Inner Child and Attachment Styles
Human beings are social beings who need to be around others in order to learn about themselves, to understand the world around them and/or to give and get support during trying times. Our experiences, especially those from our infancy and childhood, can contribute to how we view ourselves, those around us and the world around us, including the different relationships we might be exposed to. These perceptions that we learn about and adopt are carried into our adulthood and have an impact on how we handle situations. That is, if we handle them as “a child” or as an adult, our attachment styles in relation to others, and what our “trauma” responses might be in times of discomfort/a threat.
Inner Child/The Child In You:
The term “inner child” is used quite often in popular psychology as more people are trying to learn about themselves and see how they can heal from their past experiences that have helped shape who and how they are. Even though it is used quite a lot, a lot of people do not really understand what it means or what it refers to.
The Inner Child refers to the subconscious part of ourselves that remembers and holds the experiences, emotions, memories, traumas, fears, and beliefs from our past, as well as the hopes and dreams for the future.
It is the part of us that remembers how it felt when our parents were reassuring us, or when we were being ignored and/or bullied. It is the part of us that remembers how excited we felt when we finally got acknowledged and accepted by our peers.
The different events, relationships and experiences we remember and hold help shape the kind of inner child we have or internalise and bring into our adulthood. The inner child could be happy and content (also referred to as the sun child) or be angry, hurt and disregarded (also known as the shadow child).
The Shadow Child/Angry & Sad Inner Child:
- This type of inner child holds the negative beliefs and the associated oppressive feelings of grief, fear, helplessness and/or anger. Accordingly, giving rise to defense mechanisms/self-protection strategies that develop as a means to cope with these feelings/avoid them altogether, such as withdrawal, being a placator, a perfectionist, being aggressive, vying for a sense of control in situations, etc.
- These are attempts to make the inner child feel safe, happy and/or content, as the self might see itself as unworthy, incapable, weak, unintelligent, unloved, etc., and the environment as unsafe or unpredictable, depending on the context. This view of self and/or the environment often is a foundation for unhealthy relationships with others.
The Sun Child/Happy & Content Inner Child:
- This type of inner child holds the positive influences and feelings from our childhood.
- It epitomises the happy and content child in their innocence, spontaneity, curiosity and wonder, zest for life, awe and playfulness.
- The self usually feels loved, seen, important, worthy, smart, etc., and sees the environment as safe, which is often a prerequisite for healthier, friendlier and calm/stable relationships.
For example when we find ourselves in a situation as an adult (be it at the workplace, in a family conversation, friendships) that makes us feel like we are in danger (emotionally/physically), we may choose to placate the one posing as a threat or run away from the threat (withdrawal/avoidance) because as a child, that is what worked. So, in that moment, one are attempting to keep their inner child safe.
A more clear example of this is: While your employer is making you feel invalidated about your concerns or efforts at work, you might, as a result, avoid conversing with them in the future just so you do not feel invalidated again, which might be a way that you have learned to deal with feelings on invalidation (not being seen, heard, acknowledged) as a child when your parents did not gratify that need for you. Therefore, in that moment, you are responding as the inner child, and not the adult that you are, because the main goal is to keep the inner child safe.
How Our Upbringing Can Shape How We View Relationships:
The manner in which our caregivers, parents and guardians treat us becomes the blueprint for every relationship in our lives. That is because the connection we have with our parents and/or caregivers teach us how to regard ourselves and our interpersonal relationships. Another example of how this is manifested is through our Attachment Styles.
Attachment styles refer to specific ways of relating to others (emotionally, behaviorally & interactionally) in relationships, which are shaped and developed in early childhood in response to our relationships with our earliest caregivers; that is how they would respond to our cues, emotional stress, and needs. Therefore the manner in which we relate to others in adulthood is a mirror of how our caregivers related to us.
Types of Attachment Styles:
- Secure Attachment (The Healthiest and Ideal Attachment Style)
- Anxious/Anxious-Preoccupied Attachment (Unhealthy/Insecure)
- Avoidant/Dismissive-Avoidant Attachment (Unhealthy/Insecure)
- Fearful-Avoidant/Disorganised Attachment (Unhealthy/Insecure)
If you think your inner child might be a shadow child (angry and sad), and/or your attachment style is insecure, often interfering with the quality of relationships in your life, psychotherapy might be helpful for you in trying to learn healthier ways of relating to others and/or healing your inner child.
Reflect On This:
- What kind of inner child do you think you encompass?
- What experiences from childhood stand out for you the most?
- How does your inner child manifest itself now as an adult?
- What do you do in trying to heal/protect/validate your inner child?
- What is your attachment style?
- How does it affect your connections with others?
- In what ways do you try to have healthier relationships?
- If you are struggling with these, would you consider psychotherapy? Why & Why not?
The conversations you have with yourself should always be genuine so that you can identify where you might need to work on improving/healing, etc.
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