What is this “inner child” we see everywhere on social media and in pop psychology trends?
Do I really have one?
Is this just woo-woo psychology or is there science behind it?
In today's podcast episode we'll discuss this buzzword "inner child" and why it matters. We’ll get into what it means to have an internal family, and the power of memory in shaping who you are. Here’s what we’ll discuss:
1. What is an inner child and do I really have one?
2. Is there any science behind it?
3. What is an internal family?
4. Who is the wise parent inside of you?
5. What does the Bible have to say about our inner child?
6. Enjoy A 10 minute guided reflection to help you connect to a young part of yourself
Key Takeaway: Like a wise parent, we can learn to parent the young parts of us. We can bring them to Jesus who invited the children always to come to him—without shame or judgment.
Questions for reflection:
What is a part of you that frustrates or bothers you?
What might it be like to get curious about that part of you and its history?
Inner Child Archetype, Carl Jung
Mindsight, by Dr. Daniel J. Siegel
Boundaries for your Soul, by Alison Cook and Kimberly Miller
Introduction to Internal Family systems (IFS) by Richard C. Schwartz
Dr. Alison: Hey everyone. I'm Dr. Alison, and I'm so glad you're here to discover what brings out the best of you. This podcast is all about breaking free from painful patterns, mending the past, and discovering our true selves in God. I can't wait to get started as we learn together, how to become the best version of who we are with God's help.
Hey everyone. I am so glad you're back for this sixth episode in our series on psychology buzzwords. So we have two episodes left in this series. And in these last two episodes, I want to talk about two common ways that psychologists use to bring healing to some of these topics, that we've been discussing throughout the series like, codependency trauma, narcissistic wounding, and the toxic effects of gaslighting.
So in these last two episodes, we're going to get into the healing portion of these psychology buzzwords. And today we're going to discuss this buzzword Inner Child. Now, if you've been on social media at all, you probably see this word everywhere. Is it Woo-woo psychology? Is there any science to this? What does the Bible have to say about this? And how does the idea that there is a young part of me deep inside matter? Why is this important? Why is this even being talked about as part of my overall health and healing? We're going to get into all of that.
So what is an Inner Child and do I really have one? Well, this idea of Inner Child was first hypothesized by Psychologist, Carl Jung, very early on in the field of psychology. He originated this idea as a sort of archetype for all of those earliest childhood experiences, that every living soul is born with.
Literally, every unconscious memory that exists within you is still part of you. And, so, it's sort of this catch-all phrase, Inner Child is sort of this catch-all phrase for the entirety of those experiences of yourself as a young child. And lots of psychologists since that time have expanded upon this idea in numerous ways.
But in essence, when you see that word, it's simply a phrase that means that you carry, within you, all of the earliest versions of yourself. In fact, I would say that you don't just have one inner child, we're multifaceted people. And we carry within us all the memories that comprise every prior version of yourself.
So I would say that you have numerous parts of yourself, that represent every aspect of who you've been in your past. As an adult, you still carry every prior version of yourself through the power of your memory. Now here's the science of this, and I'm drawing on the work of psychiatrist and interpersonal neurobiologist, Dan Siegel, primarily from his book Mindsight.
Where he writes about memory and the power of both explicit and implicit memory on who you are today. And what we mean by that is these explicit memories are the memories that you remember.
They're present in your conscious awareness. For example, you might remember the first day you walked into kindergarten. You might remember an early Christmas or an early birthday present. And a lot of times the memories that stick out to us, sometimes, are the really painful ones.
So you might have an early memory of being disappointed or scared. You might have an early memory that you don't even understand why that memory is there, but memory is very powerful. So these explicit memories are the memories that you're aware of, that come to mind.
Now, implicit memories on the other hand are outside of your conscious awareness, but they're embedded deep inside of you. For example, you don't remember the moment you were born and being held by a nurse. You don't remember when you were hungry in the middle of the night and you cried.
You don't remember those things, but the memory of those sensations surrounding those events are embedded inside of you. Memory lives in our neurobiology. It's embedded, it's encoded inside of you. And this is what Dan Siegel unpacks so beautifully in his book Mindsight.
So what's important to remember is these memories, even the ones you don't consciously, quote-unquote, "Remember," are still operating inside your body. They're still influencing your present-day behavior. They prime you, and that's a word that Siegel uses. They prime you. These memories, whether you consciously remember them or not, prime you to anticipate certain responses from the environment around you.
So, for example, if someone held you, when you cried as a baby, whether you remember it consciously or not. Something was encoded inside of you that primes you to anticipate and reach out for comfort when you're scared.
However, if no one comforted you when you cried as a baby, there's a memory that's been encoded inside of you that primes you to expect disinterest, abandonment, isolation, any of those things, when you feel lonely or scared.
And, so, think about it, that's how you're primed, and then your behavior, you act based on that priming. So if no one comforted you, when you were crying or hurting as a child, there's a memory inside of you that primes you when you're hurting now—
"Oh no, one's going to show up for me."
"No one cares about me, I just have to hold that in."
And, so, even though you don't remember the experience that created that priming, that priming still lives inside of you.
So these memories from when you are a child, both implicit, the ones that you don't remember consciously and explicit have a powerful influence in your life today. You carry countless stories, countless memories, of how you were shaped from the moment you were born.
Some of these stories and memories are happy ones. Some of them are so painful that you've buried them far away, where not even you can completely access them. But these memories live inside of you through this encoding that occurs in your neurobiology. And all that psychologists mean when they're using this term, inner child, is your experience of all these memories, that are still operating inside of you and influencing who you are today.
In fact, I would broaden this term inner child to say that you have an entire family living inside of you. And, so, that leads us to what is an internal family? Well, to illustrate what I mean by an internal family, I love the metaphor of a school bus. Let's say your life is like this school bus that's driving along the highway of your life.
The problem is that your fifth-grade self is driving that bus, or maybe it's your 18-year-old-self that's driving that bus. And all the while all these different young parts of you are jockeying for position to take control of the bus of your life. What you don't realize is there's a wise parent, maybe they're asleep at the back of the bus. Maybe all of these young parts of you don't realize there's actually a wise adult, a wise parent, ready to take the wheel of that bus.
But these kids don't know how to let that person get up, go to the front of the bus, take the wheel, and calmly lead the bus of your life.
So this is a picture from my book Boundaries for Your Soul, with Kimberly Miller. It's a book about the internal family systems model therapy, we integrate it with faith. But the idea is that it's not just an inner child that you have. It's that all these prior versions of yourself are constantly coming to the surface, trying to jockey for the lead of your life, and here's an example of what that might look like.
Let's say you have a young sort of adolescent part of you that never really got the wise parenting that you needed and that part of you is still acting out today. You still lose your temper. You still go off on your boss and you haven't figured out how to calmly, and assertively advocate for what you need.
So instead you either fight, you pick a fight that you wish you wouldn't, or maybe you flee, right? Maybe you never speak up for yourself. You never learned how to assert yourself in appropriate ways. And, so, that part of you is driving the bus.
The part of you that learned to just stay quiet, stay timid, stay shy, stay invisible, no one ever needs to notice me. Maybe that's the part of you that's driving the bus of your life, and maybe that part of you goes all the way back to fifth grade, sixth grade. When no one ever taught you how to speak up for yourself, how to advocate for yourself.
No one ever came alongside of that young part of you, to teach you how to be a wise version of yourself. And, so, this idea of an internal family is just that we are still operating out of some of these places inside of us. That didn't get the care, that didn't get the wise parenting, that didn't get the healing that we needed. And the goal of healing, the goal of becoming a whole person is to get to know all these different parts of us, bring them under the leadership of our true self, our spirit-led self.
Which is where the holy spirit lives inside of us, and lead ourselves with authority, with clarity, with calm, with compassion, with curiosity, with courage, all these C words that are part of this spirit-led self, inside the place where God comes to live inside of you.
Now, this is possible. I love this work, this is the work that I do. I will link to Boundaries for Your Soul in the show notes. Because this book spells out this process of connecting to all these different young parts of your soul and learning to lead yourself just as you would lead the children, the real children in your life. Just as you have to parent your own external family, you have to parent your own children. You can learn how to parent this family of parts inside of you.
One of the best illustrations of this, if you haven't seen it, it's a kid's movie, but it's called Inside Out, it's a Pixar movie. And in the movie, the young girl has to move and there's all these different parts of hers that get stirred up. She's fearful, she's sad, she's angry, and there's also this really, happy, joyful part of her that's constantly trying to take over control, and tell her, "Everything is fine. She shouldn't feel all of these other ways."
But the truth is the whole sort of, spoiler alert, the whole sort of message of the movie is that each of these parts of her is valuable. That it's okay to feel fear. It's okay to feel sad about what she left behind. It's even okay to feel angry, and it's also okay to feel joy. That all of these parts work together, but she's got to learn how to take charge of the steering wheel of her life. She's got to learn how to lead these different emotions, these different parts of her, not the other way around.
So inner child work really gets at this. It's how do we learn how to re-parent ourselves? How do we learn how to give those parts of us that feel ignored, that feel unseen, that wanted to act out to get attention, but that never really worked but we're still doing it? How do we learn to parent these parts of ourselves that never got that wise on-the-ground parenting that we all need?[00:12:39] < Music >.
All right, so I'm going to give you an exercise today, a guided reflection that you can, actually, walk through in real-time to access one of these young parts of you. But before we go there, I just briefly want to touch on what the Bible has to say about this idea of an inner child.
First of all, Jesus had a lot to say about children and I want to read this passage out loud to you. This passage is from the book of Mark 10:13-16 this is the Message version. "The people brought children to Jesus, hoping He might touch them. The disciples shooed them off. But Jesus was irate and let them know it: 'Don’t push these children away. Don’t ever get between them and me. These children are at the very center of life in my kingdom.' Then, gathering the children up in His arms, He laid His hands of blessing on them."
And this is such a powerful passage. A couple of things are happening here, number one, Jesus is centering the children. And if you think about it, children are among the most vulnerable in any society, in any culture, they represent vulnerability, literally. Jesus is for the children. Jesus is for the people who need care and who need His love the most. There's no judgment. There's no shaming.
And while this is true, literally, Jesus is for the most vulnerable in society, literally, it's also true about these young parts of you. You might have a young 12-year-old part of you that did things you're ashamed of.
That young 12-year-old part of you needed care, needed love, needed wise parenting, needed healthy boundaries. It didn't need shame. It didn't need condemnation, didn't need self-hatred.
Maybe there's a young five-year-old part of you that was neglected, that no one ever took the time to notice. That young part of you needed love, needed care, needed to be seen, and valued, and honored, and that's how Jesus sees those parts of you. Whether they're parts of you that you feel shame about. Whether they're parts of you that just feel so small that nobody ever saw, and you've begun to tell yourself—
"Maybe I just didn't matter."
"Maybe I wasn't important enough for an adult, for a parent to take care of me."
"Maybe I acted out because nobody was seeing me and I was trying to get attention."
Whatever it is, whatever those young parts of you, that inner child, that still lives inside of you through the power of your memory. Jesus says, "Let the children come. Let that part of you come to me. There's no shame in me. I want to lay my hands on that part of you. That part of you is precious. I want to bring that part of you into the light. I want to bring that young part of you into my presence, where you can get the care, and the nurturing, and the love, and the physical affection that you needed and didn't get."
So that's what Jesus says, and the truth is there's a process here of learning to connect through these memories, through this work, to these young parts of us that didn't get the care that they need. Connecting to them with compassion and becoming our own wise parent. Parenting our own inner children, our own internal family through two powerful words. Number one, Getting Curious. Number two, Compassion.
When we get curious about ourselves, when we get curious about these parts of us, that act out, that carry shame, that carry pain, that want to run away, that want to hide, that feel invisible. When we get curious about these parts of us, they're almost always connected to young parts of us that have learned these messages. We begin to connect to them. And then when we show ourselves compassion, we begin to heal.
Curiosity and compassion are the context for healing. We heal in the context of curiosity and compassion, not in the context of shame and judgment.
So to close today, I want to walk you through a guided reflection. This might be new for you, but it's a really powerful exercise. And in this exercise, it'll take about as long as you want it to take, it'll take about eight minutes. But feel free to pause at any moment if you want to slow it down. If you want more time to connect to this young part of you, but in this exercise, I'm going to ask you to connect to one of these young parts of you.
It might be a part of you, you don't like. It might be a part of you, you don't understand. I would ask you not to pick the most extreme or overwhelming part of you. Remember that a lot of these young parts of us carry pain and they might even carry a lot of pain. If you've been through trauma, if you've been abused, if you've dealt with severe neglect, some of these parts of you carry pain. So don't do this work alone. Get help, talk to a therapist, get a safe person to help you walk down that path of healing. We talked about this in the episode on trauma.
But for today, just pick a part of you that maybe you don't like, or maybe frustrates you, or maybe bothers you. And let's see if we can figure out where this young part of you came from inside of you, where it learned its belief, where it learned how to do this thing, that it does that you don't like. And get to know it a little bit through the power of curiosity and compassion.[00:18:38] < Music >.
As we get started set aside your phone, get comfortable in a quiet space. If you're driving, maybe wait until later when you can give your full attention to this exercise, and then start by taking some deep breaths. You might want to close your eyes, do whatever you need to do to become comfortable and free of distractions. And think about a situation, recently, in which you noticed yourself acting out in a way you didn't like.
Maybe you were irritable with someone, maybe you felt envious of a friend. Maybe you ran away from a hard situation, or couldn't get yourself to speak up on behalf of yourself. For the purpose of this exercise don't pick your most overwhelming situation. Try to reimagine that scene in your mind's eye and tap into just a little bit of what you felt inside and as you put yourself back in that situation, what do you notice?
Is there a physical sensation that you notice in your body? Maybe tension in your shoulders or in your jaw, maybe an uncomfortable feeling in your stomach. Maybe you notice an overwhelming emotion or a bunch of thoughts. It might be a sense of anxiety. You might notice anger or even shame. You might notice that emotion as an image. If so, what does that image look like? If it's a thought, what are the thoughts saying?
Now begin to focus in on that image or on those thoughts, and let this situation fade away. Just put your attention on what you notice happening inside your body. This is a part of you trying to get your attention. This is a part of you in need of your care, and notice how you feel toward this part of you.
If you notice anything besides curiosity or compassion, shift your attention toward those other feelings for a moment. It might be an inner critic, maybe a feeling of, "I don't like that."
Or "I don't want to feel this way."
As you notice anything like that surface, put your attention on that part of your soul and see if it will give you some space to focus on this original feeling with compassion. You might remind this critical part of you that we tend to change in the context of curiosity and compassion.
So see if it'll be willing to step back, long enough, so that you can be fully present to this original emotion that surfaced for you. And continue with this process until you are connecting with that original part of you with compassion or with curiosity.
As you notice more curiosity, as you notice yourself connecting to this part of you. Trying to understand it with kindness, with patience, with gentleness, you're connecting to this part of you from the place inside where the Holy Spirit lives. You're connecting to this part of you from that wise, Holy Spirit-led wise parent inside of you.
From this place, check in with this part of you and see what it wants you to know about its role. How does it protect you? How does it look out for you? Where did it learn to do this job? How old does it feel to you? How long has it been with you? Is there even a memory, an early memory, of when this part of you learned to operate in this way, on your behalf?
What fears come up, if this part of you were to soften a bit and give you a little more space? And just take time to notice what you're learning about this part of you and feel free to pause the recording, to spend some time noticing.
And as this part of you shows you more of its story, make sure to express appreciation for it. You might even want to extend it a medal of honor for its years of hard work. Now, check in with this part of you and see what happens when you invite God into the scene. How does this part of you respond to God? Is it aware of God? Does it have any fears about inviting God in? If, so, what are they?
Again, stay curious about any fears this part of you may have. If any voice of criticism, or doubt, or judgment, tries to come in, ask those parts of you to step aside so that you can stay curious. We're just trying to get to know and understand this part of who you are.
How does God's presence impact this part of you? Is there anything this part of you wants God to know? If you sense God's presence, is there anything you sense God wants this part of you to know? Remind yourself of the qualities of God's Spirit from Galatians, "Peace, joy, self-control, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness."
If you notice anything besides these qualities, it might be another part of you that's chiming in. Stay connected with this part of you, continuing to extend appreciation toward it for showing up for you today. And now you might want to take a moment to check back in with any of those critical, or shaming, or judging parts that might have shown up at the beginning. Or even doubting skeptical parts and see if they noticed what just happened?
Are they aware of you there with them? Are they aware of what it's like for you to show up on behalf of these parts of you? Are they aware of God's presence? Are they aware of God's love and compassion? And set an intention to come back to this original part again, this week. You're establishing a relationship with this part of you, you're learning to get to know this part of you better. And when you're ready, slowly, turn your attention back to the room.[00:25:16] < Music >.
So you've just spent some time getting to know a part of yourself with curiosity and with compassion. And hopefully, you were able to learn a little bit more about a part of you that you might not even have liked. You might have begun to learn where this part of you got its story, why it acts the way it does. It's most likely a young part of you, this is one of your inner children, one of your little young parts. That is your responsibility, now, as an adult to learn to parent with wisdom, with kindness, with compassion, and with truth, with honesty.
As you connect to these parts of yourself, you start caring for yourself in new ways. You might take a moment to reflect on anything that you noticed about what you experienced. You might want to write it down in a journal so that you can come back to it later.
This is all about getting a little bit of distance from these various emotions that we all have. From these various parts of us that have picked up beliefs a long time ago. It's learning to connect to these places of memory inside of us that still operate under the surface, and bringing them to the surface where we can heal, and parent, and guide, and lead, ourselves well.
Thank you for joining me today for this episode on the Inner Child Within. These are these tender places inside that are so important for us to learn to understand, honor, and parent well. And I hope you'll come back here next Thursday for this last episode on psychology buzzwords because we're going to arrive finally at the topic about which I get asked the very, very most. It's a powerful topic, it's an important topic, especially once you've learned all these things. It all leads to this very last episode, which is how you ultimately begin to care for yourself well. As you become a whole person and lead yourself into the life that you long for.[00:27:31] < Music >
Thank you for joining me for this episode of The Best of You. Be sure to check out the show notes for any resources and links mentioned in the show. You can find those on my website at dralisoncook.com. That's Alison with one L- cook.com.
Before you forget, I hope you'll follow the show now so that you don't miss an episode. And I'd love it, if you'd go ahead and leave a review, it helps so much to get the word out. I look forward to seeing you back here next Thursday. And remember, as you become the best of who you are, you honor God, you heal others, and you stay true to your God-given self.