Wounded Inner Child

Image of sad child carrying a stuffed animal representing wounded inner child.

Wounded Inner Child

Re-parenting the Hurt Child That Resides Within

Written by Randi Fine

Narcissistic Abuse Awareness and Guidance with Randi Fine

The expression, “wounded inner child,” may sound like a bunch of psycho babble to you. I did not always give credence to inner child psychology, but have come to understand the crucial role it plays in our adult lives.

The inner child is a powerful entity, separate from our waking conscious minds, that carries the wounds of past traumas and impacts much of what we say and do as adults. It is a protective device, similar to a defense mechanism, triggered by reminders of these wounded aspects of our selves.

The inner child is an innocent, playful child that dwells within us; our concealed true self, the way we once were.  It is a part of our personality that still feels childlike and reacts just as a child would.

Our inner child is the summation of everything we learned and experienced in pre-adolescence; a part of our psyche believed to have retained every impactful sensory impression from our childhoods.

Our inner child is hidden for a reason—it conceals traumatic feelings and memories; experiences that caused us to suffer but were never emotionally dealt with because we were not equipped. We buried those feelings and memories deep within and they have remained there for decades.

It is painful to face the child that resides within us; a child who may have felt unloved, unaccepted,or unprotected; a child who may have been physically, emotionally, or sexually abused by the same people who were supposed to care for and protect him. This child may still be suffering the wounds from having been bullied, criticized, or degraded. He may be suffering from the traumatic emotional impact of being ignored by parents, teachers, siblings, friends, or classmates; people close to him who made him feel unworthy or unlovable.

This child may have been denied her childhood innocence or given inappropriate adult responsibilities such as caring for herself, caring for her parent, or caring for her siblings. She may have become hyper-aware of the emotions of her caretakers in an effort to try to ward off their abuse. Bottom line is, she never felt safe; emotionally or physically.

Those who have hurt us may have not done so intentionally or knowingly. We can just as easily be influenced and hurt by the behavior modeled for us by our primary caretakers; behavior from those who have unaddressed childhood issues of their own.

We may have been raised in an environment that was controlling or overly critical, that denied the expression of our feelings or individuality, or by parents who withheld their love and affection. Children, emotionally limited in their capacity to process this negative feedback, can be left with broken spirits feeling that they are unwanted, that the treatment they receive is their own fault, or that there is just something wrong with them.

Children, unequipped to process complicated emotions in a healthy way, may act out, build walls around them, and/or bury layers upon layers of painful feelings deep inside to avoid having to feel them.

This pattern of running away, numbing, and suppressing follows into adulthood, leaving us afraid to feel anything; fearful of opening the can of worms inside us. Though our pain remains hidden, aspects of it will rise to the surface when triggered in the form of depression or anger. That is because our inner child is stuck in time just as an earthbound ghost is. We are still living in the past, re-living our trauma over and over.

Many things can trigger our repressed emotional pain. If we were criticized as children we are likely to be triggered by criticism in adulthood. But not only does the outside stimulus trigger repressed childhood emotions; it also aggravates and reinforces the self-critic within us. These triggered childhood memories distort our normal perceptions causing us to react in ways that are overly emotional or irrational.

If we don’t understand the pathology of our behavior, these rapidly shifting emotions or sudden outbursts may leave us wondering if we might be suffering from some kind of mental illness. That is always a possibility, but the erratic behavior is more likely to be rooted in our wounded inner child.

With all that dysfunction living inside us we cannot become emotionally healthy adults. Being a healthy adult means being emotionally and physically self-sufficient. It means accepting, nurturing, and loving ourselves. It means having control of and taking full responsibility for our words, actions, and reactions. And it means steering our lives in a healthy way.

An emotionally healthy adult does not deny, neglect, or denigrate their emotional and psychological needs. They are not self-destructive, self-critical, self-sabotaging, or self-defeating. Emotionally healthy adults do not fight against or suppress the vulnerabilities and insecurities that exist within them. They don’t blame others for their inadequacies and weaknesses.

Those who carry a wounded inner child within may feel fearful, insecure, doubtful, shameful, lost, or lonely. They may suffer from low self-esteem, moodiness, or depression. They may act out in childish ways; impulsively, impetuously, and aggressively. Or they may live in the past more than the present, reliving their painful childhood stories over and over and telling them to anyone who will listen.

Their relationships may be immature, unhealthy, or destructive due to fear of intimacy, fear of abandonment, or trust issues; or because of neediness, over responsibility, irresponsibility, or dependency.

Thoughts of childhood events may bring sadness, fear, anger, resentment, or guilt feelings up to the surface where they are experienced with great intensity and panic. These intense feelings may cause them to act out defensively, withdraw from others, or become cold and stoic.

Many people live with their wounded inner child without the awareness of how much energy is being expended on the covert inner struggle. They go through all the motions in life with apparent normalcy; have long-term relationships, many friends, and success in their careers. But something feels amiss. There seems to be a hole inside they can never fill. And no matter how much others build them up, they never feel good enough.

The wounded child may be invisible but he is still there, running amok in the realm of our subconscious, trying to get our attention. He lets us know in ways both obvious and subtle that he needs our help; that he wants us to love and care for him. Denying or ignoring his existence will not make him go away.

You may believe you have grown up and left the pain of your childhood behind. But you cannot be psychologically or emotionally whole until your wounded inner child is brought forth and healed.

Understanding and connecting to this hidden part of ourselves can bring forth profound life changes.

Randi Fine is the author of the groundbreaking book Close Encounters of the Worst Kind: The Narcissistic Abuse Survivor’s Guide to Healing, the most comprehensive, most well researched, and most up-to-date book on this subject. In addition to helping survivors recognize their abuse and heal from it, this book teaches mental health professionals how to recognize and properly treat the associated abuse syndrome. She is also the author of Cliffedge Road: A Memoir, the first and only book to characterize the life-long progression of complications caused by narcissistic child abuse.

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