Healing the inner child

copyright Oxford Human Rights Hub
copyright Oxford Human Rights Hub

Nobody is worthless, incapable, broken or doomed. Nobody.

Yet the legacy of wounds we carry from childhood can be a heavy one. In more extreme cases, we grow our adulthood like a cocoon around our wounded inner child whose fear, helplessness and confusion continue to influence our every move and choice.

Although all of us have issues to overcome, there are those who as children have experienced a fundamental betrayal, and whose inheritance is the lesson that absolutely nothing is safe and nothing can ever be trusted. Ever. Because the proverbial hand that fed them was also the hand that threatened or outright hurt them.

Unlike most people fighting challenges and fears, those whose inner child is seriously wounded can’t ever allow themselves to embrace any of the wonderful things they need, find or create. Because their only conditioned expectation is that the light at the end of the tunnel is an oncoming train.

At the same time, they’re desperately seeking the ‘unconditional’ love, safety and approval they should have received in childhood but never did. So, through the cocoon of adulthood, the child inside is not only unable to embrace the best things in his/her life (because these can’t ever quite match an unrealistic, idealized expectation), but remains stuck relating to everything and everyone from a position that knows only self-centeredness.

So how then does one live in the world if those things that are most desirable, good, beautiful and healthy appear even more dangerous and unbearable than their dreaded opposites?

How does one trust love if love appears to come at the edge of the sharpest sword that promises to cut deep and without mercy?

How does one claim and truly invest in anything, particularly those things that are most necessary, if doing so conjures up images of being weak, constantly measured and found wanting against some unattainable standard of perfection…or else images of helplessness, humiliation, entrapment and loss?

How does one relate to another when one only knows how to focus on oneself?

One doesn’t.

One lives on borrowed time, in a borrowed life, surrounded by the certainty (and safety) of impermanence, shielded by an illusion of control and freedom created by a guarantee of distance and failure.

Should something prove not to remain distant or fail, it is immediately and systematically devalued. Flaws are invented and cultivated until the illusion takes over and that thing…be it a person, a project, a dream..you name it…is destroyed and removed.

At the same time, anything or anyone that promises to remain distant and ultimately fail is faithfully embraced…or rather, comfortably tolerated…because these relationships, projects and circumstances never pose a threat, therefore they’re perfectly safe and worthy of a non-committed commitment.

When living, growing and healing involves reaching out for the things we fear more than our state of deprivation, we’re pretty much stuck in a very lonely place that generates the saddest prophecies we then proceed to fulfill. We’re not living. But, given we must somehow survive and function in the world, we are forced to create the best illusion of safety and control by normalizing avoidance.

As terrible as it sounds, avoidance it is a coping mechanism that gets the job done.

We cannot guarantee success, perfection doesn’t exist, and we can’t eliminate all instances of rejection, criticism and conflict in our professional or personal relationships.

What we can guarantee though is distance and failure in everything by avoiding closeness, intimacy, true investment and commitment to any project, goal or relationship. On this path, we can be certain of the outcome, and we remove any chance of resurrecting the betrayal trauma our inner child carries.

And even though we know it’s all an illusion, we become experts at rationalization and manufacturing excuses to protect ourselves not only from life but from our own self-deception.

It’s all very nice when all people have to work on is overcoming a real or imagined threat. It’s not so nice when one is afraid of wellness itself, because everything associated with wellness involves trust and there is no trust to be had.

Even if you’re utterly dehydrated or worse, you’re not going to drink water you believe is poisoned, and any water offered will seem that way if the only thing you know from an early age is that you can’t ever trust water. For good measure, you will even poison the well yourself so as to prevent having to go back into that space of terrible uncertainty and struggle, the space where your trust was initially broken.

Recognizing the problem is the first step.

But whatever childhood wounds we carry, be they minimal or significant, we’re not only dealing with thoughts and emotions…we’re also dealing with habits. Fear is a habit.

Understanding the why and how is helpful, but the only way to live and heal is by learning new habits which in turn allow us to create experiences that effectively contradict the deceptions we’ve been accustomed to. Trust involves ‘field work’…it doesn’t just magically appear in our heads.

The breakthrough here does not necessarily involve a ‘leap of faith’ or some noble burst of courage. It involves recognizing that in our effort to protect the child inside from more pain, we have become his or her tormentor who lies and  lives to keep the flame of betrayal burning bright.

Yes, the child was betrayed long ago. Yet lying to that child about what life is like, denying that child any chance to discover and experience connection, love, success, a sense of well-being …to see himself or herself as he/she truly is, worthy and whole and with so much to give…THAT is the ultimate betrayal.

And this betrayal belongs to us. It is our crime.

The breakthrough on the path to wellness is stepping back for a moment, on a random day, at a random hour, and simply saying to the child inside: “You’ve been hurt and betrayed, but I will not be the one to hurt or betray you anymore”.

Healing and creating enough positive experiences to undermine the toxic legacy we might be carrying, and allowing the wounds to close doesn’t happen overnight. But, the good news is that just as negative things gain momentum, so do positive ones. Once the ball gets rolling in a positive direction, we are wired to follow whether we like it or not.

And what’s not to like about letting the child inside heal and own the joy of living fully, of true freedom through connection and achievement?


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