Victims of complex trauma have often gone through long-term abuse, neglect and abandonment during childhood. That has left them with an extremely hurt and wounded inner child that has never felt he safety to just be a child, that has never felt the love and care they needed, that has never learnt about boundaries or self-protection. When having developed C-PTSD, that expresses itself in many different behaviours and symptoms. Instead of self-compassion and self-protection, the person extensively engages in behaviour that is based on the four Fs (fight, flight, freeze, fawn) that are automatic trauma responses to a perceived threat. They are stuck in a paradox, they are scared of getting close to anyone, at the same time they crave love and care. Not having had your child’s needs met when you were a child, and having bottled up all those emotions during your childhood because more often than not you were punished when showing feelings, means that those needs and feelings will bubble up when you are an adult. This could be through emotional outbursts, it could be through child-like behaviour or through a strong need for a saviour or caretaker. And these things can both mean inappropriate behaviour, relationship issues and a risk for further abuse.
The concept of an inner child might seem alien to you, even spritiutal, belonging more in self-help books than science based psychology or psychiatry. But keep in mind that the big psychology theorists like Freud, Klein or Lacan all emphasized the importance of building our personality and who we are, during childhood. It is our foundation, it is what we base everything in our lives on. The inner child is like a core, an entity of its own, a part of our personality. And it is still there when we are adults, the core that everything is built upon. In healthy people, the inner child might sometimes express itself in being overly emotional, filterless or making decisions based more on the fun factor than logic.
But for someone with trauma during childhood, that inner child is wounded and hurt. The needs of this child, are not met, especially emotionally. The child has never received the guidance for building self-confidence, self-love and boundaries. This is child is vulnerable, needs protection and love. To be able to overcome or handle many of the symptoms of C-PTSD, it is important to care of that child, that child within you that is sitting in the corner of your mind, scared, small, sad and confused. And how can that child be taken care of? You, yes, you, can reparent your own inner child! There are a lot of techniques to do so, let me introduce some of them to you.
One of the approaches for wounded inner child healing involves reparenting yourself, meaning that you give yourself the things that you have been denied during childhood. This can mean self-compassion, self-protection and also being allowed to be a child.
Self Mothering : Self-Compassion
Now this might seem weird, but you need to become your own mother. According to Pete Walker, the motherly side is about teaching yourself that you are loved and lovable. This also means that you do not engage in self-hatred, self-punishment and self-abandonment. It is based on understanding that punishing yourself is counterproductive to feeling better and that self-judgment and self-rejecting lead to hurt, not healing. You need to provide your inner child a safe place where they can meet with you, a place in your mind, your heart, however you want to imagine it. In that space, there is no judgment, there is no punishment, there is no abandonment. In that space there is compassion, love and care. The inner child is now safe, there is no threat, and it is met with warmth from an adult, from you. Those positive feelings can be enhanced by telling yourself, your inner child, healing words that they have never heard from their parents and that they so very much crave. You will meet your inner child’s needs, through self-compassion. (read more about that here).
Examples for reparenting affirmations are:
I am so glad you were born.
You are a good person.
I love who you are and am doing my best to always be on your side.
You can come to me whenever you’re feeling hurt or bad.
You do not have to be perfect to get my love and protection.
All of your feelings are okay with me.
I am always glad to see you.
It is okay for you to be angry and I won’t let you hurt yourself or others when you are.
You can make mistakes – they are your teachers.
You can know what you need and ask for help. You can have your own preferences and tastes.
You are a delight to my eyes.
You can choose your own values.
You can pick your own friends, and you don’t have to like everyone.
You can sometimes feel confused and ambivalent, and not know all the answers.
I am very proud of you.
Self Fathering: Self-Protection
Self Fathering is focused on the lack of control, the helplessness, the lack of boundaries, the being stuck and seeing no way out of the abusive situation. that a victim of complex abuse experienced as a child. The goal is to learn assertiveness and self-protection. This is especially important for current and future relationships, to be able to have boundaries, to stand up for yourself, to not turn to fawning (being serving and soothing). There are several techniques that are based on a concept of self fathering, one is called the time machine exercise. If time travel was possible, you would travel back in time and put a stop to the abuse, you can tell yourself how you would do it, and why you would do it. At the same time, it is also about accepting and forgiving oneself for not being able to stop the abuse when you were a child. Now as an adult, you are stronger, you see the options. As a child, in that situation, there was no way to stop it. But if there was a time machine, you would stop it, because it was wrong, because you deserve respect, because hurting another person is not okay, and because you deserve to be treated with love and care. (read a bit more about that here)
Let Your Inner Child Out
Lilly Hope Lucario describes this idea really well here . You were not able to be a child, to feel the freedom to be wild, to be creative, to engage in activties that other children engaged in. But now, as an adult, you can provide yourself with a safe environment where you can just do those things! And there is nothing wrong with it, it is okay to embrace your inner child, to do those things that are fun, cute, creative. This can mean anything: collect teddybears or soft toys, play with dolls, do crafts, draw, paint, do jiggsaw puzzles, play boardgames, play hide and seek with your own children, climb up trees, go rollerskating or skateboarding, wear cute clothes, make a cute hairdo, or just skip instead of walking. You set the limits and there is no shame in doing any of those things as an adult. We are all individuals, and you can do what you deem as fun! Just make sure that it happens in a safe environment and space for yourself, so you can avoid judgment from others, and self-judgment.
Grief – Accept yourself
Another approach to inner child healing is based on the concept of grief, which means admitting what has happened, feeling the emotions linked to that and then eventually reaching a point where you can accept (not saying: it is okay, but saying: this is what happened) the reality of things and then are able to move on from them. This sounds like an extremely difficult process, and it involves some painful steps. But at the end of it, you will be able to breathe out and feel the relief that you have for so long wanted to experience.
John Bradshaw says this grieving process involves six steps. Trust, Validation, Shock and Anger, Sadness, Remorse and Loneliness.
Trust means here that you need to make sure that your inner child trusts you and knows you are safe. Safety is not something that complex abuse victims have experienced during childhood so providing that safety to your inner child, building a trusting link, giving it a safe space where the child can’t get hurt, doesn’t get judged and can be themselves, is important. How do you do that? Communicate with yourself, offer a safe space in your mind, in your heart, in the relationship with you. Once safety is provided, your inner child will trust you.
Validation In this context validation is very equal to admitting to yourself that you were hurt as a child. That means facing what has happened, facing that the things that happened actually made you feel bad. This can be a very painful process because you need to not allow yourself to minimize what has happened, you need to be honest with yourself, be non-judgmental and validate your own pain. It must have been extremely hard to go through those things as a child, and it makes sense that you are still hurt by them. It is okay to feel that way.
Anger and Shock Having accepted that you are actually hurt, that your inner child is hurt, and that things have happened that were not fair to you, will lead you to be angry, maybe even shocked. It is unfair, it is not okay, it is infuriating that someone would treat a child like that. Express your anger about it, let it out (in healthy ways). Anger is a needed step in all grieving processes.
Sadness This is where the grieving really starts. It is about being sad about what has happened to you as a child. that you were the victim. Allow yourself to cry, to show empathy for yourself. It is also sadness about the loss of things that could have been, the person you could have become, the possible dreams and goals that were stolen from you.
Remorse This step is about accepting (not saying it is okay, but that that is the reality) that there was nothing you could have done to stop what happened. You saw no options because there were none that were safe and reasonable for you at the moment. You were not the one that took action, the other person (s) did. You did nothing to deserve that treatment, and it is not your fault.
Loneliness Now you realize that your true self, your inner self, your core, was always covered up with a false self, with behaviours and coping strategies, social masks, that you all used to hide the toxic shame that you felt. The toxic shame that is based on self-blame and self-hatred. This left your inner child, you true self and core, hidden and lonely. But once you have gone through the other five steps, you reach a point where you can see the reality of things, know how to validate your pain, feel okay expressing the emotions that your past has made you feel and still makes you feel. Now you can embrace your inner child, and accept them as they are. There is no need to stay hidden, to be ashamed, they are okay the way they are, and we can finally connect to our core and heal together with it.
(C-PTSD post #11)