Understanding the Wounded Child Archetype
The Wounded Child archetype is only one aspect of the Child archetype. There are many variations of the Child archetype including, the Invisible Child, the Eternal Child, the Nature Child, the Magical Child, the Divine Child and others. We all have an inner child that lives in us and shapes our decisions and behaviors for many, if not all of our adult years. We all share EVERY one of the variations. For example, we have all been hurt as a child in one way or another but we also felt invisible at times, had a fear of growing up, loved the outdoors, believed in fantasy and felt the innocence connected to the purity of youth but we seem to have one or two of these variations that are magnified or one that stands out as predominate. Working with the Child archetype will facilitate a maturity that time and age alone cannot provide. Some people never do grow up all the way because the inner child is still reactive and unconscious. You don’t have to delve into archetypes to transform the child and mature emotionally. We are all in the process of growing, overcoming, learning and transforming our lives and there are many, many paths to this end. Understanding archetypes offers a language of symbols from which to gain a deeper understanding of the process. Here are a few patterns to look for to help determine if the Wounded Child is the archetype you most relate to of all the Child variations.
- Deep fear of change
- Feeling misunderstood
- Can’t let go of hurt feelings
- Identification with wound or illness
- Feeling Broken or worthless
- Sensitive to others emotions
- Depression or prone to depression
- Drawn to pain, tragedy or suffering
The Shadow Wounded Child
The Wounded Child is easily caught up with the victim, getting stuck in the story of suffering, feeling hopeless, worthlessness and heaviness. Themes of rejection, failure, unworthiness and longing are all prevalent in this archetypal pattern. The wounded child can feel abandoned, misunderstood, unloved, uncared for, even by themselves. They are sensitive to the pain and emotions of others often to the point of confusing others emotions with their own.
The Wounded Child archetype has experienced some kind of initiatory wound in their early life. This experience creates a lens through which the Wounded Child views their circumstances and the motives or actions of others. This usually happens at a fairly young age when the child is highly impressionable. his experience or string of experiences acts as an initiation inextricably linking the Wounded Child to the path they were meant to live. I call this the lens of pain. This lens (created by the initial wound) through which all things are now experienced colors, defines and shapes the way the Wounded Child perceives their life. The initial wound creates an opening in the individual. For the Shadow Wounded Child it becomes an opening for perpetual suffering and further wounding.
The Wounded Child may have been:
- Bullied by siblings or schoolmates
- Lost a parent or an important adult to death or some other separation
- Severely injured or handicapped
- Illness or other medical issues
- Sexual abuse or rape (particularly at a young age)
- Physical, emotional, verbal or other forms of abuse
- Witness to a traumatic event
- Neglect or abandonment
The pain from this childhood wound will replay itself over and over in the adult life until the trauma or wound is tended to and healed. Only then can the inner child mature and develop the gifts that are inherent to the Wounded Child archetype. For example, if you were bullied at school or picked on by siblings, cousins or other peers you will continue to feel bullied as an adult by co-workers, friends and other peer groups. If you were abused by a parent or an adult you may feel abused by your boss at work, the IRS, the government or any other perceived authority figure. Your reactions to this perception will match the way you coped with the abuse or bullying as a child. If you were sexually abused as a child you may perceive your spouse or partner through the highly distorted lens of your own sexual abuse. You will recreate the dynamics experienced in childhood with you as the victim. If you suffered a handicap as a child and needed constant care you will recreate the dynamics of invalid and caretaker in one of your personal relationships. Pay attention to the “this always happens to me” type of experiences. This can be an effective tool for recognizing the Shadow Wounded Child. The Shadow Wounded Child will blame the wound or wounding on much of their adult life problems.
There are many ways people perceive being wounded. Here are a few from people I have interviewed about the Wounded Child. When asked to envision an image of what the wound of their childhood looks like the descriptions were quite varied and included the following:
- A knife in the heart or back
- A black gaping hole in the abdomen
- A heart that has been charred and burnt
- Broken body parts such as arms and legs in casts
- Deformities especially facial deformities
- Being surrounded by a black mist
- A cut that never stops bleeding
- Being stuck at the bottom of deep well or pit
- Covered in terrible (and visible) scars
- Confined to a bed or wheelchair
- Dirty, tattered and lost child who has been uncared for
- Discarded like a broken doll
The Great and Powerful Past
The Shadow Wounded Child is always looking backward, remembering both good and bad memories and somehow transforming them all into a painful melancholy. The Shadow Wounded Child is running from his or her past and feels haunted by the heaviness of memory. When the Shadow Wounded Child gets caught up in a painful story it is usually connected to some experience of the past that has shaped the quality and density of their thoughts. Sometimes the Shadow Wounded Child does not associate their painful story with the past but upon examination it will be obvious that their current thoughts are old stories created out of past beliefs and experiences thus making the stories feel irrefutably true. Looking backwards creates if only phrases like these:
- If only my parents could have loved me for who I am I could be a better parent
- If only I had been born whole and not stuck in a broken body I wouldn’t be depressed
- If only I wasn’t sickly I would be able to do more and contribute
- If only I had been loved and cared about I might have turned out better
- If only I had never been abused I would be happy
- If only I had been treated with respect I wouldn’t be so angry all the time
- If only my mother/father had not left me I would have a healthy relationship
- If only that had never happened to me my life would be better
- If only I had not been in that car accident I could pursue the life I have dreamed of
- If only my innocence had not been stolen from me I could have a healthy sex life
- If only my situation hadn’t changed I would be happy
The Shadow Wounded Child deeply believes that if their initiatory wound had never occurred, their life would be the way it was meant to be, that the wound somehow ruined their chance for a normal life. The Shadow Wounded Child feels that the wound threw their entire life off track. There is a deep fear of change because the Wounded Child knows that if they heal their wounds their life will change. Change equals loss. Loss is unbearable. They already feel like they have lost something deep and intrinsic and therefore they are clinging to everything else. Don’t dismiss this idea because you may be of the personality type that can roll with change and adjusts to it relatively easy. Another of way of looking at this could be “fear of letting go.” Letting go of an old identity, letting go of your children or spouse, letting go of your anger and resentment, letting go of sadness or the victim role and letting go of how others perceive you are a few examples. Fear of change doesn’t always look so obvious but it is one of the most consistent patterns of the Wounded Child archetype.
The Need to be Understood
Feeling misunderstood is a common experience for the Shadow Wounded Child. The Shadow Wounded Child believes that they feel life more deeply and intensely than others. They tend to take things personally too by internalizing situations and relationships. They are easily offended and hurt and others often feel they have to “walk on egg shells” around the Shadow Wounded Child. The intense need for others to understand them while simultaneously believing that others can never understand leaves them feeling emotionally raw or needy. This need to be understood/you will never understand conundrum can be expressed in a variety of behaviors such as: self-pity, self-isolation, anger, stoicism, clingy/neediness, depression, overemotional, irrational, resentful and vengeful. The Wounded Child is desperately seeking to understand the pain that seems to be lurking in the background or foreground of their life. This search can cause the Shadow Wounded Child to be drawn to other people’s suffering and tragedies. A fascination or over-investment in someone else’ pain or heartache is an attempt to understand their own pain and heartache which is usually too overwhelming to confront. It may seem to others that the Wounded Child does not want to be healed, but the Wounded Child senses that the wounding of their life has some value, some unnameable worth that causes them to keep the wound open and raw. In the shadow this looks like feeling totally victimized by life, blaming self or others for their suffering or needing others to recognize and acknowledge the pain. The Shadow Wounded Child feels as though they have to defend their wound from accidental healing. Sometimes this need to be understood is so strong that the Shadow Wounded Child will resort to self-inflicted wounds. Self cutting and other forms of self-injury are examples of ways to release the intense emotions and frustrations as well as providing evidence and tangible proof of their suffering. This evidence of their suffering is an acceptable way to get validation from others and to evoke sympathy and support.
The Need (neediness) for Validation
The Shadow Wounded Child has an intense need to have the wound or sufferings validated. While validation from others is a necessary part of healing from any trauma or dealing with any suffering the need for validation quickly turns into a neediness for validation. A constant and even compulsive need to have others recognize their struggle or become aware of the wound they suffer with. They long to be seen and heard and known for what they have suffered. The Shadow Wounded Child believes that healing and wholeness will come from an outside event, person or experience. Underneath this compulsive need for validation is a craving and hope for healing the brokenness. They feel broken as if they were born broken and lacking wholeness. They spend their lives compensating for this feeling of brokenness by either becoming highly successful and always put together or they create a life story that keeps them victimized to someone else or something else hoping others will see and acknowledge or feel sorry for them. The Shadow Wounded Child hopes that someone or something OUT THERE will be the answer to their pain. If you have the Wounded Child archetype you may relate to one of the following as a way to feel validated.
- An interest in or connection to emergency personnel such as doctors, paramedics or rescue workers
- Wanting to be hospitalized or to be rescued from danger
- Desire to have something terrible happen to you (but not too terrible)
- Having physical scars or creating your own scarring
- Being ill or having health concerns
- Feeling sorry for others sufferings
- Turning away from relationships and investing in animals instead
Depression and the Shadow Wounded Child
One of the most common experiences for the Shadow Wounded Child is depression. The depression acts as a buffer for the intensity of pain, dulling it and making it more bearable. But eventually, the depression itself becomes woven into the fabric of the wound until it becomes a reinforcement of unworthiness and hopelessness. The depression will usually begin around the time of the original wounding when the hurt and rejection become trapped in the identity of the person. Depression says, something is wrong with me, with others, with my life or the world that cannot be fixed or corrected. This sets up the hopelessness that reinforces and strengthens the story of the wound keeping the individual entrapped. Depression is proof of the Shadow Wounded Child’s brokenness. This feeling of brokenness sets up a pattern of shame; shame for being depressed, shame for being not good enough, weird, angry, resentful etc. This shame, unworthiness or hopelessness traps the Shadow Wounded Child. (Note: This article in no way refutes the physical causes of depression and that it can be treated using medications but for the purpose of this article the focus is on the emotional component of depression.)
I want to be loved. . .
I want to be loved. . . is the story of the wounded child. I want to be valued and important. I want to matter to someone and be seen by others as worthy. All of these are shadow aspects of the Wounded Child because the Wounded Child cannot make others love them or see their true worth. This leaves them feeling continuously needy of others love and acceptance and they seem to never get enough of it. They want to give to others but feel that the wound prevents them from being able to give so they get stuck in a cycle of want and emotional impoverishment.
The Enlightened Wounded Child
Forgiveness is one of those words that is routinely misused and misunderstood.Letting go is not forgiveness although forgiveness cannot happen until you let go first. Forgiveness is what happens when you stop rejecting what you believe to be the cause of your suffering. My own definition: Forgiveness means making room for more. What I mean by that, is this: When I am unforgiving I am rejecting the bad thing that happened and not allowing it to be a part of me. Forgiveness is opening up to the bad thing and allowing it in. You may be surprised to find relief in this and that it in no way diminishes the pain but actually validates it in a way that nothing else does. The Enlightened Wounded Child has a tender and open heart. This makes them open to wounding but it also makes them open to forgiveness. Forgiveness or the need to forgive is a theme for the Wounded Child. For the Enlightened Wounded Child forgiveness is a way of life. Forgiving the past, forgiving the hurt and forgiving the losses or in other words making room for the past, making room for the hurt and making room the losses means you don’t exactly let it go as much as you widen your capacity to hold it and end the resistance to it. This is the daily spiritual practice of the Enlightened Wounded Child.
- For example: My own childhood abuse was something that I personally felt had wounded me and I could not let go of what had happened. I didn’t understand then that the wound or pain, was showing me the way to greater understanding. I rejected the abuse because I was afraid if I accepted it, it would mean I believed I deserved the abuse. I finally realized that no amount of validation from others would give me the proof of my suffering better than me accepting it. I forgave my abuse by opening up my heart to fit it in there with love and belonging. I could be abused as a child and I could also be loved as a child. I was trying to make them mutually exclusive because I believed the one canceled out the other. When I realized I could embrace both a newer truth revealed itself to me: I was wounded and what happened to me was wrong and that wound was also my gift. I can recognize that others wronged me and also take responsibility for my pain. The ability to hold the paradox is part of the development that comes from forgiveness. Forgiveness is a paradox because by letting go you are also embracing.
Standing in the Fire
The Enlightened Wounded Child discovers that by entering the darkness of their pain and working through it, that they can stand in the fire of pain and not be burned. Their capacity to get close to others’ pain without getting caught up in it, makes them ideal healers, doctors, nurses, therapists and others in the healing arts. They are like mountain men who know a particular terrain and can be a guide for others who are passing through. But this mountain is where the Wounded Child lives and has made their peace. They have mastered the art of letting go, embracing intense emotions and being a channel for others to release their pain. Suffering, pain, sorrow, and depression are all places the Enlightened Wounded Child has been and is not afraid to revisit. Rather than avoiding it, the Enlightened Wounded Child embraces these “negative” aspects of the human experience. They learn that some wounds aren’t meant to be healed but to be understood. The darkness becomes depth and the pain is only a sharpener to maintain keenness and sensitivity. Compassion can then be developed and the Enlightened Wounded Child is deeply compassionate and caring.
Animals and the Wounded Child
The Wounded Child is often drawn to animals. They may belong to an animal rescue organization, start their own, or work at a shelter. This love of animals could also be expressed as an interest in birdwatching or other wildlife or involvement in programs to protect endangered wildlife. Horses are well known for their therapeutic uses in treating anything from depression to restoring a sense of purpose for wounded military veterans. A love of horses is often connected to the Wounded Child. Service dogs are another form of healing for those who have physical handicaps but what is often discovered is that the handicapped person is healed emotionally by the relationship with the service animal. One of the reasons animals are healing is because animals are present. They are not dwelling on the past or hurrying toward the next activity. This presence has a healing effect on the Wounded Child who is still learning to be in the moment where the pain dwells. Animals also serve as teachers to the Wounded Child to help them understand how to be in the present moment, how to love unconditionally, and how to accept themselves and their circumstances completely. In many cases, animals can offer validation and comfort where human beings fail. Horses and dogs are the most common animals loved by the Wounded Child but don’t discount pigs, cats, ferrets and birds either. Animals can be used in the shadow too as the Wounded Child pulls away from the world of people, the perceived source of their pain, and take refuge in the animals thereby avoiding and even refusing to confront their emotional trauma. The animal acts as a shield from further wounding but it can also prevent the necessary push that drives a suffering person to heal.
The Gift of the Wound
How can a wound or pain be a gift? Here is an analogy:
- Think of yourself as a perfectly decorated room filled with just the sort of furniture you like and the colors on the ceiling and walls are your favorite colors. Everything you need is right here in this room. It is who you are. Except . . . right in the middle of one of the walls is a huge gash. It has torn the expensive wallpaper and the sheet-rock is hanging out in clumps. It ruins the room and leaves you feeling exposed and afraid. It’s dark on the other side of the hole and you worry about the demons or monsters that might come through the hole in the wall. You gather all of your things and move them to a safer corner. You watch the hole constantly. Fear and anxiety become your constant companions. Then you wonder if anyone else has a hole in their wall and you decide that you are the only one who is ruined. That this hole cannot be fixed. You stop caring about yourself and you stop inviting others into your room because you are ashamed of it. You try to patch it up but the patch is just as ugly as the hole. You move a big piece of furniture in front of it but that doesn’t work either because YOU know what is behind it. This hiding of the hole makes you feel like a fraud, that other people think you have a perfectly lovely room when you know that you don’t. This knowledge keeps you isolated and hungry for love. But one day, when the loneliness and the craving gets to be too much you venture over to the hole and peer inside. It’s cold and forbidding and you can hear frightened voices echoing inside. You feel afraid but you are also curious. After a while you get the courage to go into this dark hole to explore. Each time you enter you experience a terrifying sense of hopelessness and loss so you back out and retreat to your corner. But you can’t turn away from the hole in the wall. So one day, you brave your way all the way through the darkness and you enter a hallway. It’s dark but you feel less afraid for the first time. All along this hallway are doors. Each door leads to a different room or space. Each one is uniquely you. As you peek into these rooms you find huge bedrooms with fireplaces and stained glass windows, or libraries with books from ceiling to floor. Some rooms are airy arboretums with birds and butterflies, other rooms are places to eat and invite friends and family. These are all the rooms that are beyond the hole in the wall. But the only way to reach them is to go through the dark part and face the cold and the voices. But you did it once and you can do it again. In fact, you decide to turn your hole into an opening by cleaning up the edges and nailing on some finish molding around the sides. When you are finished, it no longer appears to be a mistake, it is no longer a hole that was torn into your wall but a window or a doorway. While it remains dark you have the knowledge of what lies beyond that darkness.
This is the gift of the wound.
Capacity to Love Others
In its shadow the Wounded Child is looking for others to love them but the Enlightened Wounded Child knows that what they really long for is giving love to others. I want to love is truer for the Wounded Child than I want to BE loved. Unconditional love is part of the Enlightened Wounded Child and therefore they are brimming with affection and compassion for others. They are usually the friend that others turn to for understanding and support. They have a strong desire to understand others deeply and are usually non-judgmental and openhearted. They have overcome their fears of rejection and know that they can handle whatever comes their way. The Enlightened Wounded Child has learned that to Give is to Get. Understanding others is the key to understanding themselves. Giving love allows the Wounded Child to feel and receive the love of others freely and unconditionally because they have learned to love who they are enough to share that love with others. The Wounded Child gains the sense of connection and belonging that they felt was denied them, when they can be who they truly are and to be authentic and real. Many a Wounded Child has felt ashamed of their wound, that it makes them less of a person when in reality it makes them more. They have more to give, more understanding and more tenderness, rather than less. The wound when properly recognized and confronted becomes a light of hope to themselves and the rest of the world.
When transformed from the shadow to the light the Wounded Child archetype is a powerful example of the resiliency of the human spirit. They are open, tender, vulnerable and wise. Their life experience has taught them that the pain that once dominated their life is the source of their compassion, their insight, depth and wisdom.