Even though we might not be consciously aware of it, we are all wounded. Figuratively speaking, we carry a wounded child within us in the form of an emotional memory of how we experienced life in our childhood. This memory is recalled and the accompanying emotions felt when we, in the present, experience others relating to us in ways that remotely resemble our experience in our first relationships, that is, with our primary caregivers.
We spend our lives trying to ignore that inner child because the emotions that he carries are uncomfortable and painful. However, the cost of disowning him is high. Firstly, the wounded child within is our true self. Ignoring and disowning him prevents us from becoming more and more our unique true selves. Secondly, as adults we have developed ways of both limiting our consciousness of that wounded child within and behaving as though we are not vulnerable and broken. These habitual ways of avoiding our pain can take the form of compensatory patterns of behaviour that are detrimental to our growth and limit our ability to relate to others in a loving way.
Getting in touch with the experience of a child
Getting into the shoes of a small child and being able to identify their emotional experience in the events of day-to-day life is not easy. As adults, we can be so purpose driven, goal orientated, compulsively doing things that we can find it difficult to imagine the child’s life experience of just being and emotionally responding to just being.
Through the research conducted in the area of the effect of trauma on us and the importance of trauma counseling in treating trauma, we are learning about the significance of validating and regarding the emotional impact of events on us. We are recognising that it is not possible to experience events that threaten our survival and security without there being an intense emotional response that is best acknowledged and recognized in order for it to heal.
In trauma counseling, the counselor gives us the message, “It is appropriate that you feel these emotions, considering what happened. The emotions that you are experiencing are congruent with the event. Don’t suppress these emotions. Don’t deny them, minimize them or intellectualise them away. If you want to heal emotionally from this traumatic event, go towards these emotions that have been triggered by this situation. Regard yourself and your emotions. Treat yourself gently. Give yourself time to recover.”
We also know that many people experience delayed post trauma symptoms. That is, immediately after the trauma, they are not conscious of the emotional impact of the event, but only experience the concomitant emotions sometimes years later when the emotional impact of another life event loosens the defenses and creates a vulnerability that brings forth the old repressed emotion resulting from the previous trauma.
We can extrapolate that the workings of the emotions in the young child are the same as in the adult. Traumas, of varying degrees, are happening for the child from their first day of life. Where parents are not in tune with the child, or the parent is overwhelmed and overburdened by their own inner emotional pain and therefore not able to focus on the child and its needs, the child will feel emotions in response to that situation. With no one noticing, no one validating the child’s feelings, no one reassuring and holding the child in the event of these daily disappointments and experiences of abandonment, the child automatically represses these emotions. With no one debriefing the child and communicating to him, verbally and non-verbally that this won’t happen repeatedly and that everything will be okay, he has to go into survival or coping mode.
The ongoing life of the true self
In its hidden state, the wounded inner child which is the true self remains alive but unhealed, with its innate programme in tact, a programme that is characterized by an at-oneness with himself, others and God. In this unhealed, wounded state, the inner child carries all the memories and concomitant emotions that he experienced in those initial years of life, but experiences a vulnerability and fear in allowing others to know him. His first experience of being known did not instill in him a sense of trusting that others will accept him and regard him in his vulnerability.
God continues to know and love this child intimately. God knows the woundedness that this child carries. I believe that it is God’s desire to free all our true selves from hiding, and in this way, restore the sacred and dignified programme that is in each one of us. It does require that we dare to get to know that wounded child within us, risking going towards our vulnerability both in our relationship with God and those trustworthy others in our lives. It also necessitates a growing awareness of our habits that help our true self hidden.