How to compassionately witness and heal your inner child

How to compassionately witness and heal your inner child

The buck stops here. With me. This far, no further. This promise committed me to a journey beyond my wildest imagination, oftentimes beyond my limits and along the very edges of sanity. I seem to be given to these grand romantic pledges to the universe - must be the well developed drama queen in me!

When my incestuous history finally revealed itself after a bang to the head, I’d long been a woman engaged in the healing struggle to emerge from what I already knew to be a difficult childhood. I carried the emotional and mental traumas in a way that I hoped meant business. I wanted different for my children; a family hearth rooted in loving kindness built by adults whole and present in themselves and each other. Such an easy wish on the rainbow; the pot of gold an endless search within and without for the resources to deliver that which had not been mine nor my partner’s birth right. We hadn’t even tasted the corners of such a family space until we came together to make a life and a family.

So I had a goodly weight to carry into my healing path, and I mean goodly because it is this heaviness which drove me on into consciousness day after day. This month, 22 years after the moment I opted to stay sane, a breakthrough. I finally stand truly outside my family’s varied and multicoloured madness to bear witness to a sense of wholeness releasing me into a freedom I have but dreamed of. Free to hold unshakeable compassion across the chasm of the family fault lines. A chasm that holds the nature and detail of the emotional, mental and sexual abuse meted out from my kin. It has cost me many years of intensive undercover work to exorcise the terror and the humiliation, the rage and the shame, the shock and the horror, the disbelief and the disbelieving. I’m a practised healer, an accomplished psychic, a woman surrounded by loving partners and friends, living in a beautiful intentional community and I feel like I just barely made it out of the tunnel oftentimes. So I understand why they, and maybe you, choose not to make the journey. But I also assert the need for as many of us as possible to disembark from the land of keeping-it-locked-down-inside because, the truth is, you just can’t hide it. Childhood damage leaks out over everyone and everything you touch. Which is why I told myself the day I began to re-member my incest, "This far, no further." (‘Re-member’ to bring back into the body).

But, it is this terrible and wondrous journey into my own private hell and back that has brought me to a wholeness today which sets me free. Free to love, free to forgive, free to let go into the fullness of this beautiful moment, free to hold out my arms in compassion and understanding to those still on the other side. Because what stands between us now is the difference between healing the inner child and desperately trying to wall her up.

It has taken me years to learn to listen to the whisperings within. The haunted and pathetic calls from a damaged girlhood psyche emanating from a deep, dark, slimy dungeon I had no desire to enter. Not now I was adult, not now there was no big bully regularly pushing me down against the wet, fetid floor. But enter it I have, because I finally realised anything else was to simply perpetuate the abuse my elders perpetrated. Anything else was self-abuse, self-abandonment, self-hatred. I wasn’t proud of that little voice inside, the one begging to be looked after, taken care of, made safe and pretty again. I’ve had to listen hard and well. She has had many, many awful stories to tell me. Many tales I’d kept well locked up in the dungeon until I was 30 years old - strong enough and wise enough to handle it (but barely, just barely!) Others were well thumbed old favourites endlessly mourned over. Check it out - do you have some old stories you like to store in the chip on your shoulder, proud war wounds to show off, crusted figurines you polish to a bright, hard sheen? True healing is the art of letting go, are you against or for-giving?

Being an incest survivor, I’ve had a long haul back to the art of noticing the body’s messages - subtle requests for attention at first, getting louder and cruder the longer I didn’t notice them. After finding me in ragged, frantic tears one day, my boss suggested working to a one to ten scale so I could report on where I was at, in terms of distress levels. When I got to six, rising seven, it was time to quit whatever adult plan I had that day and get someplace safe I could curl up and listen well. I made it by the skin of my teeth many a time before I got the nuanced hang of it. Another skill for the CV - ability to accurately measure tummy turnover terror rates!

After years of nurturing my own inner child, listening to the tears and fears and railings of that hurt and angry little girl, I can stand here today as a woman and say it’s alright, I’m alright. I have rescued my abandoned self the girl so many left while wringing their hands because they’d long lost the key to their own inner selves. I can hand out love many more times than I reach for fear. I sincerely hope you can hear your own little one inside because I firmly believe it is our first duty as parents to run as fast and as hard as we’re able every moment we can muster towards wholeness, towards healing, towards moving past what we came into. I call you to arms - to loving arms that hold and guide your inner child as you travel the treacherous and miraculous path across and beyond your own family fault lines.

Witnessing the inner child

To witness: being present with, validating, giving evidence and confirmation

Write a journal - use automatic writing, don’t stop to judge it, just write in a stream of consciousness, especially when you feel angry, frightened or just plain irritable.

Tease out your dreams - write them down if you can as soon as you wake up, tell them to people you trust, don’t try to analyse them too hard - if you just pay close attention the meanings will drop into your hand.

Check in with your little self regularly - a very hard lesson for most of us as we’re trying so hard to be big and strong all the time, but do it, as often as you can and eventually you’ll be able to respond automatically at the first inner signal. Ultimately it made me bigger and stronger by far! Make it like a chat you’re having with your own child - be how you’d be with them: "Hi honey. How are you doing? How was your day? Do you need anything from me?'' You’ll be amazed at what comes up - the simple requests that keep your inner child happy or at least comforted.

Tell your story - pick your listener carefully (because if you choose someone who’s still got the walls up on childhood trauma the rebound off them will hurt badly). Do not get stuck wallowing - find people with similar stories who have made a journey out into the light. Be aware that there is probably no one person who can listen to you as much as you need all the time, so look wider for your support network. I know there are lots of dedicated support groups out there too, so check them out.

Hold yourself - curl up in bed and let yourself sink down inside to that level of babyhood where you can dream in a sling while being breastfed - imagine nurturing you the way you’ve loved your children. Visualise being pregnant with a baby you. (My darlings got me a hammock this summer - closest th ing I’ve ever had to the bliss of being carried slingside against mommy!)

Ask other people to hold you - again choose wisely and train them up in how you need to be held. My loved ones learnt to talk to me softly whilst I shook with rape memories; to remind me that I was alright, safe, loved, held; that they were right there with me. They also learnt to trust that the adult they loved and wanted was coming back soon and any panic from them would hinder that journey back. They learnt to earth them selves deep and strong. (Bless them a thousand times over!)

Commit to a temperature chart system with yourself so that your inner child KNOWS without a doubt that you will make those messages important enough to change your plans and get quiet enough to heal. I used a one to ten scale. Find something that works for you. Once you’ve acted on it enough times you can negotiate with yourself but you have to demonstrate you mean it first (like how it is with toddlers and boundaries!).

Get help from an experienced therapist - there’s nothing like someone absolutely devoted to you for that hour on a regular, predictable basis! Again choose carefully and be clear about your intention for the work.

Get creative - paint, draw, write, act, sing, dance, drum - anything - just let it out, let the inner lava of expression flow wild and free.

Use ceremony and ritual when you feel the need to make the next step - lots of great books out there about it - I’ll just remind you about the one I wrote! Creating Ceremony by Glennie Kindred and Lu Garner.

Read inspiring books that encourage the upward and outward spiral. Here are a few I’ve enjoyed:

  • You Can Heal Your Life by Louise Hay, Hay House Publishing (and anything else by her)
  • Women Who Run With the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Rider & Co
  • The Courage to Heal by Ellen Bass and Laura Davis
  • Living in the Light by Shakti Gawain, Eden Grove Editions
  • Living with Joy by Sanaya Roman, H J Kramer
  • By the Light of my Father’s Smile by Alice Walker, Women’s Press Ltd (and anything else by her)
  • Anything by Sark - check out her website

And finally... Believe in the validity of your backstory (the history/herstory which emerges once you start to listen deeply) - it may not be as extreme as mine, or someone else’s, but it’s yours and the pain you felt as a child must not be ignored or underestimated - don’t perpetuate your folks’ mistakes of glossing over it because they couldn’t cope with your pain on top of their unheard pain on top of... But by the same token, try to avoid getting in to competition about who’s got the biggest burden to carry or the longest journey back to make - it’s entertaining but ultimately drains energy away from the work of healing (believe me I know!).


Lu Garner works as a celebrant nationwide, running ceremonies crafted individually for each client. Baby namings, Blessingways in pregnancy, weddings, funerals or any occasion.

Published in issue 10. Accurate at the time this issue went to print. 

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