Updated: Dec 17, 2021
Anyone who knows me, knows that Christmas time is my favorite time of year.
It’s special to me for all the reasons you might guess; the hope and joy that accompanies the Reason for the Season. The opportunity to gather with friends and family for holiday parties- made even more meaningful this year, as last Christmas was void of such celebrations.
Hearts are a little bigger, and generosity levels increase during this season of giving. And let’s not forget all those lights and decorations! Around here, when I say we go “all out” with the yule-tide spirit, I mean it. Just walk into one of our bedrooms or bathrooms and you’ll know it’s true. I’ve been told Hallmark could film a Countdown to Christmas special at our home. (Hey, Hallmark! Are you listening?)
Even my wardrobe alters slightly with Christmas-themed shirts and jewelry. Just today, I wore one of my favorites, a long-sleeved cranberry number with beautifully scripted letters on the front that reads,
“May you never be too old to search the skies on Christmas Eve.”
I’m fairly certain the designer intended it as a nod to Santa and his sleigh, pulled by those magical caribou (aka reindeer). But to me, it’s also a nod to two other important ideas.
First, it reminds me to search the skies and seek the brightest star as a reminder of the first Christmas star, that inspired wise men to seek Him all those years ago, on a silent, holy night.
But the shirt is also a reminder to pay attention to something else. Or rather--- someone else. I see it as an inspiration to embrace my child within. And what better time to do this, than at Christmas? This hasn’t always been an easy feat for me. There was a time, not so long ago, when my “child within” was off limits; too vulnerable to be listened to or trusted. Until I realized that she was the key to much of the freedom I was so desperately seeking.
The Power of Inner-Child Work
According to the CPTSD Foundation, “Inner children… hold all the memories and emotions, good or bad, that we experienced as children. These learned messages were incurred when we were helpless and dependent on our caregivers. These inner children absorb all the negative and harmful words and actions of those who were supposed to keep us safe. Once wounded, these inner kids negatively influence who we are as adults, holding enormous power over our relationships and decisions.”
This was profoundly true in my own story. It is something that echoed through the generations before me, as well. It’s also important work I get the privilege of doing with my clients. There is encouraging research that points to powerful results of inner-child work in terms of enhancing trauma-recovery and learning to create safe and healthy relationships in our adult lives. But this precious younger self we carry with us must be approached and handled carefully. The work to heal and integrate can be done alone, but the journey is best taken with a trained and knowledgeable empathetic helper.
The idea of acknowledging and listening to our inner-child might feel counter-intuitive to our adult-self. We often think we’re supposed to “grow up” and get on with life. But the problem is that growing up in an effective way that allows us to “get on with life” from a healthy perspective, can only fully happen if we were able to get what we needed as children. Without having those needs met, our ability to have healthy relationships and perspectives; to be emotionally regulated and secure in our identity, is stunted. We might not realize this, because for most of us who didn’t get our developmental needs met as kids, we became gifted in the art of coping to minimize and deny our needs and over-functioning through codependency and perfectionism.
The Cost of Denial
For the most part, when we talk about denial of needs as a kid, we think in terms of emotional and mental needs. However, the implications of growing up in an environment lacking in nurture and validation can not only have emotional and mental implications, but physical and even spiritual implications, as well. As holistic beings, it stands to reason that deficit in one area can cause challenges in other areas. The good news is that healing in one area can cause healing in other areas, too!
While working with our inner child can look different for each of us, there are some core tenets that will ring true for the majority of those who decide to embark on this incredibly important journey.
Reparenting. Reparenting is a term that simply means to offer love, guidance and support to yourself in the present which you didn’t receive as a child. It is a critical piece to building trust in yourself and giving your inner child a safe space to release some of those harmful experiences in childhood. It can also go a long way in helping us make healthier choices for ourselves in relationships and decisions overall.
Validation. Arguably the most important “first step” to successful inner-child work is validation. With this comes empathy and compassion. It’s your adult-self’s willingness to “get eye level” with the child you hold within and validate the emotions you felt—perhaps still feel, regarding your experiences as a young one. When we tell our inner child that we believe them, and that what happened to them wasn’t their fault, the natural progression in this validation is that in the present, we are able to say, “It makes sense that I would feel this way given my experiences.”
Curiosity. Another tenet of inner child work that goes a long way in opening us up to all sorts of new experiences in our lives is curiosity. While employing curiosity about what remains unresolved or hidden within us can help us heal, it also helps us stay out of defensiveness and judgment. Curiosity says, “tell me more,” and “this is important--- I want to listen.” In cases where childhood trauma(s) was present, this in and of itself is likely to be a new experience for our inner child. Perhaps even for us as adults, too.
Play. Lastly, and perhaps my favorite part to implement in this work is, a sense of play. Play is essential to a child. It is the method through which, as kids, we develop our reasoning, problem solving and critical thinking. It’s how we try on different personas, express who we are and explore who we might become. But for many of us, play wasn’t encouraged, and sometimes, it was a luxury we couldn’t afford.
If secure play was absent from our childhood, we missed out on a very important developmental experience--- one that, believe it or not, we still need.
Granted, play might look different as an adult, but there are still ways to allow our inner child to engage in this life-affirming, creativity building exercise. Building, drawing, playing in the sand are a few ways we can express ourselves through play as adults. And if you need more convincing, you can check out some of the research on the importance of play as adults as it relates to creative problem solving, reduction of stress and better emotional regulation. *
There’s just one more thing I want to add in closing. Because I am a person of faith (for me, defined as a faith in God), I want to emphasize the value God places on children, lest we become too quick to try and silence our inner child. God tells us that children are a blessing (Psalm 127). He draws them to Himself and commands adults against despising them (Matthew 18). In fact, Jesus said the Kingdom of God belongs to them (Mark 10).
If you felt despised as a child or treated as less than the spectacular blessing that you were and still are, I’m so sorry that was your experience. Know that your parents or caregivers’ inability to treat you as you deserved was not your fault, nor was it God’s plan. You deserved better.
But you know what?
You now have the chance to offer your inner child everything they needed and wanted but didn’t receive. You get to be the one to help them heal. To let them feel loved. To affirm their worth and offer them support. What better time than at Christmas to set your inner child free to experience the joy and wonder the season holds?
Search your inner skies. The brightest star is waiting.
There are many reliable articles on the subject of inner-child work and the benefits it holds for adults. There are also some great resources out there, too. Generations Deep: Unmasking Inherited Dysfunction and Trauma to Rewrite Our Stories Through Faith and Therapy explores how unhealthy patterns can repeat in families and the impact of developmental trauma throughout the lifespan. The book explores some ideas on how to help our inner child heal, along with some thoughts on how to choose a counselor to help you on your journey. You can also check out The Inner Child Workbook by Cathryn Taylor for even more practical exercises for this important work.