Protecting My Inner Child

By Umm Zachariyyah

I see a pink flower at four years old; my favourite in my mum’s garden. So many small, tiny pink flowers making up one huge one. I loved it. I used to look at it, touch it, smell it. My mum always let me pick as many as I wanted. Then one day,  my aunt came to stay for a while and as we played carefree in the garden, her voice peirced the air, “No, don’t pick them!”

 I felt confused. My voice couldn’t tell her that “mummy always let’s me pick them. It’s my garden. My home. My flowers.” My voice was taught to be silent to authority. To always acquiesce. I remember when they cut the pink flower bush down. I felt sad how everything had to end. I didn’t know back then about Jannah. I didn’t know I was supposed to belong in another world.

I’m bad at seven. Some part of me inside separated, and became another small girl, with different thoughts and feelings. She didn’t know herself anymore. She was a lost child, vulnerable, and unprotected. She didn’t know if she was supposed to be loved. On a white floral sofa, a seven year old sat quietly in existential crisis as blurred figures swept past, in and out of the living room. They were meant to be my family: my mother, brother, father, but now they were shadows full of fear and uncertainty. Everyone was mad at me. And maybe that was my fault. Maybe my mum was right. Maybe I did cry too much. And feel too much. And sing too much too loudly. Maybe I did whine too much and hide too much and show off and be too shy. Maybe I deserved to be hit sometimes and ignored. Maybe they are right and there is something wrong with me…?

At fourteen, I feel completely alone. My parents appear too busy to speak to me. I have no one to share my deepest thoughts and feelings. When they do look at me, it is usually to give me orders, to complain about me. I have no close friends around. I deserve to be alone. I am ashamed to exist. I wander to the next town to pick up cigarettes off the floor, asking other rebel kids I barely know for a lighter, just so I can make human contact.

My inner children have been speaking to me for years through emotional flashbacks. I just wasn’t listening. I wasn’t hearing their experiences. I wasn’t comforting them. I wasn’t protecting them from the people that denied their trauma, past and present, including my own self. They just seemed like fragments of memories, some seemingly insignificant. “The past is in the past,” as the saying goes, “You are just over- sensitive”.

My sensitivity used to be my weakness, now it is my strength. It is my ability to empathise with others. It is the drive behind my desire to help, because I know what emotional pain feels like. And my inner children hold the experiences of my past. They tell me why I react to the present the way I do. They tell me why, even though I know how I am supposed to feel and react as a righteous Muslim, my emotions and reactions sometimes say the opposite.

So now, I’m going to protect those inner children. They are key to understanding my internal world, to the flood of emotions that pour out when I am no longer distracting myself, with a phone, or chocolate, or other people. They explain why rage can inexplicably overcome me with my children when they don’t respect my boundaries. Why I feel so hurt over how other people act. Why I would be thrown into dark depressions unexpectedly, and feel frighteningly alone even when I had friends and family.

Often, traumas are related to the relationship we had with our primary caregivers, which are called attachment patterns. Sometimes those traumatic experiences and memories are stored in the subconscious, and dictate, in an unconscious way, our relationship patterns with other people as we grow older, including the relationship to our own selves. These moments of unprocessed pain, that maybe confused or frightened us when we were young, I relate to as my “inner children”. Some are angry, some are grieving, and some are ashamed. And they have expressed themselves rather loudly in my life, when my attachment patterns are triggered, maybe by a cold look, an angry tone, a rejection. I didn’t understand why I reacted the way I did for so long; why I could be thrown into darkness over things other people seemed to cope well with.

It was hard to understand because I wasn’t abused in the horrific way some children are. I wasn’t an orphan. I wasn’t in war or poverty or any of those things that seem to “deserve” the label of trauma. Because to most, apart from a short lived social services referral and some discussions with my teachers, there didn’t seem to be anything greatly wrong: My family looked normal from the outside, and provided me with food, shelter and extra- curricular classes. But at home, our relationships were dysfunctional. My mother was depressed, emotionally unavailable and often felt suicidal, comforting herself with alcohol, while my father was verbally and emotionally abusive. My home life was often hostile, critical, full of shame. I had no emotional language to describe my feelings, because emotions were not accepted or discussed, and my feelings were not even a reality, because I had always been told I imagined things, I over- reacted, I was over- sensitive. I began to believe I was mad. I had low self-esteem and suffered periods of extreme existential depression where everything seemed pointless. I began to self harm, and imagine different ways of dying, of escaping the pain.

My family, unwilling to face how the home environment was impacting me, seemed to encourage the idea that I was emotionally unstable, and as I reached early adulthood, I drank to soothe my difficult feelings which kept appearing. I believed I had a mental disorder and was soon put on strong medication which trapped me in bizarre and frightening dreams that further confused my sense of reality.

These early experiences have lived with me through most of my adult life. Becoming Muslim eased most of the existential pain because I finally found a purpose. Life had meaning, alhamdulillaah! When I felt deeply depressed I thought I just needed more faith. But even when I prayed all my optional and obligatory prayers including tahajjud; even when I read Quran everyday and studied tafseer and listened to lectures and learnt Arabic; even when I wore hijab, and thought about Allah for so much of my day…even when I did all those things I still suffered bouts intense depression and anxiety.

I begged Allah to heal. I thought I must be bad to be experiencing this. I knew I was meant to be patient, I was meant to accept The Decree of Allah and I was meant to be grateful for the good in my life, but my emotional triggers in day to day life were overwhelming my cognitive faculties. There was still an emotional world to be explored. I think now, perhaps Allah wanted me to heal from the inside out, to not depend on other people for approval anymore, to not find my self- worth in the external, and to attach to Him alone.

“Verily, Allah does not change the condition of people until they change what is within themselves.” (Sura ar-Ra`d 13:11).

So finally, late in my life, therapy taught me to grieve. I had to let those inner children speak, and cry, and tell of their sadness, of how no one saw them or accepted them for who they are. Of the longing to be unconditionally loved. Of how they wished for closeness with their mother. And I told them that I was sorry for what they went through, and I listened, and I protected them from anymore invalidation. I taught them that their pain had purpose; that they didn’t know about Allah back then, but that Allah was always with them, watching them, and would love them and guide them, the way their parents could not. And overtime, the emotional triggers lessened. I could start to respond to life the way I wanted to. I began to feel gratitude, and patience, and more compassion for other people than ever before. I had re-parented myself, the lost child.

The raw edge of pain has softened. I no longer need medication by the Grace of Allah. I can make Duaa with hope, not grief. I am increasingly able to let go of controlling my surroundings and other people. My feelings have stopped spiralling into an emotional abyss as my inner children scream for attention and resolution. They sit safely, knowing I’m there, an adult now, ready to defend them, comfort them, and explain why each thing happened exactly when it did in my life, as a path leading me back to Allah, who will never unjustly abandon or hurt me.

Protecting my inner children is a journey, not just any journey, and one not so often traversed. It is one that goes back into the past, to heal my inner self and understand the deeper truths that can only be understood experientially, knowing that they always lead me back to the One I was looking for the whole time.

About the author:

Umm Zachariyyah is a revert and stay at home mum with a special interest in mental health and child development.

11 responses to “Protecting My Inner Child”

  1. Samina says:

    Asalamu alaikum
    You have told me my story in a heart beat. My journey InshaAllah with therapy will too start soon, I am not a revert but the inner voice, the relationships we have had resonate every step of the way.
    I too will find a way to keep my little children calm and not eat triggered.
    I have fled my home, with over 3 decades of Subtle DV and relationships were never established on a deeper level with my kids in the fear they may become dependant on me, and I was too weak to stand alone in a society full of stigma and persecution. Years of verbal abuse often hurled towards me, in front of the kids eroded respect for me in their eyes.
    Not only Now breaking off with the source of abuse, I’m trying to be a survivor of my plight, facing whatever comes my way, keeping my inner children from absolutely creating havoc in my mind, at an age where normal people would be thinking of winding down with their spouse and reaping the reward of family life, I’m facing the full storm of the outside world on my own, with illnesses affecting me and with years of eroded kinship, trying to rekindled relationships with adult kids that are still not independent because they too are harbouring their own inner children that have been created when I was going through my deep depressions. Now I’m with all the kids and yearning for all of us to heal ourselves and then heal together in the hope of redeeming what is left for us in whatever way Allah swt has destined for us.

    Your story reminded me so much of my own journey and one that I will take to turn my life around and hope for better days. InshaAllah
    Thank you for speaking to me through your story

    • Umm Zachariyyah says:

      Assalamualaikum sister Samina, thank YOU so much for sharing your story with us too…may Allah continue to heal you all and draw you closer to Him, ameen ♥️

      When I hear of someone who has gone through so much I often am reminded of this saying;

      “Had Allah lifted the veil for his slave and shown him how He handles his affairs for him, and how Allah is more keen for the benefit of the slave than his own self, his heart would have melted out of the love for Allah and would have been torn to pieces out of thankfulness to Allah. Therefore if the pains of this world tire you do not grieve. For it may be that Allah wishes to hear your voice by way of duaa. So pour out your desires in prostration and forget about it and know; that verily Allah does not forget it.”

      — Ibn al Qayyim (rahimahullah)

  2. Esma says:

    SubhanAllah I relate to so much of this..but how do you find and help this inner child? The concept seems so alien to me

    • Umm Zachariyyah says:

      Assalamualaikum Esma…I think many people find the easiest way is through the help of a life coach or therapist to get started, however I don’t think it’s the only way. from what I’ve read, our inner child (or children) exist as fragmented parts of ourselves that hold traumatic emotions and memories. The clues to these will be in what “triggers” you, in what situations, and with whom do you begin to feel strong, overwhelming emotions? We need to become more aware of what precedes our emotional reactions, sometimes we don’t realise until after it happens and we have an intense need to binge on junk food for example, (which is a method of blocking the emotions we are afraid of feeling). When we breathe deeply and ground by being present in the moment, often these emotions come up, seemingly out of nowhere, or they come up when triggered by a similar situation in the present which you THINK you are reacting to right now, but actually it’s that the inner children are holding traumatic emotions from the past and making it about now. I would recommend writing down the feelings , memories and stories that arise for you when you feel any intense emotion. I have learnt that suicidal ideation for example, is nearly always a flashback, an inner child that experienced the hopelessness , despair and trapped feelings without anyone to help them. You might get a sense of when you first felt this strong emotion, how old were you, where were you? You can then begin to let that inner child communicate through your journaling, what did she experience? Who did she have to talk to? As this progresses, you might begin to talk back to this child or inner part, as an adult. Explain things she didn’t understand that weren’t her fault. When you feel scared or your boundaries are crossed, your inner children might speak to you as a series of feelings, memories and thoughts. These are not random, they have a tangible theme. Keep listening, write things down and be aware of how you usually block them with rationalisations or (halal) addictions. Let me know if you have any other questions? If you want to research the ideas more, there are articles about “healing the inner child” online.

  3. luisa keteb says:

    Ma’sha’Allah sister. Such a beautiful and thought-provoking read. I love your concept of ‘inner children’. It really made me reflect on my relationship with my children and the importance of creating positive emotional connections with them. What negative behaviour patterns do I need to change in myself to create positive ‘inner children’ for them? Jazak Allah khair Sister x

    • Umm Zachariyyah says:

      Assalamualaikum Luisa! I think for your own negative patterns, these can be very individual and it would help to consider the things that particularly affected YOU as a child, as they tend to be the easiest patterns to pass on. Other clues would be how your own child triggers you, what things do they do that make you feel angry or out of control? In general, I believe one of the most important things we can pass onto our children is a sense of accepting them for who they are, with their full range of emotions. We don’t only love and accept them when they are smiling, cute and obedient, but also when they are angry, scared, upset. This doesn’t mean we let them do whatever they want, or break our own boundaries, but that we accept the FEELING behind the behaviour, we try to listen to them without overriding them with logic and rationality. For example, the toddler tantruming over the wrong cup? Most experts versed in attachment neuroscience would recommend holding space for that. “You wanted a different cup.” “You’re sad I said no to you.” As you listen to them fully, they begin to settle by themselves without you having to distract them. You can then reason well with them after the intensity has subsided. This helps the child learn to self regulate by experiencing a fully present and empathetic caregiver listening to them in a supportive manner while they feel the full intensity of their emotions . They can then internalise this compassionate loving response. If you think about it, why most adults end up in therapy is because they didn’t experience this as a child and hence, missed out on many self-soothing skills. They lack the internal, compassionate voice. They have instead the “inner critic” when they feel strong emotions, often an internalised parent, telling them to be quiet, or stop being dramatic. I hope this in some way answers what you were asking!

  4. Bint Al-Noor says:

    What an amazing piece of work this is sister. JazakAllah khair xxx

    I’ve progressively become interested in childhood trauma and its effect on adult life. This piece sums up a lot and what is better is that you show how you can be Muslim, you can pray and do everything you’re told to do outwardly but this will not always remedy the underlying issue. If it’s OK…I would love to feature parts of your writing on my page (instagram: @muslimwomeninpsych). Hopefully many more women can heal and learn that it’s necessary to do so.
    Wishing you all the best in this dunya and akhirah

  5. Umm Abdullah says:

    Jazakillah khair, dear sister. I’ve read the article and all your comments/replies and am moved to tears. I’m also a revert sister alhamdulillah. I’ve not had a traumatic experience as a child, at least not even near your level. However, becoming a mother – now for two kids under the age of 3 – has shown me a very uncomfortable and bad side of myself. I didn’t even know that I can react like this and be impatient like this and tolerate so little in certain situations. Having children really challenges me and teaches me a lot about my negative qualities/reaction patterns. I’ve felt ashamed of myself so many times. I’m pushed to my boundaries, at times, by my complicated life situation and these beautiful, cute, active and curious kids. Alhamdulillah. I relate very much to knowing how to behave, feel and react as a Muslim woman, but for some reason not being able to implement that in the situations that pushes my buttons. I don’t really know why I’m like this, I just know that I want to do something about it. Because my kids deserve that I become a much better mother for them; a much better version of myself; much more patient and emotionally strong; much more in control of my anger and feelings of frustration.

    My husband keeps telling me that I can manage these things/issues/challanges on my own; it’s sufficient to ask Allah SWT for help, support, guidance etc. Allah SWT is the One who will heal me and help me. No one else truly can. And I agree with that – to some extent. However, I also think that as we must seek medical help during sickness, in addition to asking Allah’s Help and Healing, I should also seek someone’s support and guidance regarding these issues with myself/reaction patterns/my anger. Someone qualitfied and knowledgeable. A Muslim sister who is a therapist and a life coach – even when the appointments cost. Can you please share your opinion on this? Only asking Allah SWT and trying to mend myself in some way VS. asking Allah SWT and using a life coach/therapist for further benefit?

    Alhamdulillah. The complicated life situation includes that my husband and I live in different countries, so I’m quite alone with the care taking of our kids. After getting kids, we met once a year, like 1,5-2,0 months. Hopefully this can increase in the near future, but still there are some very heavy obstacles blocking my husband from ever coming to my home country – even for visits. So, during our 6 years of marriage, we only met outside my home country. Please pray for us and all those who live seperated from their family members for any reason. In shaa Allah, it’s khair in it and Allah SWT will make things easy for us and everyone else.

    May Allah SWT bless you, guide you and forgive you, dear Umm Zachariyyah. May Allah SWT keep you sincere in all that you do and accept from you. May Allah SWT guide your kids and non-Muslim family too, and may Allah SWT grant all of you Jannah al Firdaus. Ameen

    • Umm Zachariyyah says:

      Assalamualaikum dear sister and please accept my apologies for the delay in responding. I did reply a few weeks ago however there was a problem with it not uploading to the website.

      Ameen to all your beautiful duaas and I pray that Allah reunites you and your husband soon and gives you all you wish for in this dunya and akhirah. I pray he is ok wherever he is now. I don’t know if you are still apart in this difficult time, but you are right that there is good in every situation however painful it is. May Allah ease every pain in your heart and reward you for every tear you have shed.. Sending love and hugs to you xxx

      I agree with you sister that we are urged to “tie our camel” in the Hadith if the prophet (peace be upon him) and seeking treatment in whatever form surely comes under this. The question must always be, who do I depend on to cure me, the therapist or Allah? So we have to always turn our hearts back to asking Allah to make this treatment, this therapy or self work a means by which he cures us. If I eat an apple, does the apple satiate me by it’s own accord or is it by Allah’s will and decree? Choosing the right therapist or person to work with can help, and I recommend Internal Family Systems therapy which is the method by which the life coach I worked with based her approach on (parts work, inner children).

      If you would like any recommendations please let me know as I have used resources from both Muslims and non Muslims, however be aware that somethings will conflict with our faith and we have to navigate that with care.

      For respectful parenting methods I have use Janet Lansbury’s website. She has a great way of setting limits while making sure your children feel safe and connected.

      It makes complete sense that your children will bring up your unresolved material, and we all have experienced levels of trauma. It makes complete sense that you wish to react a certain way but your emotional reactions are moving against your rational mind. These traumatic emotions can be expressed if you wish to write in a journal. You may find as you write your anger against your children in the moment in a safe space , and do not censor yourself, certain memories might arise or the anger will turn against someone else from the past who has hurt you or not accepted your boundaries. The more traumatic emotions express and integrate, the more they can. Be healed. Do not hesitate to ask me anything else if you wish inshAllah.

    • solace says:

      Dear sister, jazaakillaahu khair for coming here. May Allaah make things easy for you.

      Please know that ANY sister can come forward to Solace for help with the kinds of issues you have described, and more. We provide support to any sister who needs it- revert or born Muslim- even though we are primarily targeted at reverts.

      Please do apply for support and reach out so that we can help you move forward in a way which is in line with your faith and spiritual values.

  6. Like!! I blog frequently and I really thank you for your content. The article has truly peaked my interest.

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