Psych Info: HEALING INNER WOUNDS
Q. A friend of mine is seeing a counselor and she has been taught to identify her inner “wounded child,” her inner “critical parent” and her inner “adult.” This seems like a very helpful way to understand yourself. I often feel very hurt by what others say and do. Is this my “wounded child”? What do I need to do to heal this part of me? Where can I learn more about this approach?
A. There are many theories about personality and about therapeutic change. Many of these theories identify the broken part of us as the wounded child. Transactional Analysis was one of the earliest theories to do so. Dr. Eric Berne noticed that each of his patients moved in and out of various ego states. (An ego state is an identifiable system of feelings, behavior and physical reactions.) Dr. Berne identified three ego states that we all have and need: the Parent, the Adult and the Child. This is a very helpful way to identify the patterns in your own inner struggles and can help you heal your wounded child.
The Parent ego state holds all the messages we have received from our parents and have internalized. This includes all the shoulds, oughts, expectations and criticisms from our parents and parent figures as well as all the nurturing messages they gave us. Thus, the parent ego state includes the “critical parent” and also the “nurturing parent.”
The Adult ego state is reason, logic. “Nothing but the facts.” It contains the facts about our day-to-day life and represents adult ways of dealing with life.
The Child ego state is our emotions and wants both now and through out our lives. It is the storehouse of all our past hurts and it is also the area in which we are free, spontaneous, and rebellious. Thus, the Child ego state contains both a “wounded child” and a “playful, free child.”
No one has a perfect childhood. We all carry inner hurts into adulthood though we may not know this. We coped with these hurts by repressing them and they pop up later.
When we are hurt as very young children we cannot cope with our overwhelming emotions. We learn to freeze inwardly, to block out feelings, thoughts and memories, in order to survive. We are easily hurt as adults when something reminds us of a past hurt because this reservoir of pain has been tapped.
The wounded Parent copes by fighting. To ward off pain or ownership of problems the wounded Parent blames others. The wounded Adult has learned to flee and will avoid close relationships.
When we are in our whole Child we are spontaneous and playful. When we are in our whole Adult we behave as reasonable contented adults and we are interested in having meaningful intimate relationships. When we are in our whole Parent we will be very nurturing of ourselves and others.
Often our wounded parts are at war with each other. For example our wounded Parent may be critical of our wounded Child. You can help yourself by identifying which ego state you are in at any given time. When you become aware you are in one of your wounded ego states, tap into the whole nurturing Parent within and comfort yourself. This means no matter how childish your wounded Child is, you will comment from your nurturing Parent in a supportive, comforting way.
For further ideas about healing the inner child read these classic books “I’m OK, You’re OK" by Eric Berne, M.D. and Your Inner Child of the Past by Hugh Missildine, M.D. Counseling can also help. Resolving buried issues from the past often requires professional help.
A Christian counselor might use Transactional Analysis to help a client understand inner conflicts but would also encourage a Christian client to know God and turn to him for help and healing.
“Come unto Me all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Matt. 11:28