On healing the wounded child

Photo by Artyom Kabajev on Unsplash

Surely you too have noticed that we react not only to what we’re actually witnessing in the moment or some situation/issue in general – but also, to whatever we are facing reminds us of.

Every time we ask “what if”, we’re resurrecting experiences or scenarios we ourselves lived through, heard or learned about. A great exercise in creative thinking and problem-solving, unless we happen to end up summoning some traumatic memory we probably don’t even realize was triggered.

And so here we are: rational, functioning adults who find themselves blocked, frightened, angry, stressed in the extreme – at a total loss for what to do about an occasional crisis – or a life-long pattern.

Sometimes it can be mundane situations or problems that predictably, or perhaps unexpectedly, send us into a spiraling rage or panic. Sometimes, it’s great achievements, things we wanted and should celebrate.

If things were really dangerous and awful, we would have a negative reaction but one that is short lived and soon turns to constructive solutions, even if it doesn’t remove all stress or creates the brightest of moods.

But we are not having a “reasonable” negative reaction when trauma is triggered, and also not reacting to what’s in front of us.

It’s also not the adult in us who is reacting. That adult has temporarily left the driver’s seat. It’s the wounded child who emerges – as so many of these buried, unresolved traumas happened to us in our early years, leaving the child we were at the time hurt, scared and confused.

When you have experienced abuse, or neglect, or in some other ways were not nurtured, or lovingly taught how to feel safe and trust, you carry a wounded child. We all have one. Some of us us have one that is only slightly scarred, while others carry one who is very, very wounded and defenseless.

In the absence of the rational adult to point out that whatever is happening presents no real danger, and the perceived danger is only a memory that can’t actually hurt you, the child is left to experience some awful emotions and physical symptoms which can only be escaped by running away and in the future, avoiding whatever situation or issue is identified as having started the crisis. Usually, this develops into a pattern.

We have many ways to cope with these triggered traumas. In the absence of choosing to recognize what’s happening and the genuine desire to heal – as in engage in-depth therapy that helps identify the original trauma and teach the wounded child how to cope in a safe space of empathy and understanding, we resort to Band-Aids, some of which may appear rather useful.

If we manage to function most of the time, receive enough validation from work, friends and whatever other distractions, things become bearable and we feel in control. Add in the occasional meds, drugs (now legal) to take the edge off, a drink or two (or ten) and life is ok, isn’t it?

Sorry to say, but unresolved, buried trauma finds a way to show up no matter how well protected we think we are. If we manage to “control” it in some area of our life, it shows up in another. And if we don’t heal, or at least start the process, all we end up doing is playing a life-long game of wack-a-mole with symptoms.

I recently had the opportunity to tell my own wounded child that she’s no longer alone or defenseless when dealing with a lingering shadow. She’s not fully convinced, but we’re working on it. And so it is my hope that whoever you are, and wherever you are in your life, you will look, and listen and step up to heal whatever it may be that your own wounded child carries.

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