• Megan Johnson, Ph.D.

The Key to Resolving Conflict: Getting to Know Your Inner Child

One of the key tasks of psychotherapy is working through conflicts, such as those that emerge between friends, spouses, coworkers, and family members. These are the issues that commonly motivate an individual to seek out therapy, but they are often the surface manifestations of deeper conflicts. In order to effectively understand and work through life’s conflicts, one must develop an awareness of his or her internal conflicts.

The current version of yourself is a compilation of all of your prior experiences – good, bad, and neutral. Everything you have encountered throughout the course of your life has influenced the person you are today, which means you are comprised of many different parts. These parts include what Internal Family Systems Therapy refers to as your inner child (aka: exiles), managers, and firefighters.

Your inner child is your truest self, the one that is aware of your early wounds, relational foundation, survival instincts, demeanor, and natural inclinations; and your inner child also carries the emotional burden of all your past trauma. This is why your inner child is sometimes referred to as the exile – because we often try to rid our conscious awareness of these traumatic feelings and memories. For example, a person who was left alone a lot as a child and did not have a trusted adult to turn to when they needed help or guidance may grow into an adult with an inner child who feels unseen, unheard, lacking agency and self-esteem, and fearing abandonment.

Your manager is the protective part of you that works hard to get out in front of feelings of vulnerability and insecurity in order to maintain a perceived sense of control sense of control. In the same example, this may result in a manager that becomes rigid, perfectionistic, and codependent.

Your firefighter is the part of you that acts out in order to distract you from the pain your inner child feels. With the above example, this could look like panic attacks, binge eating, problematic drinking, or overworking.

The work of therapy is to become aware of all of these parts of yourself and get them talking to one another. The ultimate goal is to get in touch with that inner child of yours, address their wounds, and respond to their needs. In doing so, your manager does not have to protect you through over-control and your firefighter does not have to distract you with drama. This is the process of reparenting your inner child that leads to holistic mental health.

Below are some book recommendations for digging in and getting to know your inner child:

· It Didn’t Start With You: How Inherited Family Trauma Shapes Who We Are and How to End the Cycle by Mark Wolynn

· Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents: How to Heal from Distant, Rejecting, or Self-Involved Parents by Lindsay C. Gibson

· Reconciliation: Healing the Inner Child by Thich Nhat Hanh

· Mindful Eating: A Gide to Rediscovering a Healthy and Joyful Relationship With Food by Jan Chozen Bays

· 101 Trauma-Informed Interventions: Activities, Exercises, and Assignments to Move the Client and Therapy Forward


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