According to John Bradshaw, author of “Home Coming: Reclaiming and Championing Your Inner Child,” the process of healing your wounded inner child is one of grief. And it involves these seven steps (in Bradshaw’s words):
For your wounded inner child to come out of hiding, he must be able to trust that you will be there for him. Your inner child also needs a supportive, nonshaming ally to validate his abandonment, neglect, abuse, and enmeshment. Those are the first essential elements in original pain work.
If you’re still inclined to minimize and/or rationalize the ways in which you were shamed, ignored, or used to nurture your parents, you need now to accept the fact that these things truly wounded your soul. Your parents weren’t bad, they were just wounded kids themselves.
If this is all shocking to you, that’s great, because shock is the beginning of grief. After shock comes depression and then denial.
It’s okay to be angry, even if what was done to you was unintentional. In fact, you HAVE to be angry if you want to heal your wounded inner child. I don’t mean you need to scream and holler (although you might). It’s just okay to be mad about a dirty deal. I know [my parents] did the best that two wounded adult children could do. But I’m also aware that I was deeply wounded spiritually and that it has had life-damaging consequences for me. What that means is that I hold us all responsible to stop what we’re doing to ourselves and to others. I will not tolerate the outright dysfunction and abuse that dominated my family system.
After anger comes hurt and sadness. If we were victimized, we must grieve that betrayal. We must also grieve what might have been–our dreams and aspirations. We must grieve our unfulfilled developmental needs.
When we grieve for someone who has died, remorse is sometimes more relevant; for instance, perhaps we wish we had spent more time with the deceased person. But in grieving childhood abandonment, you must help your wounded inner child see that there was nothing he could have done differently. His pain is about what happened to him; it is not about him.
The deepest core feelings of grief are toxic shame and loneliness. We were shamed by [our parents’] abandoning us. We feel we are bad, as if we’re contaminated. And that shame leads to loneliness. Since our inner kid feels flawed and defective, he has to cover up his true self with his adapted false self. He then comes to identify himself by his false self. His true self remains alone and isolated. Staying with this last layer of painful feelings is the hardest part of the grief process. “The only way out is through,” we say in therapy. It’s hard to stay at that level of shame and loneliness; but as we embrace these feelings, we come out the other side. We encounter the self that’s been in hiding. You see, because we hid it from others, we hid it from ourselves. In embracing our shame and loneliness, we begin to touch our truest self.