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Mental Health

How Inner Child Work Can Help Your Mental Health

Have you ever noticed how much joy adult coloring books, playing dress-up, or just going to the park can bring you? If you have,  you may have connected with your “inner-child” without realizing it. 

You might be asking yourself, What is an Inner Child? The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines an inner child as "the childlike, usually hidden part of a person’s personality characterized by playfulness, spontaneity, and creativity.” In other words, your inner child is the part of you that yearns to connect with your childhood. Exploring your inner child is not only fun, but it’s also therapeutic. 

Her Campus spoke to licensed marriage and family therapist, Allison Gomez, MS, to learn exactly what “inner child work” is, and how it can be a therapeutic practice for Gen Z to heal and evolve.

According to Gomez, “the inner child experience is learning to communicate with basic needs and wants, and it starts with providing compassion.”  By treating your inner child as a family member, someone you love, and someone you are trying to protect, you’re not just opening the door to yourself, but to those around you as well. 

“As a child, I always enjoyed building blocks, household items, singing, and dancing,” Gomez  tells Her Campus. “My inner child shows up when I play with my son, but also when I play with toys in a way that resonates with me."  

The work it takes to nurture your inner child can look different from person to person. Unfortunately, we all don’t have happy childhoods, and some of our youths left us with a great deal of trauma. And while the healing journey is a challenge, It’s crucial to heal according to how your inner child may respond. For some people, it may be meditation, writing a letter to their younger self, exploring childhood hobbies, or even deciding to seek therapy. While taking the step to seek professional help can seem daunting, Gomez advocates putting yourself, and your inner child, first.

“Many people have been judged, punished (physically or mentally), or abandoned when experiencing uncomfortable emotions, which leads them to continue the pattern by dismissing their own experiences,” Gomez says. “Being gentle with the inner child leads to improved emotional regulation.” 

But, how exactly does working on our inner child provide therapeutic benefits? Gomez tells Her Campus about her inner-child discovery and how she uses her experiences to help her clients. 

“I have always been a kid at heart, and when surrounded by safe people, I let that inner child out - it’s energizing and inspiring and motivating,” Gomez tells Her Campus. “There is so much momentum in those moments.“I see my clients become alive and unapologetically aligned with their values. Dreams start to happen, and hope re-emerges.” 

Gomez encourages those looking to explore inner child work to honor their inner child by asking these self-reflective questions: 

  • As a child, what did I enjoy doing? Did I have any hobbies? If so, what did I like about them?
  • What did I need as a child that I received? 
  • As a child, what did I need that I didn't receive?
  • When did I feel safe as a child? Whom did I feel safe around? What helped when feeling scared?

“By exploring these reflective questions, help build a connection with oneself,” Gomez says. “As we get older, it’s easy to dismiss past experiences, both positive and negative.” 

After asking yourself these questions, you may be more inclined to explore the aspects of yourself that you’ve long-forgotten and, in turn, rediscover things that you truly love.

“Reminding yourself of what you were like can allow you to re-engage with activities that feel good and distance yourself from activities that do not feel good,” Gomez tells Her Campus. “Identifying this can lead to living a more authentic life with more improved alignment to values, wants, and desires.”  

So, release your child within and allow them to break free (maybe a High School Musical marathon *wink*).  There are a million ways to express your inner child, so find what works for you, and remember it is a personal journey: re-read those childhood favorite books, delve into the pop-punk music you loved as a kid, and even get down with some DIY crafts. What works for someone else may not work for you, and that’s okay. It is essential to listen to your inner child and attend to their needs. Be prepared to go through the motions of exploring and be brave for your kid within. They deserve it.

Hi! I'm a writer for HerCampus National. In my free time, I love listening to music, spending hours on Tik-Tok, and shopping. Fun fact about me, I wrote for the HerCampus chapter at St. John's and I was president from fall 2020 to spring 2021.
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