Reparenting Strategy: Tackling Your Wounded Inner Child
Children have unspoken physical, emotional, and psychological needs that they cannot express very well. When these needs aren’t met due to any reason, it creates a deep wound in the child’s psychology, thus leading to the formation of the “wounded inner child”.
The research concludes that childhood trauma (including sexual or physical abuse, neglect, fear at home, creates changes in the brain that continue through adulthood. The brain’s stress system gets dysregulated and hinders cognitive development. It even increases your chances of comorbidity, substance use disorders, and cellular aging.
Something known as “priming” or “sensitization” also occurs, i.e., you will experience enhanced response to your current stresses because your brain perceives them as traumatic reminders. Every time something bad happens, it brings up memories of all past traumas we’ve suffered. I call this my “stack of hurts”.
The Role of Trauma
People with traumatic childhoods are four times more likely to develop depression, and three times more vulnerable to coronary heart diseases. Trauma affects the developing immune system in irreversible ways.
Trauma may be short-term: a single momentous event—bad divorce, physical or sexual abuse. Or it could be long-term: a chronicle of smaller events—emotionally unavailable parents; being constantly yelled at, ridiculed, or bullied by family; intense academic pressure.
Sometimes, even witnessing trauma could translate into a traumatic event.
Trauma hurts a child on a deeper, internal level and they develop self-sabotaging coping mechanisms.
Some of these habits include people-pleasing, hoarding, aggression at the workplace, anxiety, too self-critical, body image issues, low self-worth.
Psychology refers to this as carrying a “wounded inner child”.
Typical Shades of The Wounded Inner Child
Cause: The child is made to cater to the physical, logistical, and emotional needs of their parent from a young age. E.g., cooking and cleaning at a very young age, listening to degrading comments about the other parent, relaying scary information like depressive or suicidal thoughts.
Effect: Co-dependent relationships, people-pleasing behavior. The child’s emotional development is delayed because there was no time and space to be a child.
Emotionally Neglected Child
Cause: When the child’s emotions weren’t nurtured by the parent, they grow up with the faulty belief that it’s wrong to experience emotions, typically bad ones like sadness or anger.
Effect: Uncomfortable with emotional displays, so they suffer in relationships. Overtly defensive and lonely (avoidant attachment style).
Emotionally Abused Child
Cause: When the parent places their own emotional needs over the child’s. Usually, the parent is hung up on their own experience and wants their point of view to dominate the home environment.
Effect: The child develops very low self-esteem and feels unworthy because they are made to believe that their issues are not important. They struggle with decision-making because of low self-belief.
Cause: When the parent exerts unnatural control over the child’s experiences and daily life, like academics, friend circle, career choices, etc.
Effect: The child is afraid of being independent. They have underdeveloped life skills, like bad communication skills, or being assertive. Anxiety, depression, and loneliness are common.
Cause: When the parent exposes the child to abuse—including alcoholism, domestic violence, or drug abuse. It renders the child temporarily helpless and breaks past ordinary coping mechanisms.
Effect: Dissociative disorders. Blocking out memories. Higher rates of anxiety, self-blame, shame, guilt, helplessness, and hopelessness. Children with physical trauma also have a “heightened stress response”.
How to Cope
Step 1. Validate your wounded inner child’s feelings: Think of how your ideal parent would react to your inner child—that’s what you needed to feel but you didn’t get. Give that to yourself now. It’s okay to feel emotions, even if they’re bad or shameful.
Step 2. Soothe your inner child: You can develop gestures, visualizations, or catchphrases to soothe yourself. Try patting your heart, or gently rubbing the back of your neck.
Affirmations are also a great way to do this. They are like mantras that you can resort to when you feel triggered. Some examples are:
“It’s okay to feel like this.”
“I’m not powerless or alone.”
“I will get through this.”
“I deserve to be loved and seen.”
“I am kind to myself.”
Inner Child Work Exercise
Start a daily healing session. Do it yourself or use a short guided meditation session while you repeat your affirmations. Here’s a session, if you want to do this right now. Try it.
Tomorrow’s lesson will detail the last strategy: tracking your feelings and avoiding enmeshment.
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