Rebranding the “Inner Child” language

May 30, 2024

You’ve probably heard of the concept of the “Inner Child” somewhere, whether it’s in therapy, coaching, YouTube, or podcast episodes. But what if that term feels weird and removed? What if you don’t resonate with it? This article offers a new way of thinking about the Inner Child concept, and how you can rebrand it mentally to resonate more with you.

Rebranding the “Inner Child” language

Help, I don’t like the term “Inner Child”

Children are remarkably adaptive and have incredibly flexible brains. They are curious about the world around them, and often ask clever questions that sometimes drive adults nuts, if we’re being totally honest.

But by the time we’re adults, we are more or less settled in our ways. We all practice enforcing and reinforcing our beliefs about the world, whether or not it’s actually good for us.

Over the course of my coaching career, here are some unchallenged beliefs I’ve heard:

“I can’t be wrong about this - I am super intelligent. I turned a small, crowdfunded startup into a billion dollar enterprise. I’m definitely right here.”

“I’ll always be a dreamer. I’ve been told my whole life that I always had potential, but that’s all it’s ever been - praise for my potential, nothing more. I just don’t have what it takes to turn my vision into reality.”

“I only take feedback and critique from people who I consider better than me. And you’re only better than me if you’ve done more than me and achieved more than me. If your experience isn’t equivalent to mine, you have no right to question my decisions. Your questions are attacking and disrespecting me.”

Why are we so rigid when we grow up? Well, from the time you’re born until now, you have subconsciously saved every impactful interaction as an event that shaped your personality and who you are. You have developed your dominant, adult persona and this is how you define yourself and create sense out of your actions.

“I’m an achiever - I’ve always been Type A. Look at how great it’s made me all my life.”

“I’m a jack of all trades, and a master of none - that’s just the way it’s been my whole life.”

“I’m an introvert - that makes me quiet and reserved around other people. I’m not a manager because of my introverted nature. How could I ever be a manager as an introvert?”

And on, and on, and on.

These sentences are the narratives that our Inner Child forms about us. If we get in touch with each narrative the Child holds, we can begin unraveling and challenging preconceived notions.

This has obvious benefits - we can use these reflections to change and create a persona that actually encourages us to be the most authentic versions of ourselves.

But what if the picture of a child living inside you feels weird?

What if you try your hardest, meditating and trying to talk to the “Inner Child”, and it turns out… you just feel nothing? You can’t find that younger version of you without it feeling corny and inauthentic?

Downloading a million Thich Nhat Hanh meditations on Inner Child meditation doesn’t seem to solve it. If that doesn’t, then what does?

Introducing: The “Prior Truths”

When things don’t resonate with you, this is your chance to practice shifting the language you use to make it resonate.

I first discovered that the phrase “Inner Child” doesn’t resonate with everyone from Lucas. Lucas is a left-brain dominant logic-oriented software engineer, and he’s also my husband.

On a morning walk one day, Lucas shared with me, “You know honey, I don’t really get the ‘inner child’ thing. I look inward the way you tell me to, but I don’t really see or feel anything. And I imagine there are probably other people where that language (or anything touchy-feely) doesn’t really resonate. What do you do in that case?”

As I thought about it, I said nothing. After a pause, I asked Lucas, “What if instead of describing it as an ‘inner child,’ your personality was like an onion instead? An onion has many layers. The outermost layer is the layer that is most familiar to you. But as you peel back the onion to reveal its deeper layers, those layers were made in the past. And each layer tells us something about ourselves.”

That’s when Lucas found the right words. He said, “Yeah, those layers are made up of prior truths. Things we used to think were true back then, but aren’t now.”

Bingo! I loved the wording “prior truths.” Prior truths are notions that you used to think were true, and perhaps were true at some point in your life, but are no longer true.

As a child, you may have believed that you had to stay silent during fights, because if you spoke, something bad was going to happen to you.

In a previous relationship, you may have believed that threatening to leave was the only thing that got you the reaction you wanted from your partner.

Two jobs ago, maybe your boss or colleague called you stupid or shot down your ideas any time you made a mistake or voiced an opinion during a meeting.

In each of these scenarios, your subconscious mind did you a favor: it gave you a story of how to behave to maximize survival.

So you learned to stay silent. You learned to cry and threaten. You learned to get defensive and stay wary at work — all to help you survive.

Prior Truths aren’t always bad.

Perhaps you got praised a ton as a child whenever you helped. You then learned: If I help, then I am worthy. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing — helping people makes you a nice person.

Or, maybe you learned from a previous relationship whenever you had to reconcile after a big fight, saying sorry and hugging it out always felt better. You learned: If I fight, I can say sorry and hug it out, and things will get better. This Prior Truth taught you to resolve conflict amicably.

And two jobs ago, maybe you embraced a hard work ethic and when deadlines were looming over your team, you bit the bullet and stayed up to get things done. You taught yourself: I am a great teammate if I stay up late and work hard. Work ethic can be a really great thing!

The problem with Prior Truths is that we rarely find time to question them at all.

For some people, your Prior Truth can carry trauma, insecurities, anxiety, and other negative stigmas. You subconsciously integrate them into your current Self. These Prior Truths nudge you without you even realizing it, often showing up as emotional reactions.

It’s only at these moments where you realize you’ve allowed these Prior Truths to fester, leading to a mental breakdown, an outburst of behavior you regret, or an existential crisis. Often, you find yourself wondering, “How did I get here? Why am I doing this? Why am I this way?”

When you finally reach this point, you’re now one step closer to defining your better future self.

Cool, how do I recognize my Prior Truths?

Hopefully by this point, the phrasing Prior Truths or something similar resonates with you. Maybe this is the first time you’re thinking, “Hah, I guess this touchy-feely stuff can have a more clinical-sounding name too. I like it.”

Once you recognize it, you may feel terrified. You might want to turn around, choosing to ignore the problem rather than facing it head-on. And you wouldn’t be alone. Sometimes, we would rather accept the certain — even if it’s shitty — than take a chance with the unknown — even if it could be better.

Don’t turn around.

Take a lesson out of Master Yoda’s book here: “Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”

He also said: “You must unlearn what you have learned.”

God, I love that little green guy.

Don’t be afraid. You are a person, and a person is allowed to evolve.

Here’s how to find your Prior Truths.

  1. Observe your emotional triggers. Notice how you behave — you might pay attention to what you think and feel during work, when going out on a date, while hanging out with friends, or alone when you’re vegging out in front of the TV. Pay attention to all of it without any judgment, even if it’s only for two minutes.
  1. As you practice observing, pick one thing you notice about yourself and your emotional state. Here are a few examples:some text
    1. I’m feeling [insert emotion here] as I’m sitting by myself at home with no plans.
    2. I noticed that I reached for my phone as soon as I was alone [at home/at the restaurant/out with friends] and immediately opened [insert app of choice here].
    3. I’m on this date and this person is asking me questions about my childhood. I’m feeling [insert emotion here].
    4. My boss just told me they want to talk to me without any context over Slack/email/text, and now I feel [insert emotion here].

Choose something that is either a pleasant feeling, or something that is mildly unpleasant — I’d advise against picking something very painful or unbearable as your first foray into this exercise. Write this statement down.

  1. One of those scenarios likely resonated with you (by the way, what might be your worst nightmare might sound like bliss to someone else - that’s the beauty of Prior Truths; they’re all unique!) Now, take a trip down memory lane. Ask yourself, “Why am I feeling this way? What has happened in my life that makes me react this way?” Some common areas to sleuth:some text
    1. Your relationship to your caregivers growing up and others you depended on for survival - what did they teach you?
    2. Cultural or religious beliefs - what were the unspoken rules on how you were supposed to exist?
    3. The kinds of friends you had and the things you did together - how were you expected to behave?

Write it out as a continuation of the previous statement: “I behave this way because _____. I was taught ______. This helped me survive all these years.” This is your Prior Truth statement.

  1. Question the Prior Truth. Ask yourself, “Is this Truth still helpful to me now?”

If it isn’t helpful, write down how it has been hurting you or detrimental to who you want to become.

For example, you might have ended the previous statement with, “I was taught that in order to be a good child, I had to give into all of my parent’s desires. It didn’t matter how I felt about it; they would find some way to guilt me into doing whatever they wanted. Now, this is hurting me: when I don’t proactively express my opinion, I hurt the people around me by not listing clear boundaries, and I hurt myself by not sharing exactly what I need.”

If it is still helpful, I still encourage you to write out where it might put you at risk.

For example, you might have ended the previous statement with, “I was taught that hard work would get me through life. I think this statement has been a huge part of my success.” Continue the statement with, “Here are some places where this could go overboard: ____.”

  1. Write out a revised Truth that is more helpful in your Present Day.

You might choose to write, “I’m the kind of person that expresses exactly what I think. I am no longer in danger when I share my opinions; that was a Prior Truth. The people I have surrounded myself with want to know what I think and actively celebrate my opinions. And anyone who doesn’t celebrate my boundaries is not someone I want to be in a relationship with.”

You might also write, “I continue to prize hard work to get me closer to my goals. I recognize my cues for pushing this too far are [insert here, e.g.: ‘not sleeping enough,’ ‘skipping workouts,’ ‘getting irritated at my loved ones’]. If I’m in danger of getting here, I’ve taken this Truth and pushed it too far.”

Old Truths, New You

Identifying Prior Truths takes time and a lot of practice. But it’s the first step to developing impeccable Self Awareness, and that is the key to deliberate evolution. Continue practicing patience as you get better and better at this exercise.

Along the way, you’ll make discoveries about yourself. You’ll see how much your childhood has influenced you as a leader. You’ll empower yourself to heal from past traumas you’ve harbored since childhood or adolescence. You’ll overcome crippling self-doubt. You’ll approach new opportunities with a, “What if?” childlike curiosity, rather than a cynical, “This will never work” attitude.

Only by accepting your Prior Truths can you resolve them and leverage the learnings to evolve. The truth doesn’t only set you free — it completes you.

Table of Contents

Get Tactical Resources, right in your inbox

Thank you! Check your email to confirm your subscription.
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.

Read More

Regina Gerbeaux

Who’s Regina Gerbeaux?

Regina Gerbeaux (@_rpgbx) is the executive coach to some of the fastest scaling startups in the world. She is also a founder currently interested in the food delivery and logistics space.

Regina was the first person trained by Matt Mochary (executive coach to the CEOs of Coinbase, Brex, and many more) in the Mochary Method Curriculum.

Her tactical templates and operational write-ups have been referenced and used by fast-scaling companies, including BioRender, CoreDB, dYdX, and many more.

Follow me on Social