When a child growing up is traumatized by incest, usually he or she is forced to hide the trauma and “act normal.” The wounded part gets split off so the pain and shame can become secret, even to the child herself. Sometimes actual memories of abuse are suppressed or lost, while for other people it’s more like the feelings get lost somewhere. A part of the growing person gets stuck in a young place.

Later, events that remind us of what happened to the suppressed part can trigger reactions that feel disproportionate to the circumstances—a good clue that young feelings are involved. For me, for example, when a large man looms over me I often feel vulnerable and fearful, even when in fact I have the position of power.

Getting in touch with our wounded inner children can be scary when it lets out feelings of fear, anger, pain, and sadness. The feelings seem huge because they’ve been bottled up like genies for all those years. But listening to the child-parts brings wholeness over time.

In addition, we need to re-frame and re-order our whole worldview. While we were growing up, we had to accept our family’s view, more or less, including all the denial and distortion. Listening to the inner child and re-orienting our reality to include the knowledge of abuse is a huge, life-changing task.

I’ve also found that the joyful and free parts of my inner child got lost in the split. Those parts came back slowly when they saw it could be safe.

Author's Bio: 

JANE ROWAN is a survivor of childhood trauma and betrayal, and is passionate about sharing her healing experiences, including Inner Child work. Her memoir-in-progress about her healing from sexual abuse is tentatively titled Writing on the Water.

This article is adapted from Jane's booklet Caring for the Child Within--A Manual for Grownups , a short guide to nurturing your Inner Child, available through her website.