As young growing children, we were all wounded to some degree. It is impossible not to be. The wounded inner child carried into adulthood received its wounds from many places. It was not only the parents who wounded us. The list can include grandparents, aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters, and any other caretakers. As a child ages, the list gets bigger, including the school system, religion, friends, and peer groups for starters.
The images the wounded child receives from these figures often stay and hinder the inner child for life. One look at the number of pills prescribed for depression and anxiety alone starts to shed light on how many people are still in pain and have unresolved issues. Coupled with all those victims are those who are still suffering, but not yet diagnosed, just simply living dysfunctional or co-dependent lives.
This is a very important topic for many reasons. For starters, you cannot love another person if you do not love yourself. Since most wounded inner children have been shamed into a subtle form of thinking “I am bad,” or “I am not good enough,” they do not love themselves.
Another issue that a wounded inner child may face is that you cannot succeed long term in almost any endeavor if you do not find yourself worthy. Until you are freed, you will simply pass on the inherited poisons you accumulated to other people, including your children, grandchildren, and mate. You will keep repeating the same cycles in the same or some other varied form. In a sense, you become frozen in time. Many psychologists agree on these points and for the purposes of this short article, I will be primarily referencing from John Bradshaw’s book Creating Love. This material is also included in a more expanded form in his book Homecoming: Reclaiming and Championing Your Inner Child.
The wounded inner adult child has a tendency to either a) idealize his parents or b) degrade his parents. The danger in a damaged inner child idolizing the parents is quite clear. The young growing child, not knowing any better, believed out of necessity “They are good, and I must, therefore, be bad”. The young child formed a new self to do whatever was necessary to avoid pain, feel love, get attention, please the parent, and adapt to, or endure the soundings. Several defense mechanisms were put in place that both served the child and fractured the personality. These defenses are always carried into adulthood and form the wounded adult inner child.
In adulthood, however, the defenses are seldom valid and no longer needed and have no real value. Rather than serve us, they are generally counterproductive and even harmful. Yet the defenses and habitual thoughts still remain. The damage continues and the adult inner child is still in pain hearing the long distant voices of the painful past.
As for the degraded image of the primary source, one might think that would aid to liberate the child. However, that is not true. The hold on the adult inner child is just as strong. The resentment stays with the wounded inner child and, in a sense, the resentment bonds him to the source figure and never allows the child to leave home, no matter how far the geographical distance may be. We have all met those adults who hate one or more of their parents and we can’t help but notice they often have some serious issues as well.
Whether the source image is idealized or degraded, it is not reality. The internalized parent, not the real parent, remains either saint-like or monster-like. Per Bradshaw’s book, it appears that either is just as deadly. These fantasy figures will remain magical and all powerful. Their reach will continue from even beyond the grave. The effects on relationships, happiness and even success can be devastating to the adult. They will also have a negative effect on your children. It is typical to think one can outmaneuver these forces in raising children but this seldom is true. The voices of these images are experienced though are our own voice. A fantasy bond is maintained with the internalized source figure image or images.
Most people will say, “Well, that is all fine but had a normal childhood with good parents. I was lucky I guess.” At this point, we can refer to the landmark Book Love is a Choice. In this book, the authors point out that almost ALL victims say this. Ironically, the fact that you believe your childhood was normal indicates there is strong possibility it is not true. We all tend to think that what happened to us is normal. The subtle forms of abuse children receive are well covered in the book in very easy to understand terminology. Bradshaw covers these things in his books as well. You may be quite surprised at what you discover.
Bradshaw suggests, that with the help of a therapist or in a support group with the therapist’s permission that you go through certain exercises which I decided to do on my own.
One exercise, among the several, that he recommends in the process, is to make three columns on a piece of paper for each primary source in your life; one for the idealized image, one for the real person, and one for the degraded image. Draw lines to make separate the columns – Idealized, Real, and Degraded.
Bradshaw suggests first you do a list of the idealized image or the mythological person that was attempting to be projected to the outside world. See all the good that other people believed on the outside. Naturally, there will often be some good points that are true.
Next Bradshaw suggests you move on to the degraded opposite, the pain you felt as a child, the horrors you saw that contradict the idealized person. Here is where you can vent your anger to some degree if you have been abused in some way. It is where you cover all the injustices committed against you. Here is where you list the traits you saw that contradicted what other people may have believed about that person.
Finally, you are ready to make a list of the real person, which is somewhere between the two.
Even if you believe you are quite mentally and emotionally well, this process is quite revealing. You will also find his order of process quite logical once you have completed it.
Continuing onward, he goes into a death and burial exercise. The death and burial exercises are not intended as a way to “forget” your real parents or turn your back on them. It is an exercise to put away the mythological parent or voices that have been haunting you and that are having an adverse effect on you all these years later. Finally one must go on to become one’s own parent and fill the adult inner child’s vacuum that s left by left by the dismal of the previous source images.
Another issue that a wounded inner child may face is that it is difficult, if not impossible, to succeed long term in almost any endeavor if you do not find yourself worthy.
It is important that everyone deal with these internalized images. Of course, there are some who are lesser impacted and can continue to slug it out on their own. But why endure unnecessary pain? A very large number of people in our society are actually affected or in need of some help. I have read estimates as high as 25% for the negative effects of codependency alone, but I personally believe it is much higher.
Once you have dismissed the disabling source images, there is often a gap that needs to be filled. With the new gap or emptiness comes the danger of attaching to something else just a deadly, possibly even worse. Finding a support group is the best route to go and it may often be essential. There are many self-help groups available for free that can assist a person depending on the need. Groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Depressed Anonymous, Overeaters Anonymous, Emotions Anonymous, and groups for survivors are among the many. You may not like a particular group, but you would be wise to continue shopping around. This may take some time and work.
Pick your group carefully. There can be pitfalls in some groups. A good book by another author to read is The Mastery of Love by Don Miguel Ruiz. He will take you into the pitfalls of how religion can be used negatively or only as a mere mask. Bradshaw covers this as well. This is not to say all religious groups are bad or harmful, far from it, but there are some things to be wary of in some groups.
Any group with a one size-fits-all needs philosophy or doctrine needs to be looked at with scrutiny. Any group that tells you how to think or what to value may end up only putting a new veneer over your original issues. The same goes for secular groups as well as there can be some pitfalls in those too. In general, however, a non-religious group is a good place to start. Most all 12-step groups recognize a higher power but leave what that power is up to you. Politics and religion are generally forbidden topics. You owe no allegiance to the group except keeping things confidential. You can quit anytime you want. You can come and go as you please and in general, you are always welcome. I’d suggest avoiding any groups that demand loyalty unless it is headed by a qualified therapist that you have personally evaluated.
If you are truly serious and want a better life you should also read. I may be a good idea to do any suggested exercises in the books you read also. I am amazed at how many people simply want to sit somewhere and simply talk hoping for the issues to be magically be fixed without doing any work. Even worse are persons who do nothing but daydream of a person or event to materialize and save them magically.
Bradshaw writes quite a series of books that anyone having repeat relationship issues, or perhaps even repeat job issues, or in a sense, any repeating life issues should read and perhaps take into therapy or a small group at the very least. I will end by listing a few of the books that have helped me personally and also helped me to understand others much better.
What I lie about Bradshaw is his ability to simplify and yet not dilute any of the power of the message. It will also stand on its own without having previously studied other works.
I personally recommend reading several books per year at the very least. I would be wise to start attending a group and have some therapy before making any large decisions. Don’t let any type of wishful euphoria of a book sweep you away into anything just as bad or worse either.
Healing books by John Bradshaw:
Healing the Same that Binds You
Homecoming: Reclaiming and Championing Your Inner Child
Another great book on this subject:
The Mastery of Love – Don Miguel Ruiz