Attachment theory suggests that how we are cared for as babies and toddlers can shape how we relate to people later in life. Our very first relationship(s) in life form the foundation of our relationship style – or rather, our attachment style.  

If our parental figure(s), who will be some of the first people we know, care for us consistently and give us all that we need when we are young – including physical and emotional needs, like being held, fed, cleaned, calmed when scared and so on – then we learn that there is little need for fear aside from physical threats. We are then able to learn all the healthy ways of communicating and managing our emotions, which we can use in later life. 

If however, the way we are cared for early in life was disruptive, emotionally or physically, we might learn to feel fear and upset more often than normal, or we may learn that expressing anger is the only ways to get our needs met. As a result, these emotions can arise more often than they otherwise would; they become our brain’s ‘go-to’ state. 

This can be a thread that follows us into later life, with those feelings being triggered by certain actions or words from others. We may get our emotions muddled because very early on, need, fear, and anger all started overlapping, and we may find these difficult to untangle later on. 

More can be learnt about this in the book ‘It Didn’t Start With You’ by Mark Wolynn, 2017. 

So sometimes, when we think ‘why am I feeling like this’ or ‘why can’t I change how I feel about this?’ it could be because these emotions go back to our earliest learning. It’s frustrating but ultimately, totally understandable.  

Although we cannot change the past, we can feel more able to deal with it once we understand it and learn to heal from it. Many children whose early years were disrupted cope well after they find consistent caregivers. And even in adulthood, there is nothing stopping us from being our own caregiver if we are physically able to.  This is what is meant by ‘inner child’ work, or ‘reparenting yourself.’  

This is often best done with a therapist or coach as this work can bring up some difficult emotions and memories, so having a safe space to explore your experiences can be very healing. If you do want to try this on your own be sure to do as much research as possible. A great resource to learn about self-acceptance and inner child work is Jeffrey Marsh.

One good way of connecting with our early emotions is to ask yourself ‘what do I fear in this situation?’ and then ‘how can I soothe this fear?’ We do not have to be products of our past, and we have the power to shape who we want to be in the future. 

Watch this Ted Talk to learn more about Giving Your Inner Child Permission to Heal: