It doesn’t matter how old you are, there is a little child within who needs love and acceptance. If you’re a woman, no matter how self-reliant you are, you have a little girl who’s very tender and needs help. If you’re a man, no matter how macho you are, you still have a little boy inside who craves warmth and affection.

As children, when something went wrong, we tended to believe that there was something wrong with us. Children develop the idea that if they could only do it right, then parents and caregivers would love them, and they wouldn’t punish them. In time, the child believes, There is something wrong with me. I’m not good enough. As we grow older, we carry these false beliefs with us. We learn to reject ourselves.

There is a parent inside each of us, as well as a child. And most of the time, the parent scolds the child—almost nonstop! If we listen to our inner dialogue, we can hear the scolding. We can hear the parent tell the child what it is doing wrong or how it is not good enough. We need to allow our parent to become more nurturing to our child.

I have found that working with the inner child is most valuable in helping to heal the hurts of the past. At this point in our lives—right now—we need to begin to make ourselves whole and accept every part of who we are. We need to communicate with our inner child and let it know that we accept the part that did all the stupid things, the part that was funny looking, the part that was scared, the part that was very foolish and silly—every single part of ourselves.

Love is the greatest healing power I know. Love can heal even the deepest and most painful memories because love brings the light of understanding to the dark corners of our mind. No matter how painful our early childhood was, loving our inner child now will help us to heal it. In the privacy of our own minds we can make new choices and think new thoughts. Thoughts of forgiveness and love for our inner child will open pathways, and the Universe will support us in our efforts.

The following letter from my book, Letters to Louise, may help you better understand your inner child:

Dear Louise,

I was raised by parents who had very little love for themselves or others. They rarely praised me or validated my self-worth. Instead, they continually criticized and berated me, no matter how hard I tried to win their approval. And they frequently fought violently with each other.

As an adult, I have forgiven my parents, but I find myself locked in the shame and guilt and fear I was raised with. How can I rid myself of the many messages they taught me as a child and learn to love myself?

Dear One,

So many wonderful workshops are available to you. There are also 12-step programs of every sort. By reaching out and taking advantage of the help they offer, you can place yourself in a healing environment that may be helpful. You can also go within and silently ask the Universe to bring you to the appropriate next step in your healing process. Be sincere in really desiring to move into greater understanding.

Also, remind yourself every day that guilt is merely the feeling associated with a thought that you did something wrong. Shame is only a feeling associated with a thought that something was wrong with you.

Use the affirmation: I am perfect, whole, and complete, just as I am. The more you repeat this statement of truth about yourself, the quicker you will release the past.

Louise Hay, the author of the international bestseller You Can Heal Your Life, is a metaphysical lecturer and teacher with more than 50 million books sold worldwide. For more than 30 years, she has helped people throughout the world discover and implement the full potential of their own creative powers for personal growth and self-healing. She has appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show and many other TV and radio programs both in the U.S. and abroad.