A Family Lives Inside of Us: A Guide to More Happiness and Better Relationships

At a training in Minneapolis these past four days, I learned a lot about the inner child and inner adult we all carry inside of us. And I learned how incredibly healing it can be if we can find a way of nurturing and making the environment safe for our inner child. For some of us we still carry the hurt and pain of our childhood in a part of ourselves as adults.

It made me realize how much we may listening to our wounded child instead of the responsible and calm adult part of us. So what if we were to find a way to soothe and comfort our child part that was criticized and abused as a 5-year old or as a 16-year old? How much joy and fulfillment could we really experience in ourselves and in our relationships when we lead with our adult self and not our child parts?

Well, I say there is an immense opportunity for growth and transformation by doing so. Take for example the husband who approaches his wife after looking at the latest Visa bill: “What is this! How many times have we talked about keeping our spending in line? We can’t afford this!” So who is speaking here? Is it the adult part who asks for what he needs, feels safe, makes requests and says how he feels? Or is it the inner child angry and bitter from the years of neglect and criticism?

And here is the wife’s response: “I didn’t want to tell because you would be mad.” There is silence after the exchange, and they then walk away from each other. The wife learned at a young age to withdraw and be quiet when her mother raged at her. So how do we find a way of leading with our adult brain during stress and conflict? Here are some ideas:

  1. Be aware of who is speaking. An accelerated heart rate and heavy breathing may be indicating the inner child is leading the way. Take a deep breath and take a break from a stressful exchange to allow for the adult self to come forward.

  2. Find some way of treating the traumatic events of the past. A local therapist can help. Trauma treatment approaches like EMDR can be a really big help in healing childhood traumas and therefore allowing the inner child to feel safe and nurtured.

  3. Allow the adult part to soothe and comfort the child part. Take some time to look inside and imagine your adult part attuning and speaking to your child part. Have your adult part reassure the child part that it is safe. You now have the opportunity to parent your inner child in ways that perhaps you as a child did not get from your caregiver!

  4. Imagine your inner child standing behind your adult self as you engage with another person. Notice how much calmer, patient and empathic you now feel when interacting with a friend, a co-worker, or a family member.

So there are adult and child parts inside of you. And under stress, allow your adult self to step forward and find a way to “tuck in” in your inner child for the moment. And I bet you will see a big change in how you feel about yourself and how you relate to those you love.