This article is based on psychiatric and psychological theory. No medical advice is offered herein on the part of the author, however, due to my history this article will also share psychological insights backed by scientific studies which will be listed and linked. All theories and facts discussed within this article are fully-attributed to leading psychology and medical experts and outlets including Psychology Today and Healthline.com. Further, Wikipedia, LonerWolf.com, Paul Roebuck, and Nature Communications share insights on the topic as it regards science and spirituality.
For further perspective, I am a former mental health professional with training in Special Education and Psychology. Though I left the field to become a full-time writer, I have continued my studies in the mental health realm.
Neither the loss of one’s perceived inner child nor an associated loss of innocence is recognized as a formal diagnosis within the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition). Therefore, neither issue can be medically diagnosed. Rather, a personal sense of having lost one’s inner child or sense of innocence is often a feeling-based affliction, one centered on dynamics of losing people or things of emotional currency.
An adult may, for example, hold their inner child close by acting and feeling years younger than their chronological age until a parent dies. Or, perhaps, an adult loses a dog, or a military child is sent off to war. For some, the loss of an inner child occurs when they become a senior at 65 years old. Suddenly, issues such as Medicare and social security come to the forefront.
Because the sense of loss of an inner child is difficult to reverse, the sufferer often contemplates their life so far. Issues such as regret come to the fore; a sense of mortality is common.
We will explore such issues below, which for some veers into a spiritual realm, and what we can do to retain a child-like sense of wonder as we age.
The Loss of the Inner Child
Though not DSM-recognized, the concept of one’s inner child has a unique psychological history. See here for well-attributed Wikipedia entry on the subject.
From the Wikipedia entry: In popular psychology and analytical psychology, the inner child is an individual's childlike aspect. It includes what a person learned as a child, before puberty. The inner child is often conceived as a semi-independent subpersonality subordinate to the waking conscious mind. The term has therapeutic applications in counseling and health settings. The concept became known to a broader audience through books by John Bradshaw, Margaret Paul and and Erika Chopich. Psychologist Carl Gustav Jung (1875–1961) originated the concept in his divine child archetype. New Thought spiritual leader Emmet Fox (1886–1951) called it the "wonder child". The concept of the inner child was further developed by husband and wife team Vivian and Arthur Janov in primal therapy, expounded in the books The Primal Scream (1970) and The Feeling Child (1973).
As the inner child idea is widely discussed in psychological and psychiatric circles despite a lack of medical attention on the matter, a common question is: How could one treat the symptoms of this loss if the issue cannot be diagnosed and is not medically-related?
Therapies abound, but the field of study regarding this matter has introduced, as earlier referenced, a spiritual component as exploited by New Age authors, life coaches, and spiritually-based companies.
Lonerwolf.com is one of these latter entities, which has nonetheless published an in-depth psychological profile of the concept. See here for “25 Signs You Have a Wounded Inner Child (and How to Heal).”
The article defines the inner child concept as the following: The inner child is the part in your psyche that still retains its innocence, creativity, awe, and wonder toward life. Quite literally, your inner child is the child that lives within you – within your psyche that is.
Not all articles on the topic, however, are from spiritually-based sources. As the study of the inner child concept has been ongoing since the days of Jung, it is appropriate to post a very well received older (2008) article here from Psychology Today, written by then-licensed clinical and forensic psychologist Stephen A. Diamond, Ph.D. and entitled “Essential Secrets of Psychotherapy: The Inner Child.”
This article has been oft-quoted since its publication, and includes the following elaboration of the concept: The inner child is real. Not literally. Nor physically. But figuratively, metaphorically real. It is--like complexes in general--a psychological or phenomenological reality, and an extraordinarily powerful one at that. Indeed, most mental disorders and destructive behavior patterns are, as Freud first intimated, more or less related to this unconscious part of ourselves. We were all once children, and still have that child dwelling within us. But most adults are quite unaware of this. And this lack of conscious relatedness to our own inner child is precisely where so many behavioral, emotional and relationship difficulties stem from. It is important that we stay connected with this sensitive part of ourselves. When we are connected to our inner child, we feel excited, invigorated, and inspired by life. When we are disconnected, we feel lethargic, bored, unhappy, and empty.
Some who study the inner child have strived to attach meaningful science to the dialog. See here for Paul Roebuck’s UK blog entry, “Have Neuroscientists Found the Inner Child?” which states the following: An open access research paper (2019) in the Nature Communications journal, entitled Immature excitatory neurons develop during adolescence, concluded that “a group of cells in the amygdala (the center of our emotional processing) sometimes don’t grow up” When an adult deploys disproportional or childlike behavioral responses in certain situations this can be a sign of the inner child expressing itself, and if often supported with the statement “grow up”, meaning change to adult behavior.
Finally, Healthline.com offers a perspective as to how to reconcile with one’s missing inner child. See here for “Finding and Getting to Know Your Inner Child.”
As we age, we lose our childhood innocence. We pay bills, marry, have children, focus on wrinkles on our faces where once was effervescent joy. Loved ones pass away and soon many of us feel alone.
Through life’s travails, it is easy to romanticize memories of bygone, happier days. However, it is also important to note that most of us as children suffered through tough times as well.
When we get older, that fact is all-too-frequently, and conveniently, forgotten.
Medical science has not yet provided for the existence of a true inner child, but psychology puts authentic value on the belief of its existence. Such is the essence of emotionality, optimism, and spirituality.
In today’s vernacular, the concept of one’s inner child is rarely looked upon as a negative. It is, conversely, something we strive to regain.
I hope this article has been helpful. Thank you for reading.