Psychologists agree that most adult behaviors link to childhood experiences. Whilst many of us were lucky enough to enjoy happy and nurturing parents, others did not. Experiencing neglect or abuse in childhood can create detrimental effects on adults.
These inner child wounds affect us negatively in adulthood. However, learning to spot the signs is the first step towards healing ourselves.
I want to explore the signs and reasons behind inner child wounds in this article.
Carl Jung and the Wounded Inner Child
Carl Jung coined the term ‘inner child’, believing it to comprise childhood experiences that determine adult behavior. Children with attentive and nurturing parents will have a well-balanced inner child.
Suffering physical, sexual, emotional or psychological abuse, neglect or witnessing violence can end up with a wounded inner child. So, how to know if your inner child is wounded?
5 Signs of Inner Child Wounds
- You normalize abusive behavior
- You use aggression as a solution
- You use maladaptive coping strategies
- You feel worthless
- Your mental and physical health suffers
Let’s examine these signs of the wounded inner child in more detail.
1. You normalize abusive behavior
- You become the abuser
Not every child who witnesses or suffers from abuse will abuse as an adult. However, research suggests that adults who experience abuse as children are at the highest risk of abusing their children. In one study, it was estimated that one-third of abused children continue this pattern of abuse.
For example, some children witness domestic violence to control or end conflict. This teaches young children that abusive patterns of behavior are normal. As an adult, you may use manipulative techniques such as gaslighting or coercive control.
- You are drawn to abusive relationships
Studies in Australia show that childhood sexual abuse is a reliable predictor of intimate partner abuse. Girls abused during childhood are more likely to be re-victimized during adulthood.
The International Violence Against Women Survey (IVAWS) in Australia found that 72% of women who suffered abuse as a child also experienced abuse as adults.
2. You use aggression as a solution
- You are prone to aggression
Children learn from their environment and emulate their caregivers. Studies show that men with a history of spousal abuse are associated with witnessing domestic violence as children, even if they did not experience physical violence themselves.
- You have a criminal background
Moreover, research indicates male survivors who witnessed and suffered from physical domestic violence are associated with higher levels of violence and criminal activity.
3. You use maladaptive coping strategies
- You have an eating disorder
Research shows that maltreated children are twice as likely to present their inner child wounds as obesity. There are strong links between sexual and physical abuse to body dissatisfaction and obesity in middle-aged women.
In 1985, chief physician of the Kaiser Permanente Department of Preventive Medicine in San Diego, Dr. Vincent Felitti, accidentally uncovered a link between childhood sexual abuse and obesity. He could not understand why 50% of his obese patients dropped out of his clinic.
After interviews, he discovered the majority had been sexually abused as children. They were using their weight as a safety mechanism.
“Overweight is overlooked, and that’s the way I need to be.” Excerpt from Dr Felitti’s interviews.
Further studies report adults suffering neglect or sexual abuse are five times more likely to suffer from an eating disorder or develop maladaptive coping strategies.
- You have addiction issues
Speaking of maladaptive coping strategies, many studies show a robust link between child abuse and substance abuse in adults. Survivors of child abuse may self-medicate to soothe their inner child wounds or to blank out traumatic memories.
Research conducted by the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) United States study also shows that adults who describe themselves as alcoholics, drug addicts or substance users have typically endured multiple adverse childhood incidences.
4. You feel worthless
- You have suicidal tendencies
The same ACE study reports strong links between adverse childhood experiences and an increase in attempted suicide. Adult survivors of four or more adverse incidences are 12 times more likely to attempt suicide.
Neglected children can have abandonment issues as adults. They may feel as if they are never good enough, or that their opinion doesn’t matter.
- You engage in risky sexual behavior
Engaging in risky sexual behavior leads to all kinds of detrimental outcomes. Increased occurrences of sexually transmitted diseases, a higher frequency of unwanted pregnancies, and even prostitution.
A sexually abused child may find it difficult to reject unwanted advances. Or they may see sex as a tool to gain love and affection.
5. Your mental and physical health suffers
- You have poor mental health
It is perhaps unsurprising to learn that adults with inner child wounds are susceptible to poor mental health. Mental health problems range from PTSD, depression, anxiety, dissociative or personality disorders and even psychosis.
Children who regularly experience violence in the home can become anxious or prone to stress. They often have trust issues resulting in an excessive need for validation or codependency.
In other studies, researchers found links between historic child abuse and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. The prevalence of ADHD is important. as reports show the criminally incarcerated have increased levels of ADHD.
- You suffer from poor physical health
While a decreased level of good mental health is unsurprising, suffering from child abuse also leads to a variety of physical health problems. These include high blood pressure, liver problems, heart disease, strokes, arthritis, headaches and even diabetes.
These studies are clear; adults subjected to childhood abuse suffered more physical health-related problems than those who did not.
Reasons You Have a Wounded Inner Child
Inner child wounds stem from childhood abuse. There are three types of abuse:
In Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, our physical needs are the most fundamental. Without food, water or shelter, we cannot survive. Physical abuse can range from neglecting a child’s basic need for food, warmth and safety to physically assaulting them.
A child may also witness domestic violence against a parent or sibling. Children who suffer physical abuse soothe their inner child wounds with maladaptive coping techniques such as substance abuse.
Meeting our physical needs allows movement up Maslow’s Hierarchy to emotional needs. We should experience love, intimacy, affection, and support. If these are lacking during childhood, we can develop low self-esteem or depression. We feel worthless and constantly seek validation from others.
Healthy parenting gives us the respect and support needed for us to be well-balanced individuals. Listening to our concerns, giving advice, and accepting who we are; these are all important stages that allow us to achieve independence.
If they are lacking, for instance, mocking a child or telling them they will never amount to much, this can produce deep-seated anger and problems maintaining healthy relationships.
So, what can you do to heal your wounded inner child?
How to Heal from Inner Child Wounds
First, you must acknowledge your inner child. Revisit your childhood and highlight the occasions you felt unsafe, unloved, neglected, or afraid.
Talk to your inner child and ask them why they feel worthless, guilty, angry, fearful, ashamed, or unloved.
Speak to your inner child as if you are the parent. Reassure them with the love they did not receive as children. Remind them they are not responsible for the behavior of adults.
Seeking professional help from a therapist can help you understand why you feel the way you do. Therapists use a range of different techniques to help their clients move forward.
Few of us experience the perfect childhood, but thankfully, this doesn’t have to mean the end of our story. Spotting the signs and identifying the triggers of your wounded inner child can only start the healing process.
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