(Editor’s note: I’ve used feminine pronouns (e.g., she) in this post for the sake of writing flow. They can be replaced with masculine or gender non-specific pronouns where appropriate.)
Place one hand on your belly and the other on your heart. Tune into yourself. Address yourself by name, then utter slowly, gently, pausing between sentences, “I’m here…I’m listening…I’m right here…I’m listening…I’m with you…I’m listening….”
Then wait. Notice your body’s response. Notice too the emotions that arise.
Who within hears the invitation to reconnect with you? See her in your mind’s eye. Is she making eye contact with you? What does she look like? Notice her posture. What is she doing?
There is a you inside of you that has been waiting for this moment for years (maybe decades), even if at first she seems distant, disinterested, suspicious, or even angry for being forgotten or avoided for so long. And she has much to show and tell you, much that she has longed to reveal to you and have you acknowledge compassionately and without judgment.
She is a part of you, split off during a time in your life that when it was too painful or traumatic to remain whole. She wants to be remembered and reintegrated. The reclamation of all fragmented aspects of Self is an ancient practice shamans refer to as soul retrieval. Carl Jung adopted the technique, calling it shadow work, when engaging with his clients. Later, practitioners in the field of mental health renamed it inner child work or healing the child within.
My personal journey included years of this practice in which I’ve healed and welcomed back aspects of myself split off throughout childhood. Some inner children, so to speak, required weeks of my attention and nurturing; others years. The majority of my own clients who read this will recognize the practice from our work together. They’ve recognized that with time, their younger selves began to trust their adult selves as emotional needs, unfulfilled by initial caretakers many years ago, are at last met by themselves.
How is this possible, you wonder?
Time is nonlinear. Our minds, perceiving only three dimensions, have constructed the concepts of past and future. In reality, all time exists simultaneously. Through the portal of the now-moment (which is the only “time” that exists), we can access parts of ourselves that are frozen in childhood, stuck in loops, or patterned, limiting behaviors or beliefs. We can go to our younger selves and validate, hold, comfort, and love them the way they have always needed, wanted, and deserved.
Each time you feel anxious, depressed, ashamed, insecure, unworthy, not enough, or unlovable, place a hand on your heart and one on your belly. Or grab and hold a pillow assigned to be your surrogate inner child. Close your eyes and see her in your mind’s eye, just as I’ve stated above, and connect with her. Be patient if at first she seems apprehensive.
Let her know that you love her, that you see her and feel what she’s feeling. Empathize with her, just as you would with a child for whom you care deeply. Say that it’s OK to feel what she feels, and don’t try to convince her to feel differently as so many of our parents used to do. Avoid the attempt to cheer her up, use logic to explain why she should feel differently, or snap her out of it.
Be with whatever she’s showing you and tell her you’re sorry she has been suffering. Speak soothingly, letting her know that she’s no longer alone. Depending on what she has experienced, she may want to hear you say you’re sorry, that you forgive her, that she didn’t deserve the hurts she endured, that you’re grateful for her, or that she did her best.
Tell her that she’s safe, if that’s what she needs. “I’m here now, and I’ll never leave. I promise to take care of you. I’ve got you now.” Explain to her that she survived whatever tragedies or hurts occurred in the past, emphasizing her strength and resilience. Invite her to take a look around your world to see for herself. Describe to her the wonderful things in your life now that she would appreciate.
Most important, ask her what she needs from you today. Ask every day. Check in with her frequently.
If at first you aren’t sure how to help her or struggle to feel compassion for her, promise her you’ll learn and seek help from a psychotherapist or someone else who is familiar with inner child work.
Feel silly holding a pillow and talking to it? Don’t worry: no one is looking. Slowly, I assure you, you, the adult, will benefit from the nurturing you offer those younger versions of you.