As the holiday season approaches, setting an intention to take care of your inner child over the demands of other people is an opportunity to do some deep healing work.
What is Your Inner Child?
You may have heard the term inner child, but what does it really means? Your inner child is a collection of younger, more vulnerable parts of yourself. Often, we try to forget about these parts because they hold our emotional pain from the past. They may be hidden from our daily awareness, but they never actually go away. The defensive parts of our personalities exile them into the dark corners of our minds, where they stay until they are either triggered and then suppressed or actually healed and integrated into our lives.
One essential step to healing inner child parts involves reparenting. Reparenting means that you actively nurture and protect your inner child parts by making choices that are in your best interest. These parts need to feel loved, heard, seen, and safe. They require you to show up and demonstrate that you are an adult who is capable of caring for them from now on. While that may be a tall order, it is likely to be the most powerful and transformational work you ever do. After all, it’s one thing to try to engage in “self-care” and it’s a whole other level to engage in caring for the little six-year-old that still lives inside of you.
Here are 5 Ways You Can Show Up for Your Inner Child this Holiday Season
1. Keep it Simple
Rather than making long lists and over-committing yourself, see if you can focus on the little things that inspire awe in children. Watch snowflakes. Smell the cookies that are baking in the oven. Wrap your hands around a warm cup of cocoa. Listen to a crackling fire. Being present with your senses and in your body helps your inner child feel grounded and safe.
2. Set and Enforce Boundaries
Set limits on your time and energy. If you wouldn’t allow it to happen to a six -year-old, don’t let it happen to you. For example, if your family expects you to buy all of the presents and host a large party every year, you can let them know that this year is going to be different. You don’t need to do the same exact thing every year and you certainly don’t have to capitulate to the demands of other people.
As an adult, you get to decide what you do. You can choose what you eat and drink. You are allowed to turn down invitations to gatherings that don’t feel safe. You can decide not to hug someone out of obligation. You can excuse yourself from a conversation that’s triggering. You’re allowed to change your mind. You don’t have to agree with other people’s perspectives. You can take your car and leave situations when you want to.
These types of boundaries are important for healing, but they might be difficult if you have a strong fawn response. A fawn response is one of the stress responses and it causes us to try to over-help, please, heal, and try to prove our worth to others including people who mistreat us. If you recognize that you’re making decisions based on a fawn stress response, remind yourself that you are safe and that you make decisions based on your values and needs rather old conditioning. Protect your inner child through boundaries, not people-pleasing.
3. Practice Riding Out Uncomfortable Emotions
Setting boundaries isn’t necessarily going to make you feel better. Some defensive parts of your personality will protest. What will people think? What if I disappoint someone? Unless your boundaries are truly malicious, consider the idea that you’re just feeling natural fear and see if you can sit with it. Acknowledge it, or whatever feeling is coming up, and breathe deeply. Allow yourself to ride the wave of an uncomfortable emotion without doing anything reactive and, if possible, try not to create a story that will prolong the feeling.
For example, rather than creating a whole story about how everyone hates you because you set a boundary, see if you can just support yourself by giving self-compassion to the part that’s afraid of being abandoned until the feeling subsides. Remind yourself that boundaries are a necessary part of every healthy relationship and that enforcing them keeps your inner child safe and is ultimately healthy for everyone involved.
4. Find Healthy Ways to Soothe and Nurture Yourself
Finding healthy ways to soothe and nurture yourself is important any time of year, but especially around the holidays. See if you can establish a regular practice of healthy self-soothing so that you can pull out your favorite coping tools when you’re dealing with intense emotions. Some soothing examples include: weighted blankets; aromatherapy; comfy clothes; calming instrumental music; journaling; art; baths and showers; exercise; relaxing guided meditations; nature; hot beverages; books; and uplifting podcasts.
5. Engage in Comfortable Amounts of Play
Even though the inner child wants to play more than anything, doing so can be challenging if you have a history of trauma. Play is a mixed nervous system state and many people feel too unsafe to allow themselves to be so vulnerable and unguarded. This is understandable and healing isn’t about forcing play. Learning how to feel safe through nurturing and protecting the inner child comes first.
If you can tolerate small moments of play, start there. Maybe that means tossing a ball with someone. Maybe it’s dancing. Perhaps it’s choosing to build a small snowman instead of going tubing for five hours with a big group. Do what your nervous system can tolerate and try not to beat yourself up if you can’t just jump in and be relaxed and silly. Respecting your body’s needs and signals is an important part of nurturing the inner child so that it eventually feels safe enough to play for longer periods of time.
The Ultimate Gift
Giving your inner child the gift of enjoying a safe and nurturing holiday season is priceless when it comes to healing. It is by no means easy and you might need the support of friends or a therapist, but showing up for yourself when it’s hard can be truly transformative. Little by little, you can become the protective and loving parent your inner child needs in order to be reclaimed and integrated into your being.
Some of the signs that you’re protecting and nurturing your inner child may include: feeling more empowered; having a relaxed nervous system; being more present; enjoying spontaneity; being more comfortable with vulnerability; being less reactive; and feeling open-hearted more often. You’ll also notice that your “yes” and your “no” have a higher quality to them because they include the needs of your inner child.
Most importantly, you’ll feel more freedom from the past because you’ll realize that you have the power to give yourself what you needed in childhood. You’ll discover that you’re the one you’ve been waiting for and that it’s never too late to nurture your inner child.
I’d love to hear from you: How do you want to take care of your inner child this holiday season?