7 Ways to Recognise Your Inner Child
By Nadia Nauss
Ever hear some new-age hippie going on about the Inner Child and thought, “well, how do I even connect to my Inner Child? Do I even still have one?” Then keep reading…
- The person you become when someone pisses you off, makes you mad, has hurt you, or who saddens, disappoints, or ignores you, etc…
So this would be the part of ourselves (read: our Inner Child) that gets triggered when we recognise traits that we (read: our Adult Self) have disowned – all the negative traits, the characteristics we judge in others as bad, wrong or undesirable. Psychologist Carl Jung would call this the “shadow.” It’s as if “Adult Me” is judging and criticisng my Inner Child for being wrong or bad.
e.g. Adult Self says: “I can’t stand <insert name here>, she’s so fussy and opinionated.”
The Inner Child hears: “Well I can’t stand you either because you’re so fussy and opinionated, too.”
In order for me, the Adult Self, to pick out the flaws in others, I must be able to recognise them in myself first as a negative trait. Otherwise, being bossy or aggressive wouldn’t be negative traits – they would be “normal” and the Adult Self wouldn’t be bothered by them. But the Inner Child knows these traits all too well…
The Experiment: Identify 3 situations in your life when you yourself have displayed the very same negative traits you’ve judged in another.
- The person you become when you look up to, idealise, place up on a pedestal, and (I jest) your favorite yoga pose becomes “You-Think-The-Sun-Shines-Out-Of-Their-Asana.”
The flipside of the coin: this would be the Inner Child looking up to their hero, their favorite person, their best friend, etc. because that person possesses positive qualities that we do not see in ourselves and thus would like to possess one day. It’s as if the “Adult Self” is telling the Inner Child, “someday, when you grow up, you’ll be awesome/amazing/talented like that person” (read: you are not awesome/amazing/talented already.” Ouch.)
e.g. Adult Self says: “Oh I just love <insert name here> – he’s so clever and quick-witted and inspiring.”
Inner Child hears: “I don’t love you because you are not so clever, quick-witted and inspiring.”
The good news is, in order for me, the Adult Self, to highlight the gifts and talents in others, I must be able to recognise them in myself first as a positive trait. Otherwise, being clever, quick-witted or inspiring wouldn’t be extra-ordinary traits – they would simply be ordinary and every-day-kind-of-things and the Adult Self wouldn’t see them as anything to take special notice of.
The Experiment: Call to mind 3 life events when you yourself have displayed these very same positive traits you’ve praised in another – even if only on a much smaller scale.
- That petulant, stubborn, sullen, sulky kid you become around your immediate family
We all know that our immediate family has the uncanny knack for bringing out the very worst in us, eh? If you want to experiment with this – just go home to visit your folks and count how many seconds it takes for those old feelings to bubble up to the surface… how your brother hasn’t changed one bit, still as big-headed as ever… you mother still nags you about your job or your partner… your father still escapes life’s problem in the bottle… your sister still has no idea what responsibility is…
Meanwhile, in their brains, they’re probably saying similar things about you… “still thinks she’s such a know-it-all… all she wants to do is hear herself talk… always has to prove she’s the best…here she comes to save the day…”
Not all of these habitual patterns will seem so bad – some are benign like being the dutiful son, others are endearing like being Daddy’s little girl. But try as we may, old habits die hard – some seem to never go away. So when that feeling of being boxed into a corner, stuck in the cage of who we used to be and no longer identify with – that’s the Inner Child getting triggered by old familiar familial situations.
- Who you become when you are blinded by intense anger or rage
Ever totally overreact to something with the kind of anger that ransacks your brain, that turns you into a 5 year old throwing the biggest tantrum of her life? Why yes, that’s your Inner Child lashing out. Sure, as an adult, you may be armed with a more extensive lexicon of foul language and scathing remarks… but at the core of it all, those raging emotions you feel – this is not the first time you felt them.
The Experiment: call to mind a time when you felt consumed with intense anger. See what you saw, hear what you heard, feel what you felt… and notice where in the body you feel the anger when it arises. Where is it located? How big is it? How would you describe the sensations? When was the first time you felt this? Sometime before the age of 7?
- Who you become when you are overwhelmed with fear
Ever totally overreact to something with the kind of fear that completely consumes you, that turns you into a 3-year-old curled up in the fetal position and wondering what’s gonna happen? Why yes, that’s your Inner Child, scared as all get-out. And of course, as an adult, you may be equipped with a clever mind that can over-intellectualise any situation, identifying all the unknown variables and planning Contingency Plans A-Z… but at the heart of all that fear, anxiety, worry and overthinking – this is not the first time you felt them.
The Experiment: call to mind a time when you felt overwhelming fear. See what you saw, hear what you heard, feel what you felt… and notice where in the body you feel the fear when it arises. Where is it located? How big is it? Does it seem to swallow you whole? How do you know you’re afraid? Does this remind you of an earlier time in your life when you felt something similar?
- Who you become when you wallow in deep sadness and grief
When the tears come streaming down your face for no apparent reason, and it feels like once you’ve started crying, you might never stop? Why yes, that’s your Inner Child releasing years and years of repressed sadness and grief. It’s highly likely that you’ve told yourself there’s no reason for you to feel this way and that there’s no use in crying over the past and what you can’t change… or better yet, that the spiritual thing to do would be to “transcend” it all… but one thing’s for sure – all that disappointment, longing, regret and loneliness – they are somehow familiar, you’ve felt this before…
The Experiment: call to mind a time when you felt really let down, deeply saddened, depressed or completely alone. See what you saw, hear what you heard, feel what you felt… and notice where in the body you feel the tears start to fall. Where in your body do you feel any constriction, pain, heaviness? When was the first time you felt this? What was happening in your life at that time?
- Who you become when you feel love
Whenever we fall in love and feel the warm and fuzzy feelings of belonging, safety, comfort, joy… That moment when you realise you love someone or something so much you want to just hug it tight and squeeze the bejeezes out of it … or at least until you merge with him/her/it, become one with them…
Or whenever it feels like life is “in the flow,” and synchronicities and serendipitous occurrences magically align your day to guide you to exactly where you were meant to be in moment to moment? That sense of unconditional acceptance of the now, a joyful surrender to what is…
The ecstatic state of joy is something that most children have an easier time accessing than adults. Those moments of rolling around in the grass, discovering a new tree, playing with your best friend – we weren’t worried about the rent or what to cook for dinner or superannuation… we lived in the present moment, with a sense of freedom and happiness.
The Experiment: call to mind a time when you felt sheer joy and bliss, the happiest moments in your life, when you didn’t have a care in the world. See what you saw, hear what you heard, feel what you felt… and notice where in the body you feel the warmth start to surge as the smile comes to your face. Where do you feel this? When were the earliest times in your life when you felt like this?
Conclusion: So whether the Inner Child is triggered by intense negative emotions or responding to strong positive feelings – each of us can become aware of our own Inner Child by stopping what we’re doing for a moment to simply feel into our bodies, notice where we feel the sensations of the emotions, allow ourselves to recall the first time we felt this way or notice if a specific memory comes to mind, and observe whatever arises and feel fully any feelings, allowing them to pass in their own time, without judgment or criticism… before proceeding on with our day.
Interested in having a direct experience of what you just read? Then book your spot for the next Healing The Inner Child Workshop: Recognition with Nadia Nauss, where she will guide you through more specific exercises and practices to awaken ourselves to the presence of the Inner Child while also improving our relationships with those around us. For more details, check out The Sanctuary’s Workshops & Events here.
Nadia is a certified Hatha, Yin and Kundalini Yoga teacher with trauma-sensitive training and a background in Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP). Nadia teaches regular yoga classes and monthly Inner Child workshops at The Sanctuary, where she is passionate about cultivating a community of compassion & connection.