4 Ways to Tame Your Inner Child

You can learn to love this snot-nosed kid.

Posted Aug 08, 2019

If you find yourself repeating the same self-defeating patterns in your romantic relationships, the chances are learning how to rein in your inner child will stop this disappointing, reoccurring cycle. We all have an inner child—that little, tender, vulnerable part of us—that was once either punished and criticized or unconditionally loved. If when you expressed negative emotions as a child your caregivers typically reacted with shame, criticism, neglect or invalidation, then you may very well treat your inner child the same way in adulthood. You never learned how to love that needy-snotty nosed-whiny-occasional-tantrum-throwing-kid within yourself. 

If we remain unaware and unloving toward this most basic and primal part of ourselves, then the inner child has the power to destroy our truest intentions and goals. When this is the case, you may look like a high achieving adult on the outside but on the inside, a little toddler is tyrannically ruling your relationships and emotional world. You, not your inner child, should be in charge but how do you tame this little beast?

#1: Develop awareness: You likely have effective and successful interpersonal and professional interactions. In these intervals, you are on your game, keeping your emotions in check, communicating effectively, and showing your best self. You reap the rewards of feeling competent, in control, and valuable. At other times, your inner child activates and you engage in self-defeating behavior, rage at the people you care about, or become so anxious no one can stand to be around you. Start to develop awareness for what triggers your inner child toward self-destruction. If you keep a few notes in your phone for a week or so, you will likely start to see a pattern of similar events and themes triggering intense emotion. The intensity of the inner child’s emotion leaves you little room to dial it down and so you erupt. The inner child goes into autopilot and highjacks your responses. Slow this process down by gaining awareness of your triggers.

#2: Validate your little self: Now once you recognize your inner child is triggered, label the emotion and connect it to the event(s) that is upsetting you. In other words, make sense of what you feel—VALIDATE the emotion. So give yourself kind and warm attention instead of just going forth full tilt and impulsively reacting, or entirely internalizing/blaming yourself for your upset or pain. For example “Of course you are upset, you were looking forward to seeing your friend and they canceled on you,” or “You're angry because you feel misunderstood and small, you want to feel as if you matter to the people in your life.” If you don’t understand your feelings yet, show your little self that you are interested and curious: “Okay I am feeling my heart beat fast and my stomach sink, what’s going on? Let me consider what this experience is about.”

#3: Parent this inner child. You finally have a chance to give little you something transformative. Give your inner child structure, coping strategies, or space to feel whatever they may be feeling. Literally ask your little self what she or he needs when you get the signal that ‘they’ are having a reaction. Instead of demanding all things be solved immediately or demeaning the inner child, give the little rager support, boundaries and structure to cope. For example, “Okay I am really angry here are my options: wait a bit and then talk to the person about my feelings, journal about the feelings, talk to someone else about what I am feeling, exercise and then revisit the emotion, or sleep on it and see how I feel in the morning.”

#4: Learn to love this snot-nose kid. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, learn to love this part of yourself that you find so unlovable. This is the path to ultimate healing. Life would hardly have any spontaneous curiosity and joy without our inner child. At the same time, no one has a life where they are always happy. The range of emotions, including sadness, anger, irritation, fear, worry, are a normal part of the human experience. Give little you what it always needed and deserved: loving attention, kindness, and compassion.  

It’s not your fault if your inner child is highjacking your relationships. However, you are the only one who can make up for what has been done. In my book, Toxic Love: 5 Steps, I offer more strategies for how to develop fulfilling romantic relationships.