Inner Child Work, and How it Goes Wrong

Inner child work is a form of Shadow Work in which you address the part of yourself that is an eternal child and explore how as an adult you have neglected, abandoned or even abused that child.


This Child energy holds our dreams, aspirations and sense of wonder for the world. When this aspect is in crisis our response toward the world becomes one of fear and helplessness.

Healing your relationship with your inner child is essential.


However, in my explorations of this work it can create more problems than it heals.


Though I have done forms of this work for myself in the past, I have never strongly identified with this archetype. I was always highly responsible, and very grown-up, very serious even as an actual kid. The sense of wonder was there, but it was not a predominant personality trait.


Essentially, I ignored and neglected my inner child.


And in doing so, gave it free reign.


When the Child is running the behind the scenes action, the unconscious psyche starts to look like Where the Wild Things Are and it reflects in our behavior.


We do not always realize when we’ve released control because the signs are insidious, the Child being mischievous and sneaky. Think about real children - they will do whatever they think they can get away with to get and do what they want. Your ignored inner child will find a way to assert itself in the same way. What does your inner child want? Only to play. To have fun. To eat all of the Halloween candy in one sitting regardless of if they know it will make them feel sick. It will back up these wants with seemingly innocuous prompts: what’s the harm? Why not? It isn’t really that big a deal. But I waaaannt it!


It is often a very petulant energy that we fail to notice immediately because justifications from other Shadows will back it up.


As a personal example, in working with my mentor I had the realization that I wanted her to do the work for me so I could get to the fun stuff. I did not consciously think I did. Consciously I thought, “I’m here. I’m showing up!” And underneath those thoughts, “But...you’re the one who knows better, so just tell me what to do and do all of the taxing legwork for me.” Do you see it? The Child does not have any agency. And, if you’re not paying attention, it will hand over all of yours to anyone it sees as an authority. It feels helpless, and it will cultivate a sense of helplessness because to the inner child everyone else has more power.


It isn’t your world. You’re just living in it. And you need permission.


And here is the tricky tangle of doing inner child work.


An illustration: Another teacher of mine told a story about when she first began exploring her relationship with her inner child. She found that child bruised, bloody and broken in a pile of bricks. It turned out that she - her adult unconscious self - had been throwing those bricks. Through conscientious ritual work my teacher literally-metaphysically healed those wounds and earned back her inner child’s trust. To keep that trust and to respect her inner child’s wants and needs, she set up a system where her inner child tugged on her skirt if something happened in her life of which the Child disapproved.


First hearing this story I thought it was beautiful. And many aspects of her work and dedication truly are. But like someone who wins arguments magnificently three days later in the shower, I finally figured it out what about this situation niggled at me.


My teacher flipped the roles and positioned her Inner Child as Parent.


She willingly gave her Inner Child all of her authority, relying on it to decide best courses of action instead of being the adult in the relationship. It is a common overcompensation to maintain the healing and growth we achieved in healing our inner child wounds.


But the goal of inner child work is not to find a more cognizant way of giving it control. It is to heal the wounds so the Child can be a child and play.


Healing the wounds is only half of the work. We then need to define clear boundaries for that inner child. Our larger, adult self must retain control. Just as with an actual child, understanding its desires is important. However, to decide all of the inner child’s wants are paramount is misguided. As the higher aspect of ourselves in relation to the inner child, we are the ones who have the experience and the oversight to craft the ways in which those wants fit into our lives as a whole and therefore complement and enhance our evolution. Expecting the Child to make those determinations simply because we’re now conscious of its reign is only putting ourselves into another imbalanced dynamic.

Though the Child holds all the creative, new-eyes perspective of your Self we must remember that it is still a Shadow Archetype. Its curiosity can easily be warped into unhealthy stagnation (can you think of anyone who didn’t find Michael Jackson’s "Neverland" phase at least a little creepy?). The inner child is a child forever, and therefore does not yield the resources to make its own dreams come true.


It is our responsibility to make space within boundaries for the child to play freely, and then turn its play and dreams into our reality. Signs you have some inner child work to do: -Viewing consequences and outcomes as punishment

-Believing you have no control in your life

-Letting others make life decisions for you

-Accepting blame easily, but not responsibility

-Regretting or feeling embarrassed by past choices