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We all carry a hurt part of ourselves from childhood to adulthood — maybe you didn’t receive enough love or the type of love you needed. Certain events might also activate negative feelings — such as feeling lonely or abandoned when a friend forgets to return your phone call. Journaling your way through shadow work prompts can help you heal your inner child and reclaim your life.
Shadow work has you explore the parts of yourself you repress, dislike, reject or hide from. When you hold onto those negative childhood traits as a grownup, it can make life more complicated than it has to be. Here are signs your inner child needs healing and a few prompts to get you started.
Signs Your Inner Child Needs Healing
Some people experienced beautiful childhoods. Others may have endured trauma and stress, such as neglect, poverty, unstable home life or the loss of a parent. As children, we struggle to understand our feelings and emotions. According to Shari Botwin — a trauma therapist and author — those negative experiences influence the decisions we make as adults.
How do you know you must heal your inner child? Look for the following signs:
- You overreact or detach from certain situations or feelings
- You use destructive coping strategies, such as gambling, drug and alcohol abuse, self-harm, emotional eating or going on shopping sprees
- You tend to avoid conflict, dismiss people or hold onto a deep fear of rejection or abandonment
- You might suffer from depression or depressive symptoms, including getting too much or too little sleep, being unproductive or isolating yourself
Acquainting oneself with the inner child doesn’t have to be scary. In fact, gaining greater self-awareness of your “child self” at every life stage brings lightness.
8 Healing Shadow Work Prompts
Participating in shadow work is a helpful way to heal your inner child. Journaling, in particular, becomes a safe space to explore your tendencies and reflect on the difficulties you faced growing up. These eight shadow work prompts will nurture your hurt inner child and promote healing.
1. What Are Some Childhood Traits You’ve Carried Into Adulthood?
Kids who are more shy or introverted may remain the same as adults. However, if your introversion gets in the way of you participating in work meetings or social activities, this prompt may be an excellent place to start.
For this writing activity, you want to uncover traits you like and dislike about yourself. Consider your strengths — adaptability, humility and curiosity are all things you can use to your advantage. Yet, even introversion can be a strength. Introverts are often better listeners, creative and empathetic.
This prompt will also help you realize how your traits shine through in certain situations. Studies show kids between eight and 12 become more aggressive if their parents yelled at them when they were younger. Recognize those parts of yourself to break the chain and avoid hurting your own kids.
2. What’s One Thing You Wish You Could Change About Your Younger Years?
We can’t change the past, but we can reflect on what happened and how we wish things were different. Sometimes, simply admitting to ourselves what transpired or who we were allows us to move forward.
Did you behave a certain way? Was your home life dysfunctional? Did you spend more time by yourself than with friends? Acknowledge what went wrong so you know where and how to make life changes.
3. List Five Activities You Enjoyed Growing Up
Ponder what sparked joy for you as a child before you grew up to have adult responsibilities. These activities may have helped you burn off energy, induce relaxation or blow off steam — anything that enabled you to regulate your emotions.
Hang the list somewhere you will always see it. You can then incorporate the activities into your adult life for a similar effect.
4. What Scared You As a Child, and Are You Still Afraid?
If anxiety is a problem for you as an adult, what happened to you as a child that made you afraid? Take time to reflect on past experiences that scared you.
Did you go through a traumatizing natural disaster? Maybe your parents constantly yelled at you or each other. Consider how these instances affect you now.
For example, thunderstorms might scare you if you survived a major hurricane growing up. Likewise, you may be afraid of confrontation now. It is normal to hold onto fears, but you should avoid giving them control over you.
5. Do Certain Situations Trigger a Childlike Response?
The somatic nervous system stores traumatic experiences in muscle memory — therefore, various situations can trigger certain emotions.
There may be times when you revert to your childlike state — your response to any given instance. Understanding what happens during these moments can change the way you react to them in the future. It is also a good idea to write down what helps you move through those triggers.
6. Write a Letter to Someone Forgiving Them for Hurting You As a Child
About 19% of high schoolers report being bullied. If this was you, you could be harboring the mean things people said to you. Another situation may be when one of your parents walked out on the family.
The best release may be a letter to the person who hurt you — you might even be the person who needs forgiveness. Letters make excellent shadow work prompts since they stay safe in the privacy of your journal. You don’t have to mail it to anyone, but you give yourself the chance to let go on paper.
7. Did You Fulfill Any Childhood Dreams in Adulthood?
What were some things you wanted to do when you became a grownup? Did you want to travel somewhere or pursue a particular career path? How many childhood dreams did you fulfill, or what has held you back?
Journaling about childhood dreams may be the first step to creating a bucket list as an adult. It can also make you feel more accomplished and satisfied as you check off each item — like you’re rewarding your inner child.
8. What Made You Feel Safe As a Child?
Healing your inner child takes time, patience and effort. Many people find it challenging to tap into those darker places for fear of reliving certain things or facing the things they don’t like about themselves.
Writing down what made you feel safe as a child — a beloved blanket or stuffed animal, a place or a person — can remind you of your resilience in life’s darkest moments. You can then recreate those safe spaces as an adult.
Shadow Work Prompts Heal the Soul
Using shadow work prompts will help you gain greater self-awareness to grow and live more happily. View these journaling opportunities to get to know yourself in new and exciting ways. Of course, remember always to show your inner child and current state grace.
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