorite "healing and therapy" topics. I love talking about my inner child!

But, this topic wasn't always so rosy for me. One of my earlier therapists back in Illinois asked me to pull out a photograph of myself as a baby. As soon as I got on my reading glasses and really looked into my tiny little face in this photo, I began to sob. Immediately, I realized that my vulnerable, precious, innocent child self was holding immense pain.

In those early days of therapy, I did not want to look at my inner child. Her pain just scared me too much. I thought that I would get lost in it; it would swallow me whole.

I can definitely relate to the idea of the inner child as the "exile" in the book, The Mosaic Mind,
as well as in the Internal Family Systems model of therapy developed by Richard Schwartz PhD. For me, my wounded inner child was long ago exiled to a land far away so that I could get things done, get good grades, be successful, appear reliable and dependable...and not look like I was "crazy" or a "loser."

I have "firefighter" parts (another IFS term) who have gone to great, dysfunctional lengths to keep these fearful, sad, lonely, abandoned exile parts quiet. I've run away in dissociative fugues, I've drank myself into a stupor, I've had sex with questionable partners, I've binged on chocolate and I've spent too much money.

But, the exiled, dissociated, cut-off inner child won't stay quiet forever. She's got a message to deliver, a debt that needs to be paid.

At first, I had no idea what it was she was trying to tell me. I was so cut off from my feelings (and my own body) that I could not listen to them, nor honor them. When I went down to the Colin Ross trauma unit in Dallas a few years ago, I was shocked and dismayed to be given a handout of "feeling words" that contained columns of emotion descriptions that I didn't even know were feelings! Now, I'm a writer and I consider myself to have a pretty strong vocabulary, but I just stared at these words at first; they meant nothing to me on any personal level.

But, the folks at the Ross program have their ways. They gave us patients hand-outs with exercises to complete as homework. And, boy, did these get the feelings going! In fact, I had to work with my assigned therapist there to come up with ways that I could pace myself, instead of being completely flooded with the new-found feelings.

If there's anything I've found that helps get in touch with that sometimes-illusive inner child it is FEEL THE FEELINGS! I recommend that you work with a qualified, experienced therapist in order to succeed at this without re-traumatizing yourself.

But, what I really want to talk about here is how to comfort your inner child. If you're like me and you never had any healthy bonding or attachment with your biological mother, there may be some real re-parenting that needs to happen to help your healing.

Some comforting strategies that I've found helpful are easy to do, quite generic and would probably work for most people. I've got an antique rocking chair that I drug out from the basement and positioned prominently in a cozy little reading nook I have in my home. I have an amazingly soft throw blanket that's stationed on the back of the rocker for soothing and warmth. Simply wrapping myself in the soft throw and rocking away works wonders some days. In the summertime, I find the same joy and sweet soothing on my porch swing.

Most folks I've consulted talk about "stuffies," stuffed animals that they find helpful. Now, I find that I'm a little shy about walking around dragging a beloved, raggedy stuffy with me. And most of the stuffed animals I've bought for myself as an adult have ended up being "adopted" by my own son. But, what I have done is reclaimed some of these cushy animals and I've recently given them an honored spot in a beautiful, old baby buggy I found at an antique doll shop. For everyday snuggling and comfort, I keep a small, spotted cat in my bedside drawer. After my husband awakes and exits the bed (he's an early riser), I'll get out my kitty and snuggle with it on days that I feel my inner children need some comfort. This is especially helpful if I've had a night that consisted of any flashbacks, night fears or nightmares.

If you spend some time thinking about how attached many kids get to their beloved stuffed animals, it can give you some hints for other ways of comforting your inner child. Just think of anything that you always wanted as a child. What were some of the things you asked Santa to bring you for Christmas? Remember how the adults in the movie, The Santa Clause, always wanted a "Dream Date" game and an Oscar Mayer wiener whistle?

Now, you don't have to wait for Santa. Go out and get yourself something kid-like that you always dreamed of when you were little. For me, it was a dollhouse. This was something I always wanted and never got when I was little. So, guess what I did? I went to the craft store and purchased an easy-assembly doll house kit and put it together and painted it. Over the past two years, I've been having a ball buying little miniature furniture pieces, potted plants, kitchen items and tiny porcelain dolls for my inner child's doll house. It's a splurge, but it's fun and my inner child is worth it and she deserves it!

Little inner child comforts, treats and pamperings don't have to cost a fortune. They can be easy to come by, but full of rewards. How 'bout getting some colorful sprinkles on that sundae the next time you treat yourself at the ice cream parlor? Why not read yourself a bedtime story while you sit in that rocking chair? Remember the lullaby songs you sang to your child when he or she was an infant? Singing them to your own inner child can be amazingly soothing when your feelings get hurt or you feel wounded or scared in some other way.

Why not buy your inner child some coloring books and some crayons? If you feel embarrassed in the check-out lane, you can always say you're buying these child-like items for a baby shower, child or grandchild. Heck, most people won't even ask, so there's no need to tell. Some friends and neighbors have given me a few curious looks about my doll house, but I just explain that it's a hobby, a creative outlet and--with some trusted others--a gift to my inner child. I've always gotten a smile and a knowing nod or look at the latter explanation.

Comfort food is a whole other category. Why do you think they call it comfort food any way? Maybe because it comforts your inner child! While I love a home-cooked meal of fried chicken and mashed potatoes, I have to be careful with comfort food, because I can have a tendency to binge and to gain too much weight. But, I've found that the simplest little things can qualify as comforting in the food category. Remember those sprinkles I spoke of earlier? I bought myself a little jar of them off the shelf in the baking goods aisle of the grocery store and I give myself a shake of them on a little dip of ice cream now and then. I also like whipped cream for a little treat that tells my inner child, "you're special, you're adorable and I love you." Try a little on your coffee in the morning for a quick, inner child pick-me-up. For a totally low fat comforter, hot herbal tea does wonders.

Some fragrances are "tasty" and comforting, but aren't taken internally at all. No calories there! I especially like honey vanilla lip balm (you can find these at health food stores) and hand lotion with the fragrance of cherry blossoms.

Every person I've ever met with DID (previously MPD) talks about their "littles," or little child parts or alters. I especially like Buffalopine's idea of carrying a small toy in her pocket to soothe her littles. In this blog post, she talks about carrying a Stuart Little key chain with her for an entire year. What inner child wouldn't like a little mouse friend to keep him company?

Speaking of Stuart Little, I've talked to lots of folks who, like myself, really enjoy the inner child treat of watching children's movies. If you're too shy to walk into a children's, G-rated movie without a kid in tow, you can always rent one to watch in the privacy of your own home.

I'm smiling right now just thinking of all these comforting, fun, playful ideas for my inner child recovery program. I can't wait to get off the computer and put some of these ideas into action for my own inner child right away. What would you like to do today to comfort and please your inner child? Don't wait! Get up and do some little thing for your little self right now. And leave me a comment with your favorite inner child comforts, play-date ideas and treats and we'll compile and even bigger list!

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Oh my goodness, this post was such a treat! I've been reading more about inner children and it has clarified for me some of the repressed emotions I feel. I've been thinking of buying a coloring book for ever so long. Now I think I just may have to do it! Thanks!

This comment was from The Issue Knitter

I had to copy and paste it.
(ok, i fixed it, thanks marj :)

what a wonnnnnnderful post marj. this is definitely a great resource page i will come back to and refer people to. i loved the whitfield book and found that one especially helpful to me. i love watching kids movies. even before we had a child, my partner and i would go see cartoon movies in the theatres. i preferred to go in the earlier showings so there would be more kids there. i loved being there and hearing all the kids spontaneous out loud comments!

now that i have a child, i have found my inner child enjoying the things she enjoys right along with her. i rent kids music cd's from the public library and play them in the car. songs like polly wolly doodle, and skip to my lou, i'll be singing along while we drive down the road. it's great.

this is one of my favorite cd's:

then of course there's sesame street. wholesome kids shows with positive loving messages are so healing. messages like "be yourself" "it's ok to be different" and things like that i find especially healing~

a friend of mine said he always wanted a fun toothbrush when he was little but never was allowed such a frivolous purchase, so to comfort his inner child, he went and bought a fun toothbrush with some character on it so that whenever he brushed his teeth, that would be his time to share with his inner child. their time together brushing their teeth. and it really helped him.

thanks again for this post! :)

This comment was from Mountainmama. I had to cut and paste it, too.
oh marj, your post has me thinking so much. i thought of a few more things to say on this subject, i hope it's ok i'm going on here :)

i was thinking about how you said at first to think about your inner child made you sad and so it was hard to start that inner child work. i wanted to add that for me, anger is what it brought up. if anyone suggested years ago that i drive around in my car singing kids songs, or wear my hair in braids, or wear a shirt with stars on it, or sleep with a rainbow pillowcase, or splash around my backyard in the sprinkler, i would have thought - are you crazy? whenever i saw other adults acting childlike (as opposed to childish) i was always immediately internally angry in some part of me. why don't they act their age, don't they realize how silly they look? and you know, it's because in my household we weren't allowed to be kids. my brother was the clown and was punished for being silly and goofing off. i think i learned quickly that we needed to act like grown-ups, be serious and that sort of thing. when i was a child and other adults treated me like a child, it infuriated me. don't they know i'm not a child, i thought? i never felt comfortable around other kids. i felt like i didn't know how to play, or be spontaneous.

what brought me to be able to get back in touch with my inner child was finding people i could feel completely comfortable to be my complete self with. i could be as serious as i was, as i needed to be. and i felt safe. and only with those people did i all of a sudden feel comfortable being silly around. feeling free to talk in the movie theatre, laugh, dance around my room, but all these things came later. at first it was just a timid joke or two :)

good luck to everyone out there finding your safe spaces, to let your inner child out to play and feel protected and free~

thank you again marj, so much for this~ :)
Issue Knitter: Thanks for visiting my blog. I will come by yours as well. I still have the link. And, yes, I think you should DEFINITELY get that coloring book.

Mountainmama: Don't worry about going on. That's what I was hoping for: an inner child dialogue here. Actually, you reminded me of a couple of things I could have written...but there are so many ideas and I didn't want to make the post too long. I bought myself a spin brush toothbrush and when my little parts want me to use it they say, "we want the buzzy brush!" Also, you mention finding the safe spaces and that's been so important for my inner child healing too: visualizing a safe place.

We could go on about this for a long time, huh? I'm glad we've got a stimulating subject! Thanks!
Hi Marj,
Thank you so much for your encouraging and sweet comments over at my blog. I loved hearing from you and I would be honored if you would link to me. I am so happy here in this community of Thivers. It is such a safe place. We all know how important "safe" is.

I found this post so timely and spot on, I agree with you, I just couldn't believe you were writing about how to take care of the inner child on the same day I wrote about her.

The first time I went through very tough parts of healing my children where all little and frankly it was overwhelming.

Now, one of my favorite things to do to play with her is play with my two year old grandson. We have so much fun. I just revel in how I am able to stay in the moment and love doing things that little ones love to do.

I have cats, cats were a big trigger for me last time around. When I am tired and resting they have been coming and snuggling right up to me, much more than usual, my own living stuffys.

I am going to try some more of the ideas from the post, you are so contagious it is hard not to want too!

Take Care and Have fun everyone.
Thank you so very much for this post. As long as I can remember I wanted to have a Teddy baer. Soft, cuddle, ensuring I have someone to confide in, share pain and it would mean I never would be alone anymore. I will get my Teddy bear.

Thousands thanks across the pond
Mountainmamma, I can totally relate to what you said about having to be serious. Seriousness as a child in my parents household didn't exactly bring about praise, but it did help you to stay out of trouble most of the time... it helped you to be, or at lewast to feel, invisible.

When I first met my husband I told him I was 'too uptight' to make jokes, to laugh at other peoples or do anything that risked me 'making a fool of myself'.

That was the first time I ever admitted that I was 'uptight', that my seriousness might not be my superiority. Before I admitted that to myself I just hated everyone for their 'silliness' and 'stupidity'.

Since then I have come on leaps and bounds... my husband buys me a lot of the things that comfort my inner child... like 'stuffies'! I have loads of them, and I'm still getting more ;)

I also have a duvet, with a Garfield cover on it, that I curl up in whenever I'm feeling fragile... with Eddie, my favourite 'stuffie'.

We have lots of kids DVDs, Snoopy is a favourite, Scooby Doo, Top Cat, Spongebob. People look at us weird when they see them on our shelves, amongst all my arthouse and horror DVDs, but we both love curling up and watching them together. And they're great when I'm home alone and need to feel comforted.

One thing I do really crave is a dollshouse. I play the Sims alot, but that's not quite the same as having a real world dollshouse. I think I'd like making bits a peices for it too.

I always loved the idea of having some Sylvanian Families.

But I'm not quite ready to go that far yet... perhaps one day!

Colouring books are another great idea.

Vicki: I will definitely get up a link to you today, thanks! And thanks for some great ideas in your comment. Hooray for inner child comforting!

Paula: You definitely deserve that teddy bear. I hope you go and get an especially cute and snuggly one today!

Ruth: Thanks for visiting and giving us some great ideas. I love the thought of you and your hubby snuggling on the couch and watching Scooby Doo! :)
I loved this post so much.I always love what you write,but I especially love hearing about inner children.I can totally relate to giving up my toys to my son when he was younger.But sometimes he would give me one of his toys.Even now that I have been healed of DID for almost a year now, I still honor my inner child and do special things for them. A favorite thing to do, is make warm pudding for them. They love it. Or if a question will pop into my head that they would've wanted an answer for- I go ahead and ask it. If I'm buying clothes or shoes, I like to let them pick something. I will watch cartoons, even if my son isn't watching them. I will go to the store later& buy an icecream sandwich.Special stuff for them, to acknowledge them and help them feel the world is safer. And I'm learning the world really is safer than I ever imagined.
The other night, I couldn't sleep, so I played a lullaby. I slept better than I had in a long time. I try to let my inner child be spontaneous and fun and do things that help them feel loved and comforted.
Again, thankyou for all you do to help people. I appreciate that & I appreciate you.

buffalopine: thanks for the comment. Mmmmm! Warm pudding sounds like a great inner child treat. I'm so glad the world is turning out to be a safer place for you. Safe hugs to you my dear. (((((((Buffalopine))))))))
Great post Marj!

My inner child wants to be a dare-devil. My inner child wants a skateboard. Alas my partner doesnt want me to have one in case I break a bone.
Your posts always make me think about my own healing.

My inner child is still hiding behind the darkness, but is learning and compiling ways to cope when she does come out.
One more thing.. do you have a link to become a "follower"? I've looked but didn't see one.

I too would be honored if you linked me!
Feel the Feelings! Going through it now Marj. Inner child experiences for me is hard, something I really never had to do until now.

Great informational post as well dear one for you to share. Thank you.

Blessings and (((Marj)))
I love this post. Thank you so much. Really touched what I am dealing with right now.

You asked about me doing the July Carnival. I would be delighted. Did you hear that? Delighted. Wow, that felt good.

I was working on catching up on reading others posts. I haven't been really out there for a while, and much of what they are writing is helping me so much.

Tell me what to do. How??? I am checking out Cornuts June Carnival right now.

Talk to you soon.
Kahless: Yeah, stay safe. I've broken two ribs in the past two years and it's no fun. I pacify my daredevil inner child with playing my son's Guitar Hero game and listening to rock and roll!

Lisa Marie: Thanks for visiting and leaving your comments. I hope your inner child can come out into the light more often. I don't have the new layout design of Blogger's that has the "follow" link because I switched over and lost a lot of stuff, so I switched back to the old template format. I put up a link to your blog, though.

JBR: blessings to you on your inner child journey. I know the feelings can be tough sometimes.

Mile 191: Oh, that's great news! Let's see, do I have your e-mail address? I don't think so. I'll come to your blog and leave you my e-mail in a comment.
hi marj, i noticed one of your commenters asked for the way to "follow" your blog. and i wanted to say to both of you that this confused me too when i couldn't find the "follow" column on people's blogs. i finally realized though that you don't need that. if you look up at the very top of the page you can see a button that says "follow blog".

i'd hate people to miss out on getting to follow your wonderful blog!

Thanks for an amazing post!

Inner child topics are one of my favorites as well!

I love how eloquently you covered so many aspects and ideas for inner child work..this is a wonderful resource for survivors!

I'm currently readint the book Internal family systesm therapy, Richard Schwartz...my T suggested it, and loaned it to me...I haven't finished it, but the conflicting personalities agruing with one another really felt right to me.
~ Grace
...and I wish I could learn to 'embrace' my inner child - but I still cannot accept her, or feel anything but loathe right now
mountainmama: Oh, I never noticed that button up there before. Thanks! You're so sweet to encourage people to follow my blog.

Nancy: Nice to "see" you! Yeah, I love the inner child subject...now anyway. But, it took a while.

Grace: yeah, I think Scwartz is the one who I heard about the "exile" the "firefighter" and the "manager" parts from. Makes so much sense when I look at my PTSD and dissociative behavior. I wish my inner child could come out and hug your inner child right now. Safe hugs always ((((((Grace))))))
thanks...me, too :-(
Grace: You're welcome. I guess we'll just have to be satisfied with cyber hugs, so here are some more for you: (((((((((((((Grace)))))))))))))
Thanks so much for this post, Marj. You were the one who suggested "Recovery of the Inner Child" at CCS, and I greatly appreciated that. It is a wonderful book.

I myself have suffered severe dissociation, anxiety, and repression of some very intense rage. I've been in therapy for over 25 years, recovering from PTSD and Personality Disorder. It is truly a remarkable journey. My parents were loving at times, but expected us to act JUST LIKE THEM, serious, judgemental, not be ourselves (in addition to abusive comments and actions). My brother "got out" by taking his life at 14, and at 12 I was unable to process it (am still working on that at 45).

I am not glad, but relieved to see others here who are working on reparenting and finding their Inner Child. I do the serious work that needs to be done in therapy, but you've helped me understand more here about reading myself children's books, watching kids' movies (don't have kids, sadly, but enjoy the movies very much anyway). I need to refocus on having more fun, playing the piano more, coloring, and so on.

Thanks, Marj.
Thanks so much for this post, Marj. You were the one who suggested "Recovery of the Inner Child" at CCS, and I greatly appreciated that. It is a wonderful book.

I myself have suffered severe dissociation, anxiety, and repression of some very intense rage. I've been in therapy for over 25 years, recovering from PTSD and Personality Disorder. It is truly a remarkable journey. My parents were loving at times, but expected us to act JUST LIKE THEM, serious, judgemental, not be ourselves (in addition to abusive comments and actions). My brother "got out" by taking his life at 14, and at 12 I was unable to process it (am still working on that at 45).

I am not glad, but relieved to see others here who are working on reparenting and finding their Inner Child. I do the serious work that needs to be done in therapy, but you've helped me understand more here about reading myself children's books, watching kids' movies (don't have kids, sadly, but I enjoy them very much anyway). I need to refocus on having more fun, playing the piano more, coloring, and so on.

Thanks, Marj.
Oops! I see that Anonymous and Carol are the same, but I don't know how to delete the anonymous comment. Thank you so much, Carol, for coming and commenting at my blog and sharing in this way. I appreciate it so much and I wish you many blessings as you continue your healing journey.
This was just some information I was looking for! Thanks
I have posted the links for the Blog Carnival. Will you check it out and make sure it is okay? I feel a bit naive in how to do it. Thanks for the opportunity!
Mile 191: I checked just a bit ago but I must have just missed it. I'm sure it's great, but I'll be right over. Thanks!
Oh, Wanda: I'm so glad...and you're welcome. I'm so happy to think I can maybe be of some help.
Marj, you listed some great resource books in the beginning of your post. I have read most of them when I started doing inner child work.

Years ago a friend and I put our hair in pig tails and put on shorts, tee shirts and tennis shoes and had a girls' day out where we played. We went to a petting zoo and several other places like that. It was probably the first time, as a too-serious adult, that I learned to play. I loved it. That friend was killed a few years later. I will never forget that day of joy and laughter that she gave to me.

I have a shelf in my bedroom that is lined with all of the stuffed animals that I have bought for my inner little girl. For about 5 years, my husband shared our bed with me and my stuffed panda bear that I named Rascal. That panda bear was my way of learning to love my inner child. I would go to sleep for those 5 years hugging that panda bear. My husband was a sweetheart and never complained or made fun of me.

The last stuffed toy that I bought myself was a beautiful tiger. It is the only rather expensive stuffed animal that I own. I love tigers. They represent strength and power to me.
Thanks so much for sharing this, Patricia. And thanks for coming back to check out this old post. I LOVE talking about inner child comforts and pleasures! I'm glad you joined in with yours. :) hugs xxxxx
I enjoyed reading this again. Thanks for sharing it in the Blog Carnival Against Child Abuse. I am smiling. So is my inner child.
It's nice to have a little lighter inner child post to read, isn't it? Thanks so much, Patricia, for coming back and giving this one a look again.
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