As an adult who is exploring a healing journey for yourself or for a child in your life, paying attention to the inner child is a challenging yet highly beneficial part of the voyage. In order to do that, we’re going to start from the beginning and focus on you as a baby. Giving space for your inner baby will allow for strengthening the positive experiences that baby you had, while also making room to heal real or imagined hurt feelings of baby you. Today we will explore this through the emotional lens of abandonment.
What does it mean to remember?
When you think of memory you may believe that if you cannot actively recall the details of an event, then it can’t possibly impact you in the present. This line of reasoning allows us to believe that what happened to us in infancy doesn't have an impact on who we are now. However, just like language acquisition starts at the moment that a fetus or baby is exposed to language, our internal map of feelings begins when we are first exposed to emotions. For all of us, this occurs when we are still in the womb. We are exposed to the emotional experiences of our birthing caregiver. We experience the joys that they experience and likewise we receive their stress. This is happening alongside our own developing emotional system because even when our birthing caregiver is stressed, we can simultaneously retain a felt sense of safety and protection. That felt sense becomes a protective factor allowing us to build foundational trust that someone will keep us safe. We start to know that someone will keep us safe. We’re going to call this felt sense our sense of knowing.
"remove self-blame to release any possible felt sense of guilt and/or shame"
If we are fortunate when we are born, which can be a scary situation, we are immediately placed on the chest of our birthing caregiver. This experience reinforces our sense of knowing because although we did not understand what was happening during birth, we were quickly reunited with the scents and sounds that we had known throughout gestation. We are out in the world, but still home - safe again. But, this is not the case for everyone. You may be a NICU survivor, an adoptee, the surviving child of your birthing person who died during delivery complications, or was separated from your birthing person for reasons not listed. If so, they may have led you to question your sense of knowing because precious little baby you didn’t know where safety was, you couldn’t sense home. That extra high dose of stress and fear was felt in a way that only your body remembers even though you cannot actively recall any moments from your first days on earth. Over the years when you have experienced unwanted separation from attachment figures or other loved ones, your body reacted to it leaving a trail that could be traced right back to the moment in infancy when you realized that home was gone. Now you may have heightened feelings of abandonment even when that doesn't fit the present situation.
How do I start healing my inner baby?
The process of healing your inner baby is a journey not a sprint. I will outline four steps in this article to get you started. Perhaps, the two hardest parts of the process are to be honest with yourself and be willing to allow room for self-compassion. While all feelings are valid, lying to yourself and blaming yourself for things that were outside of your control are not welcome in the same space as a baby you. These two realities are often the hardest part of the journey. This starting point is asking you to begin unlearning ways of being that once served you well; they got you here where you can read an article about healing from the core. However, since you are currently on a healing journey, those ways of being are no longer serving you well. They are now obstacles - no, barriers that are preventing you from living in the mindful present.
“What happened to me was outside of my control."
Honest self-compassion may include telling yourself, “What happened to me was outside of my control. The separation that I experienced from my birthing caregiver was not my fault. I felt unsafe when that happened. In this moment, right here, right now, I am safe.” Please modify this script for yourself as needed for your emotional lens and situation. The key components are to remove self-blame to release any possible felt sense of guilt and/or shame, acknowledging that felt loss of safety in the past, and bring yourself to the present moment where you are currently safe. This will start to reestablish your sense of knowing for safety.
The third step is to begin building your capacity to be in the present moment. To do this, start with short mindful activities that are built into your day. This can be slowing down when you put on lotion and noticing how it feels or, noticing the sensations in your hand, tongue, teeth, and gums when you brush your teeth. Below you will find a video example what mindfulness can look like.
Fourth and final for this article is to explore meditations that center inner child and inner baby healing. Insight Timer has several, including a short one by Dr. Hannah Alia Joharchi that is great for beginner meditators.
Here are the key points of this article from the lens of felt abandonment.
The body remembers emotional experiences long before we have words or signs to communicate.
Your sense of knowing started with a foundation of trust and safety - you can tap into that again.
Making room for honest reflection is non-negotiable.
Self-compassion must closely follow or be in tandem with honesty.
When exploring the past, you need a robust capacity for being mindfully present.
Starting with short meditations can help the healing journey.
Next week, we will explore part 2 of healing your inner baby. In the meantime, please be gentle with yourself, wrap yourself in compassion, douse yourself with love and make moments for play.
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Baby in adult chair by PoloX Hernandez on Unsplash
Baby crawling by William Fortunado on Pexels