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How Does the Inner Child Affect Intimacy?

"The Inner Child is the aspect of our personality that is soft, vulnerable, and feelings oriented—our “gut” instinct. It is who we are when we were born, our core self, our natural personality, with all its talent, instinct, intuition, and emotion."

~ Margaret Paul

I came across John Bradshaw's work on the inner child over 20 years ago and it changed my life and my understanding of why I struggled with intimate relationships.

In his world-famous book, Reclaiming and Healing Your Inner Child, Bradshaw states that “the wounded inner child contaminates intimacy in relationships because they have no sense of their authentic self. The greatest wound a child can receive is the rejection of their authentic self. When a parent cannot affirm the child’s feelings, needs, and desires, they reject that child’s authentic self. Then, a false self must be set up.”

This false self is what most of us take into relationships and we meet other people's false selves. This can cause a number of issues as neither person show up from their authentic place. More likely both partners may be relating to each other's wounded inner child".

In her article The Emotionally Wounded Inner Child in Psychology Today, Psychotherapist Sherry Gaba explains this dynamic beautifully.

When children are emotionally and mentally injured, neglected, or even abused in childhood, those inner wounds never heal.

The child may act out, including having temper tantrums, facing challenges in making friends, and remaining suspicious of the motives of others.

As these emotionally wounded children get older, they leave some of their childhood behaviors behind, but they still have the wounded inner child deep within their psyche. When these adults are stressed, pressured, or begin to feel overwhelmed, they often drop back to familiar behaviour patterns and the behaviours they used as children to get their way.

It is also possible for a wounded inner child to crave attention and a sense of belonging they never experienced. In these situations, individuals with this wounded inner child may tolerate behaviour in a relationship that is negative, destructive, and abusive. This is a coping mechanism to attempt to gain a sense of belonging in relationships, which is something they desire at a deep emotional level.

How to know if your inner child is running the show

  • You Feel shame, guilt, and/or pain.

  • Chronic overworking and needing to achieve (to get approval or belonging).

  • Inability to be present in the moment.

  • Regular anxiety and fear.

  • Rigid and trying to be “perfect” (cannot handle failure).

  • Difficulty noticing and celebrating “wins” in life (no win will ever be enough).

  • Unhealthy relationship patterns and/or avoiding relationships and love.

  • Self-sabotage and obsessive/addictive behaviours.

  • Underachieving.

  • Rumination and negative self-talk.

  • Projecting the worst-case scenario about your friendship or relationship


  • Masking emotions—pretending to be accepting of a situation, but it is evident by your actions you are upset.

  • Manipulating situations—the manipulation of the thoughts and emotions of others to get what you want

Inner child work: how your past affects your present and what you can do by Lionheart Counselling

Hiding pain from childhood doesn’t make the pain evaporate. Instead, it often surfaces in your adult life, showing up as distress in personal relationships or difficulty meeting your own needs. Working to heal your inner child can help you address some of these issues.

In inner-child work, we connect to the little boy or girl within us and use that connection to begin to understand what powers our anxiety and behaviour patterns as an adult. With understanding, we can embark on healing and transformation. Each journey is different, but the process often includes

  1. Acknowledge. Recognize and accept things that caused you pain in childhood.

  2. Listen. Pay attention to the feelings that you experience when you open the door to your inner child. Do you feel angry, rejected, vulnerable, guilty, or anxious? What situations in your adult life or in your relationship trigger these same feelings?

  3. Open a dialog. Consider writing a letter to your inner child. Ask your inner child, “how do you feel?” and “how would you like me to support you”? It takes time, but you can help your inner child feel safer and more secure.

  4. Meditate. Children (and your inner child is still a child!) have a hard time naming uncomfortable emotions. Adults often praise children who repress their feelings. Unfortunately, repressed emotions just appear later in life, often in harmful ways. Meditation helps you acknowledge and accept emotions. This sends your inner child the message that it’s okay to express emotions.

  5. Journal. For adults, journaling can be a great way to cope with emotional turmoil and recognize patterns in your adult life. When you journal with the perspective of your inner child, you can often identify unhelpful behavior patterns that began in your childhood.

  6. Bring the joys of childhood into your adult life. Playfulness is an essential component of good emotional health. If your inner child feels that it missed out on pleasant experiences, finding time for relaxation and fun in your adult life can help you build positive emotions.

When you tune in to your inner child, offering love and compassion, you can open the door to healing your adult relationships and feelings.

Having healthy boundaries is also a vital part of building intimacy in relationships and for general mental health and well-being. If you want some support around boundaries, check out my self-paced workshop, Boundary Boot Camp - Saying No Without Apology!

GST: Please note that all services will now include GST. Let me know if you need an invoice for any of my services.

Lots of hugs until next time.

Faith xoxo


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