The Inner Child refers to the vulnerable, authentic, and playful part of ourselves that carries our early childhood experiences, emotions, and memories. It represents the innocence, curiosity, and creative essence we had as children.
As we grow up, we are exposed to societal norms, cultural values, and expectations from family, school, and society. These influences often encourage us to conform, suppress our natural emotions, and adopt more serious or responsible roles. Negative or traumatic events during childhood can also disrupt the connection with our Inner Child. To protect ourselves, we may develop defense mechanisms and emotional barriers that prevent us from fully accessing and expressing our vulnerable inner essence.
A group of neuroscientists developed a theory that the brain hemispheres had very specific specializations. Other neuroscientists thought that while there are differences between them, the primary difference is that the left hemisphere tends to be what’s called top-down, whereas the right hemisphere is bottom-up.
The left top-down, which we would call the conscious adult mind, represents life and experience in words and ideas. It tries to make sense of all experience in categories and sees the world in separate objects. It views our self and how our identity is unique and different from everyone else. It tends to be very optimistic, logical and schematic or step by step. It tends to be very future oriented. It plans and and sets goals for the future.
The left top-down processes are very interested in self-survival. The left brain seeks security by trying to gather tools and resources from the world. It loves gadgets and screens, smartphones and computers. It loves things that are man-made. It thinks of the present as being separate from the past and views time much like slices of a loaf of bread, in terms of days, times and so forth. It can get over events from the past and experience the past as far away because, for left memory, the further away events are in the past, the more we lose the details that we built narratives from. The left brain voluntarily recalls memories. It is mostly intangible and capable of blocking awareness of feelings. People who have classically avoidant attachment, who are extremely self-reliant, have isolated jobs and gravitate towards isolating endeavors, tend to have very strong functioning left top-down processing.
The less conscious region or processes are known as right bottom-up. The right bottom-up processes tend to withdraw for protection. While the left, the adult conscious mind, tries to solve everything, e.g., through acquiring money, resources or shelter, the right tries to survive by retreating and withdrawing. The right bottom-up has strong needs for playful, exploratory curiosity. It doesn’t view the world in terms of categories like the left brain, but in terms of shifting, fluid events that it gravitates towards. The right bottom-up tends to live as much in the past as it does in the present and has no interest in the future, except if something it anticipates will be scary. But it lives very much in the past. For the right brain, there’s no difference between events that happened 30 years ago and events that happened yesterday. Emotional wounds or traumas that happened in childhood and adult life can feel just as painful, just as scary and trigger just as much of a need to retreat, withdraw and run away.
According to American Psychologist Allan Schore, the right orbitofrontal holds internal working models that are unconscious, which hold deep emotional beliefs about how safe we are with other people, whether we can trust others, whether we will get our needs met. It triggers feelings of vulnerability and core shame, where we believe either fundamentally we are lovable or unlovable. When we are dreaming or under the influence of hallucinogens, the dominance of the left hemisphere, the left top-down, is subverted and we become primarily right bottom-up, which is why our dreams are associative. People from distant past can be experienced as well as people in the present, which is why we can make strange, illogical associations.
The right bottom up gravitates to the familiar. Hence, what Freud called repetition compulsion. For example, somebody who in childhood had an abandoning caregiver who was not emotionally truly available, even though they very much want attachment, will continue to gravitate and be attracted towards emotionally unavailable partners.
The right brain is largely formed by experiences in the first five years of life. Hence - the Inner Child.
The overall view is that the right bottom-up is fragmented. can hold completely contradictory impulses. We can have emotional impulses to attach, continually seek love from people who are unavailable, explore, give up and run away from obligations that the left has set. But it also can have very strong retreat and withdrawal impulses.
The adult brain gets hijacked by irrational (or very real) fears of the right bottom-up brain, the inner child, which holds all of our attachment and interpersonal wounds from the past. When we find ourselves catastrophizing, going over everything that can go wrong, feelings of vulnerability in the right brain get activated by some life event. The right brain speaks to us through the body, not through ideas and words and inner chatter like the left adult brain. It speaks to us bottom-up with feelings. It creates a feeling of vulnerability and nervousness, which leaves the left brain overwhelmed.
In Spiritual and Somatic practice, the best way to connect with the inner child is through integration. The inner child is, of course, primarily embodied, it expresses its needs through the body and feelings. We can feel excitement and the desire to explore, expansion as the breath becomes fuller, or the body withdraws from situations, disconnects, seeks security and in that case, the body contracts.
When we’re stuck in life, find that our goals and plans are being undermined by impulses of procrastination or fear, when we suddenly experience panic or anxiety, in Buddhist mindfulness, specifically in mindfulness of feelings or through somatic practices, we stop and find the physiological affect state beneath all the inner chatter in times of panic or anxiety. The left brain will catastrophize and look around for all the reasons to be frightened. We put aside our focus on thoughts and rather go into the body and we focus on what is beneath all the ideas and stories.
Instead we focus on the feelings. We sit and we acknowledge the feelings and begin to ask what do they want? They express themselves through impulses. And sometimes the impulses will be clearly wanting to retreat or stop. Sometimes the impulses will be wanting to hug and cling. Sometimes they will be wanting to explore, grasp, or become curious. We listen to the impulses as they express through the body. That’s how the inner child speaks to us… and the way to talk to the inner child is, simply, by paying attention to it, listening to it, understanding its needs, being creative and showing solutions.
Please follow the link below to enjoy this recording of my discussion on Connecting to the Inner Child, along with a simple guided mediation!