If you follow any psychotherapists on Instagram (and if you don’t, you should), you’ll likely have encountered the concept of the “inner child.” You might wonder what the phrase inner child really means? Taking care of yourself emotionally is just as important as physical health, so let’s take some time to understand what our inner child is and how it affects us.

We can think of the inner child as the parts of ourselves that still react to the world with the feelings of a child. For example, your friend saying that they like your new skirt, but they’d prefer it in a different color is reacted to not as someone’s normal expression of preference but as a profoundly wounding personal sense of rejection. Problems arise from this dynamic when we don’t consciously realize that our inner child is partially controlling our response.

The reason we call these responses our inner child is because we developed the reactions in childhood. As a child, we don’t understand concepts like rejection, and without careful guidance from adults, we can hold on to our misunderstood concept of rejection as being a devastating reflection upon our own value instead of a normal part of life.

Connecting with your inner child means finding what those responses are for you. Maybe it’s not the rejection that triggers an inner child response, but intimacy or another person’s anger. When we understand what brings our inner child to the surface, we can connect to that part of ourselves by showing up for that inner child in the way we needed when we were a child.

Showing up for your inner child might look like validating your feelings of rejection, meaning, accepting that those feelings are real and powerful in you. Then comforting your inner child by reminding yourself that you can handle this situation just as you are.

Powerful strides toward self-development can be made when we begin to connect to our inner child by listening to what triggers those reactions and comforting ourselves as we learn to tolerate what can feel intolerable. Emotional health is just as crucial to our growth and wellness as physical health — by understanding the concept of the inner child and connecting to your own inner child, you can overcome those issues that have kept you stuck in the past.