The Mighty Logo

How to Know If You Have a Wounded Inner Child (and How to Heal)

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

Editor's Note

If you’ve experienced domestic violence or emotional abuse, sexual abuse or assault, the following post could be potentially triggering.

You can contact The National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673.

You can contact The National Domestic Violence Hotline online by selecting “chat now” or calling 1-800-799-7233.

You can also contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.

If you’re here reading this right now, you probably already know, on some level, that you have a wounded inner child. Even if you aren’t totally sure what your inner child is, you can tell they aren’t OK, and you are ready to figure it out and start healing.

If that’s you, welcome. You’re in exactly the right place. 

So, let’s start with a basic explanation of who your inner child is. Essentially, as we grow up, previous versions of ourselves don’t just phase out of existence. We carry them with us. They are an eternal part of us. So your inner child is simply the child version of you, always with you. 

If that child was wounded in some way, then those wounds stay with you too, and because the pain happened in the past, it’s tempting to believe that there’s nothing you can do to fix it. But even though you can’t change the past, you can change the wound. It’s possible to heal, even if it happened decades ago. Let’s talk about how.

How to Tell If You Have a Wounded Inner Child

I know my inner child is wounded because she makes herself heard, loud and clear.

I hear her when I’m upset. I hear her crying even when I’m trying to be “strong” and “good” and “not so dramatic.”

I hear her when I’m so focused on being productive, I’ve completely forgotten what it feels like to be happy.

I hear her all the time now, and to be honest it’s overwhelming, but the only way out of all this is through, and I am determined to get through all of the hurt done to my inner child and learn to love her properly.

So, what does this look like on a practical level? If you have a wounded inner child, you might notice some of these signs:

  • When you’re upset, you belittle yourself or speak to yourself in a very negative way.
  • Seemingly small incidents send you spiraling because they remind you of countless times something similar has happened.
  • You constantly seek validation from others because you don’t know how to validate yourself.
  • You struggle with free time because you don’t know what you’re supposed to do.
  • You have a hard time trusting others. You just get the sense that they will let you down or hurt you if they get too close.
  • On some deep level, part of you feels inherently unlovable.

If you relate to these, then you likely have a wounded inner child.

But how did your inner child get wounded?

Childhood wounds can come from a wide variety of sources, from outright abuse to the more subtle and insidious emotional neglect, and of course our society can wound our inner child as well. If you aren’t a straight, white, able-bodied man, then odds are your inner child was wounded in some way by feelings of rejection from society.

Why It’s So Hard to Heal a Wounded Inner Child

There are a lot of reasons why healing your wounded inner child is hard, but at its core, the problem is this: the people who hurt you will never heal you. 

The people who hurt you will never heal you.

That’s hard because the child in us, the child who trusted those people so completely, expects the solution to come from them as well. After all, when you’re a kid, pretty much every solution to your problems comes from the adults in your life.

But it just doesn’t work that way when it comes to healing a wounded inner child. Adults are often loathe to admit that they hurt you as a child, and if they can’t admit that there’s a wound, they certainly can’t heal it. 

Instead, the responsibility falls on you to heal yourself. Luckily, there are ways to do it. 

4 Strategies for Healing

1. Be the adult that you needed as a child.

When you were a child, part of you was wounded instead of cared for, and it can feel like that damage is permanent and irreparable. But the truth is, you’re an adult now, and you have the ability to take care of yourself the way you deserved back then.

If you were used to hearing harsh words or a belittling tone, your inner child might be craving a kind, supportive adult who speaks to them with respect. You can speak to your inner child that way now. Go somewhere quiet and, out loud, tell your inner child all of the things they deserved to hear back in the day:

“You’re so special.”

“I love you so much.”

“You were right.”

2. Get to know your inner child by quietly listening in the hard moments.

Another common wound from childhood is not feeling seen. Even if we knew intellectually that we were loved, we simply didn’t feel like people saw who we really were, or just didn’t care. So now, as an adult, you can do a lot of healing simply by listening to your inner child. How do they react when things get hard? What are their fears? What makes them happy? Learn to pay attention.

3. Indulge your inner child, do what they want to do.

Once you have a better understanding of what makes your inner child happy, do those things as often as you can. We often deny our inner child in favor of being the adults we feel expected to be, but when our inner child is ignored, their needs only become more pronounced.

This might look like feelings of restlessness, identity confusion, irritation or hopelessness, all of which are the direct result of the disconnect between our needs and our behavior. When the two don’t line up, we are sure to experience discomfort and despair.

4. Stand up for your inner child when others say things that insult them.

You can also make your inner child a high priority by standing up for them when they are insulted or belittled in some way, even if it’s indirectly.

If someone calls you “too sensitive,” and that is something your wounded inner child is all too used to hearing, let that person know that you disagree and don’t appreciate hearing that. Let your inner child know that you won’t be silent in the face of their diminishment anymore.

Loving Your Inner Child

Dealing with childhood wounds is hard, but it’s absolutely possible. On a basic level, healing a wounded inner child is all about learning to love the child that you used to be. Even if you were weird or shy or loud or “difficult.” You were still lovable, and it’s possible to reach back in time and show that child the love they deserved. You have that power. So let’s get started.

If your childhood wounds make you feel like you don’t know yourself, check out my “Who Am I?” Bundle. Sign up to get access to a completely free worksheet and video training on figuring out who you are.

A version of this article was previously published on the author’s blog, Healing Unscripted.

Getty Images photo via Ksenia Zvezdina

Originally published: March 2, 2021
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home