(Reader Warning: This article contains references to sexual, physical and emotional abuse)
If you don’t like being touched, or you’re a people pleaser, or you feel inadequate as a man or woman, or you’re rigid and a perfectionist, or you feel ashamed when you cry or you’re obsessive and controlling in your relationships, chances are you have a wounded inner child living inside you, screaming to be heard.
These are just a few of the indications which may enlighten you to the fact that you suffered some form of abuse as a child, and are still carrying around the wounds today, which were inflicted upon you as a child.
Not only carrying these wounds around but passing them on unknowingly to your own offspring like a sinister inheritance, and in turn wounding them and continuing the cycle of pain.
You may be thinking “I wasn’t abused as a child, my parents never sexually abused me, or even hit me, and my childhood was okay” well that may be true, but if you are exhibiting destructive behaviours in your life, or suffering persistent problems it’s maybe worth another look, right?
I was the same, when the subject of abuse came up as a young adult I used to thank my lucky stars that I had avoided some of the horror stories I heard about.
But I was only considering sexual abuse, it took many years for me to realise the extent of my own physical and emotional abuse, and the repercussions it had on my adult life.
It’s also worth pointing out that not all abuse comes from parents; it can come from teachers, grandparents, peers, siblings, relatives, foster carers, neighbours, friends of the family or strangers.
Contaminated Adult Life
Abuse comes in all shapes and sizes and surprisingly, emotional abuse can have more long-lasting negative psychological effects than either physical or sexual abuse.
Author John Bradshaw was a major figure in the field of recovery and dysfunctional families’. And before his death in 2016 worked with people with persistent problems such as, addiction, depression, troubled relationships and chronic life dissatisfaction and believes the source of their problems lie in childhood and adolescence.
He believed wounds received in childhood, can continue to ‘contaminate’ the lives of adults, and are the root cause of many of the problems we face as adults today.
Of course it’s straightforward to assume that if a child is sexually abused, they may experience many problems later in life, and may even continue the cycle of abuse upon others.
And with physical abuse we could understand the pattern, but obviously not condone, if a child who was beaten by his father went on to beat his own children.
So is it such a far leap to assume that if you were for example, told you were stupid continuously by your parents, or told you were an idiot, or yelled and screamed at, that this could cause an emotional wound which you could carry for life?
Is it such a far leap to assume that if you were brought up by parents who were untrustworthy that you may develop a deep sense of distrust, which could manifest into your own adult relationships?
Take a child who is abandoned by one of their parents, who in later life stays within an abusive relationship because they are petrified of being alone again, is this not a wound received in childhood manifesting negatively in adulthood?
The Wounded Child Questionnaire
I’m going to list some questions which John Bradshaw asks in his book Homecoming: Reclaiming and Championing Your Inner Child [Affiliate Link]
There are 60 questions in all, and Bradshaw suggests answering yes to 10 or more means you need to do “some serious work” he calls this The Wounded Child Questionnaire.
- I experience anxiety and fear whenever I contemplate doing anything new.
- I’m a people pleaser (nice guy/sweetheart) and have no identity of my own.
- I’m a rebel. I feel alive when I’m in conflict.
- In the deepest places of my secret self, I feel there is something wrong with me.
- I’m a hoarder, I have trouble letting go of anything.
- I feel inadequate as a man/woman.
- I’m confused about my sexual identity.
- I feel guilty when I stand up for myself and would rather give in to others.
- I have trouble starting things.
- I have trouble finishing things.
- I rarely have a thought of my own.
- I continually criticise myself for being inadequate.
- I consider myself a terrible sinner and Im afraid Im going to hell.
- I’m rigid and a perfectionist.
- I feel like I never measure up, never get anything right.
- I feel like I really don’t know what I want.
- I’m driven to be a super achiever.
- I believe I don’t really matter except when I’m sexual. I’m afraid I’ll be rejected and abandoned if I’m not a good lover.
- My life is empty, I feel depressed a lot of the time
- I don’t really know who I am. I’m not sure what my values are or what I think about things.
- I’m out of touch with my bodily needs. I don’t know when I’m tired, hungry, or horny.
- I don’t like being touched.
- I often have sex when I don’t really want to.
- I have had or currently have an eating disorder.
- I am hung up on oral sex.
- I rarely know what I feel.
- I feel ashamed when I get mad.
- I rarely get mad, but when I do, I rage.
- I fear other people’s anger and I will do most anything to control it.
- I’m ashamed when I cry
- I’m ashamed when I’m scared.
- I almost never express unpleasant emotions.
- I’m obsessed with anal sex.
- I’m obsessed with sado/masochistic sex.
- I’m ashamed of my bodily functions.
- I have sleep disorders.
- I spend an inordinate amount of time looking at pornography.
- I have exhibited myself sexually in a way that violates others.
- I am sexually attracted to children and I worry that I might act it out.
- I believe that food and/or sex is my greatest need.
- I basically distrust everyone, including myself.
- I have been or am now married or in a relationship with an addict.
- I am obsessive and controlling in my relationship.
- I am an addict.
- I’m isolated and afraid of people, especially authority figures.
- I hate being alone and I’ll do almost anything to avoid it.
- I find myself doing what I think others expect of me.
- I avoid conflict at all costs.
- I rarely say no to another’s suggestions and feel that another’s suggestion is almost an order to be obeyed.
- I have an overdeveloped sense of responsibility. It is easier for me to be concerned with another than with myself.
- I often do not say no directly and then refuse to do what others ask in a variety of manipulative, indirect, and passive ways.
- I don’t know how to resolve conflicts with others. I either overpower my opponent or completely withdraw from them.
- I rarely ask for clarification of statements I don’t understand.
- I frequently guess at what another’s statement means and respond to it based on my guess.
- I never felt close to one or both of my parents.
- I confuse love with pity and tend to love people I can pity.
- I ridicule myself and others if they make a mistake.
- I give in easily and conform to the group.
- I’m fiercely competitive and a poor loser.
- My most profound fear is the fear of abandonment and I’ll do anything to hold on to a relationship.
Ok that was a lot of questions and if you’re still reading, well done! Also, if you’re still reading and you have answered yes to 10 or more of the questions above (that’s 10 out of the full 60 questions by the way, not 10 in each section!) this article is meant for you, and if you’re one of those people read on.
When I was at school corporal punishment was still used as a ‘deterrent’ for misbehaviour and I can recall many occasions when I was slapped in the face or my hair was pulled or the infamous cane was brought out and used. Our headmaster also had a liking for using ‘the slipper’ which was in fact a size 11 plimsoll.
I remember being physically abused by my teachers as early as 6 years old, and I developed a deep mistrust for them which continued right through my school years, and affected not only my academic progression but also instilled in me a fear of adults. These fears and mistrust also filtered through to my relationship with my parents, as they knew of this abuse and were okay with it. It’s very hard to trust a parent who condones violence and uses it themselves.
I know there is an ongoing debate about whether slapping a child is acceptable or not, and I’m not going to get into that debate here, all I will say is, if you have to slap a child to exercise your will over that child, then you probably need to do some work on your own inner child.
Emotional abuse is just as destructive as physical and sexual abuse, and we need to ensure we, as caregivers, are aware of the implications of our actions. We need to be aware of what constitutes emotional abuse and ensure we don’t have a wounded inner child within us wreaking havoc in our adult lives.
So what does constitute emotional abuse?
Children have a natural sense of wonder, curiosity and want to explore everything, repressing that natural state of wonder, by being overprotective or instilling fear in the child by letting them know the world around them is a dangerous place, can emotionally wound the child. The child can grow up with a fear of exploration and exhibit a ‘play it safe’ attitude in life.
Being Absent Emotionally
Just being present in your child’s life, and not spending quality time with them, can emotionally scar a child for life. The child can establish a sense that because its caregiver doesn’t want to spend time with him, then it must be the fault of the child, they feel there must be something wrong with them. Children don’t need to understand these things logically; they communicate on a much more ‘feeling’ level than adults.
Not Allowing a Child to Just Be
Children are naturally humourous, their laugh and sense of play is important for development and they can spend hours and hours in this state. Stunting this natural state with statements like “Stop being so manic”, “Keep the noise down” or “Stop being so rowdy” can cause the child to become sombre and indifferent to joy and pleasure in adulthood.
Some parents or caregivers try and repress a child when it’s crying, believing they are instilling strength in the child, this is a falsehood. The child grows up believing its wrong to cry and they are weak if they do so, therefore they feel ashamed. This shaming can severely damage the child’s development and usually signifies that the parent had their own crying curtailed as a child.
Having rigid and inflexible parental rules can inhibit the psychological development of a child. They learn to be more concerned with sticking to the rules, than the natural formation of their own development. Exerting inappropriate amounts of control over your child and expecting perfectionism from your child shames them as they feel they never measure up to your inflated views of how things should be.
Take Some Action
There are many more ways in which a child can be wounded by a caregiver, if you believe you have a wounded inner child inside you it’s important to come to terms with this and seek out improvement, this will ensure you don’t pass on your legacy to your own children. It will also benefit you immensely and show you a life with a new found freedom, freedom from the temper tantrum driven 3 year old which controls your life right now.
If you believe you have a wounded inner child inside you I suggest you read John Bradshaw’s book, Homecoming: Reclaiming and Championing Your Inner Child. [Affiliate Link]
There are step by step instructions on how to reclaim your wounded inner child, and reverse the damage you endured as a child, which you still carry with you today. I highly recommend this book and wish you well with your homecoming journey!