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Introduction to inner child work: How is the past tied to the present, and why does it matter?

To some, the term inner child may sound cliche or vague. But many of us (I'd venture to say all) have younger parts of ourselves that are stuck in the past. If you spend a few still moments with yourself, you might scan through the past months, weeks or days and land on times when you think you overreacted to something. I don't believe in the concept of overreacting and, if you stick with me and hear me out, I'll explain why.

When an upsetting event happens, you might feel a strong, perhaps familiar sensation somewhere in your body, tied to emotions, that seems familiar, like emotional deja vu. Sometimes it can be subtle, perhaps triggered by the way a stranger looked at you. Other times it hits deeper - linked to an interaction with a child, partner, friend, place, scent, time of day, sound, boss, co-worker. The list goes on.

When we experience these intense physiological responses to external events (I'll use the overused word 'triggers'), it's often because that external trigger activates a part of us that has experienced something similar before - or something that feels similar. This indicates that a part of us from the past needs our attention, our investigation and our care. When the wound occured in childhood, the sensation is particularly strong and grips us tightly, and we often don't associate those sensations with concrete memories. In fact, many times for many of us, the earlier the original wound, the more power it holds over us.

We may not be aware that those sensations have origins in the past. If I asked you, in the most heated moment of a recent or current experience, where the intense emotions are coming from, or how they relate to the past, those origins might be difficult to identify. You might not know why that question is relevant, and you might not care because the recent or current event evokes such a powerful response that the best choice is to push the feelings down, taking them out on yourself, your environment, or other people, including your loved ones. The adage 'what you resist persists' is unfortunately true.

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