Helping your inner child in times of change

In the modern world, there are so many stressors and hardships that it’s difficult to navigate our way forward, and often we have to make compromises that we don’t want to make. But is our time unique in this?


If we look back throughout the history of humankind, we’ll see the same things: stressors and hardships, that forced people to negotiate, compromise and sacrifice things. Things that changed people’s plans. Because of those things, people had to rethink and redo their plans, and also readjust their feelings to the changed reality. For them, a new reality was born, their own personal reality, within which they would have to live and feel, and call it their life.

We’re still doing that, and people who come after us will do the same. Circumstances may change, but human struggles stay the same. When we experience change, especially if the change is sudden and drastic, we lack the experience on which to base our response. We might feel like children who’ve skipped a few days of school, and it’s hard to catch up with the rest of the class. We don’t have the foundation to answer the teacher’s questions. Only, it’s much more serious. We’re talking about relationships, health, careers, livelihoods and so on. We have to act, but how?  

Sudden life change and your internal map

In the case of a sudden life change, we experience something that some people imagine as wondering in a fog, as a sense of uncertainty and confusion. At this point it’s very easy to give in to that feeling.

It happens because we can’t see the way on our internal map. The internal map is the representation of one’s world, with all the experiences and learnt responses. When we can’t find the necessary response to a difficult situation, and can’t find the solution, we might unconsciously employ the more primitive adaptive mechanism: regression to a younger stage.

Anyone can imagine a blinding feeling of anger, when the urge to scream and stamp one’s feet becomes unbearable. Or we can feel so lost that we want to cry. Both reactions are typical for children of a young age. By emotionally regressing to a younger stage of life, the brain is trying to attract help, which is otherwise unavailable. This process is unconscious and doesn’t define the person in any way.

This is normal. The problem is that people begin to blame themselves for their “weakness”, and in doing so they start a new stress reaction. Because we keep the memories of our previous years, with them we keep feelings and emotions, and unfulfilled needs corresponding to certain ages.  

So, we can easily hurt ourselves by self-reprimand and blame. Especially reactive are the feelings coming from our early years. We were small, inexperienced, perhaps, “clumsy” or “naughty”. When we begin self-reprimanding, or call ourselves names, we trigger those early painful memories and emotions. We scare our inner child. And then our brain responds with fight, flight or freeze reactions, because the brain doesn’t discriminate between real and self-inflicted threats.

If we say to ourselves: “I hate you, you’re stupid”, we begin to feel anxious. If we threaten ourselves with suicide, we scare ourselves into a state of dread, and our anxiety shoots up exponentially.

Becoming adaptive, not reactive

So, what to do instead? The necessary thing is to become adaptive, not reactive. The first step would be talking to ourselves. By talking we are repairing connections between parts of the brain disrupted by stress.

Then we take the next step and reach out to other people, even if it’s for a short chat or email. Keep talking! It’s important to remind yourself that everyone at some point in life finds themselves in a critical situation. Yes, there’s no solution in our internal map, but as we created this map, we are capable of updating it and creating a new one. It takes effort and is difficult, but life generally isn’t easy.

It's easy to blame yourself. It’s tempting to give up, and again, blame yourself for being incapable. It might be because in the past you were conditioned to treat yourself in such a way. It might be difficult to find the way, because your inner child is still so hurt and scared that it takes over every time there’s a trigger. But it’s possible to help that child by reminding them that you’re a grown-up now.

Your body is bigger, you’re physically stronger, you have knowledge, skills and experience. You can start with a small initial step towards making the situation better, and when you’ve done that, you can plan the next one. Acknowledging your success, never mind how small and seemingly insignificant, is vital. Don’t skip self-praise. Swap self-blame for self-praise.

Some people say that they are so unused to praise, that they cringe every time it happens. And it’s extremely hard for them to praise themselves. But when they’ve done it a few times, they begin to feel that they want to do it more, and that it feels good. Then they notice that their anxiety goes down gradually. Their inner child calms down, because they’ve been heard. This is all your inner child wanted: to be heard, to have a witness to their suffering, and you’re the best person to give your inner child what they need.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Chichester, West Sussex, PO19
Written by Sofia Kolesnikova, MBACP, Psychotherapeutic Counsellor
Chichester, West Sussex, PO19

Sofia Kolesnikova is psychotherapeutic counsellor in private practice located in Chichester, West Sussex. She specializes in working with anxiety, trauma, depression and relational difficulties. She also works with clients online via Skype.

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