Doing inner child work is, well, work. For the uninitiated, inner child work (also known as reparenting therapy or inner teenager healing), involves healing unprocessed childhood traumas that affect us into adulthood, which is by no means easy. So when you’re putting in the effort to address the emotions and unmet needs of your inner child, whether on your own or with the help of a therapist, it’s motivating to see and experience progress to feel that it’s working. The tricky part is identifying what healing looks like. To help with this, we chatted with a couple of therapists to learn some of the signs you’re healing your inner child.
1. You’re more curious about yourself
Rather than just believing you are who you are, Tiffany Brown, PhD, a licensed clinical psychologist, says one of the first signs you’re healing your inner child is that you begin to question why you respond in specific ways, question your thought patterns, and think about the roots of your emotions. With this curiosity, she says, you begin to understand that those patterns are conditioned responses from your early life and are no longer needed.
2. You can identify core childhood wounds behind triggers
Becoming more curious about your patterns also includes identifying the core childhood wounds behind your triggers. “A trigger is any experience, memory, person, or place that elicits intense emotional activation,” says Simone Saunders, RSW, a trauma therapist and founder of The Cognitive Corner. “Some of the triggers we experience as adults have deep roots in painful childhood experiences.”
For instance, hypersensitivity to rejection as an adult may be linked to a parent not taking an interest in you as a child. Often, Saunders adds, the link between the childhood experience and the trigger isn’t easy to identify. But once you make the connection, it allows you to understand and meet the needs of your inner child in order to heal the wounds, which brings us to the next sign.
3. You meet your inner child’s needs
While awareness of your triggers and wounds is a powerful and important tool in inner child healing, Saunder says it’s most effective when paired with taking action to meet the needs of your inner child. “When we’re able to do this, it contributes to an establishment of self-trust between present-day self and the inner child,” she says.
So if you habitually make an effort to meet the needs of your inner child, that’s a sign that healing is happening. And meeting the inner child’s needs, she adds, will vary depending on the situation but can look like validation, reassurance, self-soothing, implementing boundaries, or identifying expectations.
4. You make time for play
Being an adult comes with a long list of responsibilities, and the reality is that sometimes play gets put on the back burner. However, Saunders says making time for play is a sign you’re healing your inner child because it allows for authentic self-expression. “Often, when we think and hear about inner child healing, it’s typically accompanied by deep, meaningful, and emotional conversations and exercises,” she says. “While this is an accurate representation of inner child work, what’s also true is the need for light-heartened, fun-loving play.” This can include any activities you enjoyed as a child, such as hanging out at the park, playing with pets, or coloring.
5. You feel motivated to pursue new things
Dr. Brown says that feeling free and experiencing less struggle in areas that used to feel particularly challenging are also telltale signs you’ve been doing inner child work for some time. She adds that this new sense of liberation may make you feel open to pursue things you previously haven’t, such as friendships, passions, goals, or love. The reason for this, she explains, is that the inner child’s needs are different from the adult’s needs. For instance, your inner child may have desired highly dependent relationships, but as your inner child heals, balanced relationships become more desirable and thus you feel more motivated to pursue them.
6. You notice differences in your relationships
While inner child work is deeply personal, the effects of it can also spill over into your relationships. Specifically, Dr. Brown says it changes how you engage with other people, such as being less reactive, communicating more effectively, and being more intentional about the relationships you seek.
7. You experience less drastic mood shifts and anxiety
Over time, inner child work can also lead to experiencing less drastic mood shifts, Dr. Brown says. Your mood will, of course, change because, well, life, but those fluctuations won’t be as extreme as they were before. She says that also means you’ll feel less anxious and generally calmer, which can, in turn, improve sleep and make you feel less preoccupied during social interactions. She explains that these shifts in mood are because you’ve begun to process deep emotions and experiences that may have been repressed.
8. You understand healing is an ongoing process
Lastly, one big sign that you’re healing your inner child is that you realize that healing is a journey, “one with ebbs and flows, mountains and valleys,” Saunders says, meaning there will still be times you feel triggered and require more love and support than other times. However, that doesn’t mean you view yourself as a never-ending project that needs “fixing.” Instead, you see it as a life-long journey of learning. “When we create a relationship with our inner child based on longevity rather than focusing on a completion date, it allows for a reduction in hyper-awareness and an increase in self-acceptance,” Saunders says.