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In popular psychology and analytical psychology, inner child is our childlike aspect. It includes all that we learned and experienced as children, before puberty. The inner child denotes a semi-independent entity subordinate to the waking conscious mind.
The inner child is the best known lower third of a comprehensive model of the human psyche called the Three Selves.
The term has manifold therapeutic applications in counseling and holistic health settings primarily. John Bradshaw, a U.S. educator, pop psychology and self-help movement leader, famously used "inner child" to point to unresolved childhood experiences and the lingering dysfunctional effects of childhood dysfunction. In this way "inner child" refers to all of the sum of mental-emotional memories stored in the sub-conscious from conception thru pre-puberty.
The Twelve-step program recovery movement considers healing the inner child to be one of the essential stages in recovery from addiction, abuse, trauma, or post-traumatic stress disorder. In the 1970s, the inner child concept emerged alongside the clinical concept of codependency (first called Adult Children of Alcoholics Syndrome.). These topics remain very active today.
Carl Jung is often referenced as the originator of the concept in his Divine Child archetype. Emmet Fox called it the "Wonder Child". Charles Whitfield dubbed it the "Child Within". The inner child broke into the mainstream primarily through Hugh Missildine, MD, "Your Inner Child of the Past" (1963); which has retained its usefulness; and, through, Transactional Analysis (circa 1965-1969) with its model of Child-Parent-Adult, which has retained less utility. John Bradshaw's use of the "wounded inner child" is a version of the inner child skewed towards topics germane to individual and group therapy settings. The origins of the inner child in Ho'oponopono are even more obscure and difficult to document.
The inner child is often characterized as a subpersonality. Virtually every talk therapy approach acknowledges and ascribes some meaning to the inner child, even if they use a different label. Internal Family Systems Therapy (IFS) has expanded the concept considerably in recognizing that there isn't just one inner child subpersonality, but many. IFS points to wounded inner child subpersonalities calling them "exiles" because they tend to be excluded from waking thought in order to avoid-defend against the pain and trauma carried in those memories. IFS has a sophisticated method for gaining safe access to a person's exiles, witnessing the stories of their origins in childhood, and healing them.
- "You Have Three Selves, Vol. 1: Orientation" (2011)