“I’m channeling my inner child,” you might say, while jumping off swings at the park, chasing your roommate through the house with a Nerf gun, or diving into the pool with your clothes on.
Many trace the concept of an inner child to psychiatrist Carl Jung, who described a child archetype in his work. He linked this internal child to past experiences and memories of innocence, playfulness, and creativity, along with hope for the future.
Other experts describe this inner child as an expression of not just your child self, but your lived experience of all life stages. The inner child is also noted as a source of strength, since early experiences can play a significant part in your development as an adult.
This can go both ways, though…
When childhood experiences negatively affect you, your inner child may continue to carry these wounds until you address the source.
“Each one of us has an inner child, or way of being,” says Dr. Diana Raab, a research psychologist and author. “Getting in touch with your inner child can help foster well-being and bring a lightness to life.”
Keep an open mind
It’s OK to feel a little uncertain about the idea of an inner child. But you don’t have to look at this “child” as a separate person or personality. Instead, consider them a representation of your past experiences.
For most people, the past contains a mix of positive and negative events. These circumstances help form your character and guide your choices and goals as you grow older and eventually reach adulthood.
Research suggests these early experiences don’t just play an important part in development. Deeper understanding of your past self could also be key to enjoying improved health and well-being later in life.
According to Kim Egel, a therapist in Cardiff, California, anyone can get in touch with their inner child and benefit from this process. But resistance or a lack of belief that you can get in touch can sometimes present a barrier.
Children can teach you a lot about life, from finding joy in small things to be present and live in the moment.
If you struggle to think back to enjoyable childhood experiences, engaging in creative play with children can help rekindle these memories and put you back in touch with the enjoyment of simpler days.
Any type of play can have benefit. Games like tag or hide-and-seek can help you get moving and feel free and unrestrained again. Make-believe play can help you think back to childhood fantasies and what they meant to you.
If you faced certain difficulties or periods of trauma or disruption, for example, you may have imagined specific scenarios that helped you cope and feel more secure.
Making time to play with your children doesn’t just increase your sense of playfulness and youthful expression. It also has a positive impact on their own well-being, in part by contributing to the development of their inner self.
If you don’t have any children of your own, you might spend time with children of your friends or relatives.
Watching movies or television shows from your childhood, or rereading some of your favorite books, can also be a helpful way to stir up positive feelings.