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In popular psychology and analytical psychology, 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.
Psychologist Carl Gustav Jung (1875–1961) is often referenced as the originator of the concept in his divine child archetype. New Thought spiritual leader Emmet Fox (1886–1951) called it the "wonder child".
The inner child broke into the mainstream primarily through Hugh Missildine's book Your Inner Child of the Past (1963) and through transactional analysis (circa 1965–1969) with its model of Child–Parent–Adult.
One method of reparenting the inner child in therapy was originated by art therapist Lucia Capacchione in 1976 and documented in her book Recovery of Your Inner Child (1991). Using art therapy and journaling techniques, her method includes a "nurturing parent" and "protective parent" within "inner family work" to care for a person's physical, emotional, creative and spiritual needs (her definition of the inner child). It also posits a "critical parent within" and provides tools for managing it. Charles Whitfield dubbed the inner child the "child within" in his book Healing the Child Within: Discovery and Recovery for Adult Children of Dysfunctional Families (1987). Penny Park's book Rescuing the Inner Child (1990) provided a program for contacting and recovering the inner child.
In his television shows, and in books such as Homecoming: Reclaiming and Championing Your Inner Child (1990), 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: the sum of mental-emotional memories stored in the sub-conscious from conception thru pre-puberty.
Internal Family Systems therapy (IFS therapy) expanded the concept considerably by positing that there is not just one inner child subpersonality, but many. IFS therapy calls wounded inner child subpersonalities "exiles" because they tend to be excluded from waking thought in order to avoid/defend against the pain carried in those memories. IFS therapy has a method that aims to gain safe access to a person's exiles, witnessing the stories of their origins in childhood, and healing them.
The twelve-step based fellowship of Adult Children of Alcoholics considers healing the inner child to be one of the essential stages in recovery from addiction, abuse, or psychological trauma (including post-traumatic stress disorder).
- Fox, Emmet (1932). The Wonder Child. Devorss & Co. ISBN 978-0875167404.
- Grimes, William (May 12, 2016). "John Bradshaw, self-help evangelist who called to the 'inner child,' dies at 82". The New York Times.
- Nora Doherty; Marcelas Guyler (2008). The Essential Guide to Workplace Mediation & Conflict Resolution: Rebuilding Working Relationships. Kogan Page Publishers. p. 88. ISBN 978-0-7494-5019-9.
- Abby Rosen (18 June 2010). Lasting Transformation: A Guide to Navigating Life's Journey. BalboaPress. p. 43. ISBN 978-1-4525-0008-9.