We all have an inner child – the unconscious part of us that, despite our biological growth, has not matured psychologically and continues to feel and react like a child. Taking shape from our childhood experiences of being judged, belittled or neglected, it becomes a storehouse of our unresolved emotions. As an adult, how we interact with this inner child directly influences the quality of our effectiveness, relationships and happiness.
An integral part of our emotional personality, this inner child subliminally interferes with, and reacts to, all our conscious thoughts, actions and circumstances. As a result, arising instinctively, emotions of regret, guilt, anger, fear and anxiety routinely flood our mind.
Unfortunately, no different from dysfunctional parenting, our mental chatter continues to subconsciously feed the wounds of our inner child – what if I lose my job in this economic downturn; hope my daughter makes it to the right college, what kind of a parent would I appear to be if she doesn’t; what if my last professional move turns out to be a mistake, all my peers would think poorly of me; I am not smart, confident, attractive or fun enough.
Understanding the inner child’s reactions and our response
The inner child reacts from its unmet emotional needs of the past, particularly those that have got reinforced over time. Unless our adult self is able to acknowledge and consciously heal these, they continue to shape our emotional reactions. Here are three commonly dominant needs of the inner child:
1. Need to be perfect. Acquired largely through childhood experiences, where our parents, teachers or peers may have repeatedly judged us against examples of perfection, the inner child forms the belief that for us to be loved and experience a good life, we need to be perfect. The workplace may only bolster this belief. Any mistake then is a recurring source of regret and any uncertainty of the future a trigger for anxiety. We then blame and dislike ourselves for not being perfect.
2. Need for social approval. We are social animals and usually derive a large chunk of our self-identity from how we are perceived by others – starting with friends and parents as a child and colleagues and peers as we get older. Any event that appears to carry a risk of disrupting our desired equation with our social network generates streams of negative emotions within. We then judge ourselves and consider ourselves to be inadequate.
3. Need for certainty. We crave for greater certainty of the future. As children, we are keen to know what kind of an adult would we become, what profession would we pursue, what kind of relationships would we form – a trend that only gets reinforced with time. Unfortunately, other than the universal laws of nature, almost nothing in life is predictable. Further, prodded by modern social ethos to assumes that we are the sole architects of our future (whether for our health, career or financial success), we put an unusual amount of pressure on ourselves to shape it. Given that life’s outcomes still remain uncertain, our inability to control them feeds the inner child and creates further fear, anxiety and stress. When the outcomes don’t live upto our expectations, we are hard on ourselves and disapprove ourselves for not trying, or being smart, enough.
Impact on your inner child
If your child experienced a setback or was anxious about something, how would you best support them? Imagine if your conversation with them were rooted in doubt, fear, distrust and criticism – inadvertently reminding them of their inadequacies and disapproving of their thoughts and behaviour. Hard to envision how that would be supportive to the child’s happiness or emotional health. But this is exactly how we subconsciously relate with our inner child.
Needless to say, besides not letting the inner child mature, it leads to stress and release of cortisol that impacts our physical health, immune system and emotional well-being. Such negative inner chatter reinforces insecurity within that rubs off in our behaviour as well as our relationships.
The author Rajiv Vij is a life and executive coach and author of Discovering your sweet spot: a soul-searching guide for creating the life you really want
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