Updated: Dec 3, 2020
When we think of what it's like to be a kid, it can be easy to see how the world might seem like a scary place. We get a sense of being so physically small and understand the mental limitations of kids around potential dangers.
Part of growing up is learning that we are strong, powerful, and intelligent enough to make it through scary things. The thing is though, we don’t always grow up to feel this way as adults. For some of us, we stay in a child-like fear state afraid to take chances, chase our dreams, or even make small everyday decisions out of fear of making the “wrong” choice.
While it’s normal to feel some level of uncertainty when making big decisions or going through life transitions, a constant sense of anxiety, fear, and uncertainty can (though not always) indicate that something deeper is afoot like a trauma. One particular type of trauma this can be seen with is that of an attachment trauma.
“What’s attachment trauma?” you might be wondering.
Attachment trauma takes place when our ability to safely bond to our primary caregiver(s) gets interrupted (due to some form of abuse, neglect, or abandonment, sometimes unintentionally done by the parent like a single parent who is constantly working or growing up in a large family with several siblings). This can happen early on in life and have devastating and long-term effects on our ability to trust and inherently be curious or take chances. Another common result may be a pattern of toxic relationships. Click here to read my previous blog post on how childhood trauma affects adult relationships
Why does attachment trauma lead to a "Scared Self?"
Research conducted in developmental psychology has shown that children who have a secure bond are more likely to be curious about the world. It’s understood that this occurs because the child has the assurance that if they were to get hurt or scared they'll be okay (i.e. their caregiver will heal/soothe them). But if they don't have that security of a safe attachment (fear they will be scolded, dismissed, or scrutinized) they learn that they have to rely on themselves and instinctually don't take chances as much because it might be too risky if something were to go wrong.
So how can I heal this?
This is where Reparenting our Inner Child can help. Reparenting essentially means to take the parent role for your inner child. In other words, being the parent you needed/wish you’d had but in the present. What this does is create a sense of internal security and attachment that we missed out on in development helping us to feel more confident and empowered in decisions and in life.
Some ways you can reparent your inner child are:
1) Reflect on how triggering moment might be tied to unmet needs from your childhood (fear of abandonment, safety, not feeling understood/heard)
2) Start a dialogue with your inner child verbally or in written form acknowledging their unmet needs and using validating and reaffirming language towards them.
3) Connect to your inner child’s true childlike characteristics such as playfulness, creativity, imagination, etc by engaging in those types of activities in the present (color, draw, play a game).
4) Be loving towards your inner child both verbally and physically by holding their image in mind and like saying “I love you” and giving yourself a big hug.
*Inner child work can be both greatly healing as well as emotionally intense or even triggering. Working with a trained trauma therapist can help you develop tools to cope with negative reactions, process traumatic memories, and gently build the relationship between yourself and your inner child as you heal.