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Understanding and Healing the Inner Child: Insights From Adult Psychological Practices

The term “inner child” frequently used in psychological discussions, might sound like a mystical or elusive concept. However, it is, in fact, a powerful metaphor used to describe a part of our psyche that carries our childlike capacities, memories, and experiences (Mellody, 2003). This paper aims to dissect what psychologists mean when they talk about the “inner child,” explore the potential traumas or strengths that can arise from our inner child when we are adults, and discuss ways to address issues resulting from the needs of our inner child.

Adult life is frequently informed by the experiences of our inner child, both positively and negatively. On the positive side, the inner child represents our capacity for joy, wonder, and creativity. These are qualities we often harness during leisure, work, problem-solving, and relationships. Similarly, our inner child’s resilience can empower us to overcome life’s obstacles, reflecting our past triumphs over difficulties (Whitfield, 1990).

Conversely, the inner child can also harbor unresolved traumas and negative conditioning from childhood, which may manifest as psychological issues in adulthood. Examples include emotional dysregulation, unhealthy attachment patterns, or destructive coping mechanisms (Van Der Kolk, 2014). These issues often originate from adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), such as abuse, neglect, or household dysfunction, and can lead to chronic health conditions, mental illness, and substance misuse in adulthood (Felitti et al., 1998).

Eric Berne’s Transactional Analysis

The inner child concept, a significant facet of Eric Berne’s Transactional Analysis, postulates a persisting child state within every adult’s psyche (Berne, 1964). In this context, the inner child does not imply immaturity or childlike behavior but rather denotes an inherent, timeless aspect of our psychological constitution. This component within us encapsulates a gamut of qualities traditionally attributed to childhood – such as unbridled enthusiasm, pristine innocence, vibrant creativity, and a sense of curiosity that views the world with wonder.

Enthusiasm, embodied in the inner child, can often be the driving force behind our passions and pursuits as adults. This enthusiasm emanates from an uninhibited zeal for life, which we often witness in children (Pearrow, 2008). Similarly, innocence in the inner child signifies a form of purity and honesty in perceptions and feelings that can contribute to our authenticity as adults. Creativity is another trait associated with our inner child, as children, unfettered by societal norms and expectations, display a remarkable ability to think out of the box, imagine freely, and find innovative solutions to problems (Amabile, 1983). Furthermore, our natural curiosity, preserved from our early years, continues to play a vital role in our learning and understanding of the world as adults.

The inner child also serves as a repository of our early experiences, memories, and learned responses to various situations. These stored experiences encompass not only explicit memories but also implicit ones—those unconscious memories that shape our attitudes, behaviors, and expectations in life (Mellody, 2003). The conditioning we received as children, often through societal, familial, or educational influences, has profound implications for how we navigate our adult lives (Bandura, 1977). It is this conditioning that directs our reactions, dictates our behavioral patterns, and influences our choices and decisions.

Perhaps the most profound characteristic of the inner child is its role as an emotional ‘time capsule.’ It archives not only the joys and victories of our past but also the traumas and disappointments (Van Der Kolk, 2014). The happiness we felt upon receiving our first pet or the pride of riding a bike without training wheels for the first time — such positive experiences contribute to our capacity for joy and achievement in adulthood. Conversely, our inner child may also retain the impact of traumatic experiences, like bullying, neglect, or other forms of abuse. These experiences can manifest as emotional scars in adulthood, often surfacing in times of stress or conflict.

The inner child, as proposed in Transactional Analysis, is a complex and multi-dimensional entity that continues to shape our experiences and behaviors in adulthood. Understanding this inner child can help individuals gain deeper insight into their actions, emotions, and recurring life patterns.

Inner Child Therapy

Inner Child Therapy, alternatively referred to as “child-centered therapy” or “regression therapy,” is an effective therapeutic modality that centers around the dialogue between the adult self and the inner child (Chopich & Paul, 1990). The therapy’s core objective is to facilitate an empathetic and nurturing conversation between these two aspects of the self. The idea is to help adults acknowledge and appreciate the existence of their inner child, understand its needs, address the unresolved emotions it harbors, and foster healthier responses to its desires.

This therapeutic approach embodies a reparative process, sometimes described as ‘re-parenting.’ The term ‘re-parenting’ denotes the process whereby the adult self takes on a caring and supportive role towards the inner child, much like a sensitive and attuned parent would with their own child (Missildine, 1981). This involves validating the inner child’s feelings, meeting its needs, healing its wounds, and creating a safer emotional environment that allows for growth and development.

Inner Child Therapy involves various techniques tailored to initiate and sustain this dialogue, including visualization exercises, journaling, and role-playing. Visualization exercises, for instance, involve the therapist guiding the individual to form a mental image of their inner child. The client is then encouraged to engage in a caring, understanding conversation with this imagined version of their younger self. This dialogue can help reveal the unmet needs or unresolved emotions that the inner child carries, allowing for healing and emotional integration (Stone & Stone, 1989).

Journaling is another method often used in Inner Child Therapy. By writing to and from their inner child, individuals can gain insight into their inner child’s emotions, needs, and traumas. This can help in forming a more coherent narrative of their past and its impact on their present (Adams, 1990).

Role-playing serves as another tool in Inner Child Therapy. By stepping into the role of both the adult self and the inner child, individuals can create an externalized dialogue that can help bridge the emotional gap between these two aspects of the self (Chopich & Paul, 1990).

In essence, Inner Child Therapy employs these diverse methods with the ultimate goal of helping individuals understand their inner child’s needs, heal from past traitions, and develop healthier coping mechanisms (Firestone, 2013). By doing so, it fosters psychological well-being and promotes more adaptive and fulfilling interpersonal relationships.

Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy

Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) is another therapeutic strategy that proves beneficial for addressing the needs of the inner child. MBCT, as the name suggests, is an amalgamation of cognitive-behavioral techniques and mindfulness strategies. Cognitive-behavioral techniques focus on understanding and modifying dysfunctional thinking patterns and behaviors, while mindfulness strategies cultivate a non-judgmental, present-focused awareness of one’s experiences (Segal et al., 2002).

In the context of the inner child, MBCT offers a dual benefit. Firstly, cognitive-behavioral techniques help individuals to identify and challenge maladaptive thought and behavior patterns that may have originated from childhood experiences. Such patterns often stem from the inner child’s unresolved traumas and unmet needs, and may result in self-criticism, avoidance behaviors, and harmful coping mechanisms (Beck, 2011). By identifying these patterns, MBCT empowers individuals to re-evaluate their thought processes and develop more adaptive behaviors.

Simultaneously, mindfulness strategies promote a compassionate, accepting awareness of one’s emotional experiences. This increased self-awareness can shed light on the needs and emotions of the inner child, many of which may have been neglected or suppressed. Mindfulness encourages a stance of acceptance and curiosity towards these emotions, rather than fear or avoidance. This open-hearted acceptance is akin to the nurturing attention that a caring parent would offer their child, and thus serves as a form of ‘re-parenting’ for the inner child (Germer, 2009).

Mindfulness practices can also foster self-compassion, a crucial element in addressing the needs of the inner child. Self-compassion involves extending kindness and understanding towards oneself, particularly during moments of pain or failure (Neff, 2011). By cultivating self-compassion, individuals can provide their inner child with the understanding and compassion it may have lacked in the past.

Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) serves as a potent tool for addressing the needs of the inner child. By integrating cognitive-behavioral techniques and mindfulness strategies, MBCT helps individuals understand their inner child better, manage their thoughts and emotions more effectively, and develop nurturing responses to their inner child’s needs (Segal et al., 2002).


In conclusion, the concept of the inner child is a critical component of understanding adult behavior and emotional health. It embodies both the strengths and traumas we carry from our childhood, and if not appropriately addressed, can lead to a range of psychological issues. By employing therapeutic interventions such as Inner Child Therapy and MBCT, we can begin to understand, heal, and nurture our inner child, fostering healthier and more fulfilling lives.


1. Berne, E. (1964). Games People Play. Grove Press.

 2. Chopich, E. J., & Paul, M. (1990). Healing Your Aloneness: Finding Love and Wholeness Through Your Inner Child. Harperone.

3. Felitti, V. J., Anda, R. F., Nordenberg, D., Williamson, D. F., Spitz, A. M., Edwards, V., & Marks, J. S. (1998). Relationship of childhood abuse and household dysfunction to many of the leading causes of death in adults. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 14(4), 245-258.

4. Firestone, L. (2013). Healing Your Aloneness and Embracing Your Inner Child. Psychology Today.

5. Mellody, P. (2003). Facing Codependence: What It Is, Where It Comes from, How It Sabotages Our Lives. Harperone.

6. Segal, Z. V., Williams, J. M. G., & Teasdale, J. D. (2002). Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for depression: A new approach to preventing relapse. Guilford Press.

7. Van Der Kolk, B. (2014). The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma. Viking.

8. Whitfield, C. L. (1990). Healing the Child Within: Discovery and Recovery for Adult Children of Dysfunctional Families. HCI.

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17. Adams, K. (1990). Journal to the Self: Twenty-Two Paths to Personal Growth. Warner Books.

18. Chopich, E. J., & Paul, M. (1990). Healing Your Aloneness: Finding Love and Wholeness Through Your Inner Child. Harperone.

19. Firestone, L. (2013). Healing Your Aloneness and Embracing Your Inner Child. Psychology Today.

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 21. Stone, H., & Stone, S. (1989). Embracing Our Selves: The Voice Dialogue Manual. Nataraj Publishing.

Twenty Positive Affirmations to Help Nurture Your Relationship with Your Inner-Child

  1. I love and accept my inner child completely.
  2. My inner child is a precious and valuable part of who I am.
  3. I am committed to nurturing and healing my relationship with my inner child.
  4. I embrace my inner child’s innocence and playfulness with an open heart.
  5. I give myself permission to express joy and laughter freely.
  6. I honor my inner child’s needs and desires and strive to meet them with compassion.
  7. I release any shame or guilt I may have carried from the past, allowing my inner child to heal.
  8. I create a safe and loving space within me for my inner child to thrive.
  9. I listen to my inner child’s voice and trust its wisdom and intuition.
  10. I allow myself to dream and imagine without limitations, just as my inner child would.
  11. I engage in creative activities that bring joy and nourishment to my inner child.
  12. I celebrate and acknowledge my inner child’s accomplishments and milestones.
  13. I practice self-care and self-compassion to meet the needs of my inner child.
  14. I embrace and express my emotions freely, acknowledging that they are valid and important.
  15. I forgive myself and others for any hurts or disappointments experienced by my inner child.
  16. I surround myself with positive and supportive people who honor and nurture my inner child.
  17. I take time to engage in activities that bring me pleasure and make my inner child feel alive.
  18. I release any limiting beliefs that hinder my inner child’s growth and happiness.
  19. I prioritize playfulness and curiosity in my daily life, allowing my inner child to guide me.
  20. I am grateful for the presence of my inner child and the joy it brings to my life.

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