All children are born with tender bodies, positively curious minds, pure hearts and innocent souls. However, this world tends to put their bodies, minds, hearts and souls at risk to be scarred, wounded and tarnished with harsh tones, neglect, criticism, bullying, naming and shaming, all kinds of abuse, comparison, perfectionism, violence or any form of mistreatment by the people around, that can leave a significantly detrimental impact on a child, keeping his inner-self wounded, constantly crying for help.
Childhood is the most significant time in any person’s life to shape his psyche, mindset and the way he views the world.
Renowned author and counselor John Bradshaw, in his book Homecoming, has identified various problematic adult behaviors that are rooted in one’s traumatic, wounded or unhealed childhood. He has indicated that when a child’s feelings of hurt or anger are suppressed, he remains wounded from inside and keeps that wounded inner child with himself as an adult which keeps on contaminating his behaviors as an adult. Following are various manifestations of a wounded inner child in adulthood that drive the adults to engage in self-sabotaging and self-destructive behaviors in their adult life:
Codependency is considered as a relationship disease or a dysfunctional relationship dynamic in which the person is out of touch with his own feelings and needs and is living the life and feeling the feelings of another person he is codependent upon. It is an emotional state in which the person tries to find his identity by being emotionally dependent on someone else.
Studies indicate that children who are raised in violent or abusive family environments are prone to become codependent as an adult. Since they have been shamed, abused or violated, or they have witnessed violence in their family environment, they are unable to generate their self-worth from within, they don’t consider themselves to be worthy or valuable. Hence, they tend to choose abusive life partners for themselves as an adult, become codependent on them and lose their own identity while trying to fix or taking care of their partner’s needs.
Childhood violence and the unresolved grief of that violence is considered to be responsible for much of the adulthood violence in the world. It’s the various forms of child abuse such as physical abuse, emotional abuse, and sexual abuse that set the stage for a person to become an offender in adulthood. Such abuse is so petrifying for children that it’s difficult for them to stay in their own self during the abuse. That is the reason why many experts have indicated that the abused children start identifying with their offenders or abusers as an adults in order to survive the pain of abuse. They themselves become offenders in their adult life. Part of it is also linked to children’s learning of violence through violent models around them. Research has also indicated that the extreme stress of being physically abused can reduce the size of children’s brain areas that are especially linked to impulse and emotional control which can result in disruptive behaviors and mood disturbances in future.
On the other hand, it is also indicated through research evidence that being overly submissive and permissive towards the children can also make them offenders in adulthood as “spoiled” children learn to feel that they are superior to others, the world owes everything to them, they deserve special treatment from the world and they don’t have any sense of responsibility for their own behaviors. So, over-deprivation and over-satiation of child’s needs can have adverse effects on his behaviors as an adult.
Every child needs to be felt that he is being unconditionally loved, that he matters, he is being seen, validated and being taken care of during the early years of his life. However, if these needs are not met or the child is emotionally violated or neglected, then it can generate an insatiable craving for love, affection, attention and validation as an adult. He turns out to be a needy person. No matter how much love receives, it’s never enough for him.
Such children have extremely disturbed and complicated relationships as adults, especially the intimate relationships. They are always in search of a perfect lover who will magically fill all their unmet childhood needs. They are quick to be disappointed in relationships and keep on switching from one relationship to another. They try to find refuge in material things and gaining wealth as a way of attaining the sense of worth. They are constantly seeking approval, applause and admiration from others and expect the world to revolve just around them.
Children who are raised by emotionally unpredictable, unstable or untrustworthy caregivers tend to develop a sense of distrust. They start to perceive the world as the unsafe and unpredictable place. Hence, they try to get a hold on everything around them and become control freak. There is an imbalance of trust in his relationships. They either give up all the control, blindly trust others and become overly dependent on them. Or they become socially isolated, build protective walls around themselves to avoid others and fail to trust them.
Acting out or Acting in behaviors
Our emotions are one of the primary motivating forces in our lives. But when a child is derived of expressing his emotions, is expected or shamed for feeling in a certain way, or forced to numb his emotions, then he turns out to be either an emotionally reactive adult such as reenactment of violence, throwing temper tantrums, being rebellious or someone who is quite strict on himself and is extremely inexpressible.
Children with unmet dependency needs do not get mature as an adult. Their mental and intellectual age is curbed and they do not mentally grow up as adults. Such persons hold magical beliefs in adulthood that hamper their maturity. For example waiting for a dream boy or girl who will fix all their life problems, expecting a miracle to happen, hoping for the world to acknowledge and reward them “one day”, expecting others to understand what they feel or want without expressing. Adults with magical beliefs hold unrealistic expectations from life and the world, which make them even more frustrated when things go the other way around.
Children who suffer abuse or neglect by their caregivers tend to have serious intimacy issues as adults. Since their emotional and/or physical boundaries were violated or neglected in childhood, they develop fears of either being abandoned or being suffocating possessed by the romantic partners. Hence, they either keep themselves isolated to avoid being possessed by the other person or cling to abusive or toxic relationships to avoid being alone or abandoned.
When parents themselves do not model discipline or have rigid expectations from the children to be disciplined, it can make the children either under-disciplined or over-disciplined. Under-disciplined children turn out to be rebellious, impulsive, procrastinators or engage in self-sabotaging behaviors in adulthood. Whereas, over-disciplined children turn out to be rigid, strict, controlling, obsessive, people pleasing and full of toxic shame as adults.
A wounded and unhealed child is considered to be the major cause of all kinds of addictions and addictive behaviors. Addiction can be explained as a pathological or problematic relationship with anything that is mood altering while having life damaging consequences as well, yet one cannot get rid of it. It’s the disturbance in one’s mood which can lead him towards chemical or non-chemical addictions. An adult with a traumatic or shame-based childhood and who hasn’t healed himself gets drawn to anything that can provide him instant relief, escape or good feelings and gets hooked on it regardless of its long term negative consequences, be it drugs, alcohol, food, activities like gambling, work holism, sexual activities or compulsively gaining material possessions.
There is a huge amount of research evidence that suggest that when children’s emotional needs are not met then it can adversely affect their belief systems and the way they view the world in adulthood. They have black or white thinking, they engage in emotional reasoning, they overgeneralize things, discount the positives in their lives, maximize the negative aspects, and hold irrational beliefs about their self, others and life in general.
Emptiness can be described as low grade depression of chronic nature. Children with scarred childhood, wounded past, raised in a toxic or abusive family environment tend to develop a sense of emptiness as adults. They lose contact with their authentic self and adopt a fake false self-resulting in disconnection with one’s true feelings and needs. It is also manifested in the form of apathy or lack of feelings for anything.
In order to live a fully functional and emotionally balanced life, it is essential for everyone to identify and recognize how unresolved and wounded childhood can affect one’s later life and to heal that wounded inner child.