We all have wounds that spring from childhood experiences. Experiment with this powerful inner child writing exercise to tune into the work that will lift you out of your self-sabotaging patterns and into a new, healthier way of being.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned on my healing journey, it’s that we tend to do the same things in life over and over again.
Some of us tumble from one unhealthy relationship to the next. Others jump from one unfulfilling, dead-end job to the next. Our self-sabotaging patterns can even transfer from one area of our lives to another. For example, let’s say we tend towards codependent behavior in romantic relationships and put up with abuse. One day we finally get up the courage to leave the unhealthy relationship, and then a year later we find ourselves playing the role of codependent victim with a job or a boss.
Whatever it is you keep doing over and over again, you don’t have to do it anymore.
Through my own self work and the stories other women have so generously shared, I’ve learned that these self-sabotaging patterns can almost always be linked back to a childhood experience. Here’s a couple examples of how that might play out:
- As a child your father was often away for long periods of time due to his job, which gave you minimal practice at steady connection with the first man in your life. As an adult, you crave emotional intimacy with your romantic partner, but time after time you lead with looks and physical attraction instead to secure his attention.
- While practicing for your first-grade play, the teacher had everyone sing one at a time until she found the child who was throwing the group off key. That child was you. To this day, you refuse to sing and have difficulty with public speaking of any kind.
Feel it to Heal It
In one of the most impactful counseling sessions I’ve ever had, my therapist had me explore a hurtful childhood memory. It wasn’t traumatic. At the time the experience occurred, I wasn’t even aware of its impact on me. As I continued through the details of the story, I laughed when I hit the painful parts, realizing for the first time its connection to my current life choices.
“What are you feeling right now?” My therapist interrupted, stopping me mid-sentence.
I put down my verbosity and tendency toward stuffing intensity with laughter. I took the time to identify the emotions I was feeling and the sensations that were occurring in my body. In the silence, a persistent knot in my throat grew larger and swelled until the dam broke lose. I cried, and I felt.
A Return to Wholeness
Logic can block us from accessing the emotions we need to feel. Our task is to reach back past all our coping mechanisms for that emotionally stunted inner child and love her into maturity and wholeness. Because if we don’t, that hurt, volatile little child will keep driving the car of our lives.
I always wanted a little girl so I could pass on my wisdom about what it means to be a woman. I’d tell her she’s fierce and poised to birth infinite possibilities into her life. I’d tell her she’s beautiful, strong, and capable. I’d tell her I love her no matter what—no matter how she looks, what she accomplishes, or the mistakes she makes. I’d tell her mistakes are necessary steps on the path to self realization and a life worth living. I’d acknowledge her pain and confusion when I don’t have the answers to life’s impossible problems and remind her we’re in it together.
In its twisted sense of humor, life gave me boys. It hasn’t been until recently that I’ve realized I already have the gargantuan task of parenting my own little girl self into wholeness.
Drive it Home
If you’re wondering how to get past your own self sabotaging patterns and childhood wounds, try this exercise to begin exploring and healing your little girl self.
- Take all those logical understandings of why you’re stuck in self-sabotaging patterns, and then try to recall a childhood memory that illustrates how the hurt developed over the years. Avoid choosing a traumatic memory that may require professional support. Begin by writing the story in your journal. Where and when did it happen? What happened?
- After a little bit of time has passed (aim for five minutes or less), but before you reach the end of the story, put your pen down and pause. Take a break from your thoughts and notice how you’re feeling. What emotions are you experiencing? What sensations are occurring in your body? What you feel in this pause is what it felt like to be that hurt child.
- Now imagine that you are tasked with parenting this hurt child. Write a letter to her. If she was your child, what would you tell her? What does she need to hear? If you find yourself being harsh or insensitive, try to drop deeper. Focus on a loving and compassionate tone.
Taking responsibility for parenting our inner wounded child is a foundational first step to healing. What insights did you discover as you worked your way through the writing exercise?