This Quick Trauma Coping Exercise Can Help Heal Your Inner Child
The concept of healing your inner child can seem daunting, to say the very least. This process doesn’t come with an instruction manual or a clear finish line, which might make it difficult to take the first step. And while it may seem like a process that can only take place in therapy, there are plenty of ways to heal your inner child on your own, too.
Great news: New York Times bestselling author of The Greatness Mindset, keynote speaker, industry-leading show host, and former pro-athlete Lewis Howes shared one personal exercise for tending to childhood wounds on the mindbodygreen podcast. You may want to keep this handy tip in your back pocket.
Try this trauma-release exercise.
For the past two years, Howes has been working on this exercise. Follow along below:
Choose a childhood photo.
"I had a photo of my five-year-old self as my screensaver," Howes notes. Try to find a photo from as far back as you can, then put it somewhere you'll be sure to see it everyday. Howes chose a digital photo as his screensaver, but you can also print the photo out and tape it on your mirror. Choose whatever method works best for you.
Identify painful memories.
You’ll want to start with one painful memory at a time, starting from the age of your photo. This may come easier to some than others, but you can use the assistance of journaling or talking with a trusted friend or family member to dive deep into the past.
Remember that no memory is too big or too small when it comes to trauma work. People often think a traumatic experience has to be quite catastrophic to impact them so many years later, but as physician and renowned speaker Gabor Maté, M.D. once told us, “Trauma is not what happened to you; it's what happened inside you."
Write it down.
Once you’ve identified a painful memory, write down what happened and how it made you feel. Now if bringing up this memory gives you anxiety that you can’t work past alone, be sure to ask a friend or family member for support during this step.
You can also assess how this memory shows up in your daily life. In other words, what kinds of events, conversations, or emotions trigger this same feeling inside of you? This could be in your relationships, personal life, work life, etc.
Pull out at least one lesson you learned.
Now, you’ll want to mend the painful memory by creating a new, positive association with it. This doesn’t mean you need to forgive those who hurt you (if applicable), but rather try to focus on the good that’s come out of it.
Has this event taught you how to support yourself emotionally? Did it teach you how to ask for help? Did it help you learn how to converse with difficult people? Has it made you a safe space or support system for others struggling with similar events?
Once you've established that new connection, you'll be able to approach triggering situations with more self-love and understanding. In the future, you may begin to feel less triggered as time goes on, now that you've worked through the situation. This won't happen overnight, so be patient with yourself while you heal.
Change the photo and repeat.
Once you've supported that inner child, choose a new photo (and age) to focus on. Yes, this process may take a while, but that's the whole point: Trauma work does not happen overnight. "The goal is to go from my earliest memories, all the way to present day," says Howes, as he flashes us a photo of his 17-year-old self. "I'm about halfway there."
Why it matters.
While healing your inner child does take intentional work, it’s well worth the time spent. According to Howes, this practice has helped him become more level-headed in situations that would have previously triggered him; now, he can approach those situations (and life in general) with more positive emotions.
Plus, healing your inner child's wounds will help you navigate relationships, be it with family, friends, or partners, with grace. While nobody can ever “complete” inner child healing per se, starting the journey is the most important step.
On the topic of childhood wounds, Howes notes, “They're unfortunate, but if you don't find new, powerful meanings from them, they will keep you a prisoner for the rest of your life, and they will keep hurting you.” In short: Sometimes you can't move forward without looking back.
Other ways to heal your inner child.
If you’re not ready to dive into this step (no pressure, it’s an intense exercise!), there are plenty of other ways to work on healing your inner child. We dive deep into the topic here, but we’ll list out a few quick actions to consider below:
- Nurture your creativity: Draw, garden, sit, read graphic novels, dance, or anything else you loved doing as a child.
- Collect something: Collecting what you find on a walk, on our way to the beach (sticks, rocks, shells), can be a way of reconnecting with your inner child.
- Journal: Write in your journal anything you’re feeling, how your day went, or ask your inner child how they’re feeling today. This doesn’t have to take up tons of time, but regular check-ins can be helpful.
Healing your inner child can seem like an intimidating journey to begin. One way to start this process on your own is to identify painful memories, reflect on how they impacted you, and develop a new, more positive view of them and how they’ve contributed to your journey and who you are today.
Hannah Frye is the Assistant Beauty Editor at mindbodygreen. She has a B.S. in journalism and a minor in women’s, gender, and queer studies from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. Hannah has written across lifestyle sections including health, wellness, sustainability, personal development, and more. She previously interned for Almost 30, a top-rated health and wellness podcast. In her current role, Hannah reports on the latest beauty trends, holistic skincare approaches, must-have makeup products, and inclusivity in the beauty industry. She currently lives in New York City.