The Nature And Effects Of Emotional Wounds

The term ’emotional wounding’ covers many different childhood experiences. What these experiences all have in common is that they impact on the natural expression of a child’s thoughts, feelings and emotions.

Some forms of emotional wounding are obvious – physical, emotional or sexual abuse being prime examples of the most extreme form of emotional wounding.

Children subjected to these extreme experiences will react in a variety of ways, for example with anger, fear, compliance or defiance. The deepest damage, perhaps, is done at the level of their belief system – in other words, the beliefs they come to hold about themselves and the world around them.

And when we consider emotional wounding from this perspective, we begin to see how not only major trauma, but also small events repeated often enough, can be emotionally wounding.

To take but one example of this, a child who is deprived of love in an emotionally deprived or abusive environment may come to conclude that they are not lovable, or that there is something wrong with them which makes them unlovable.

One common factor is that the vast majority of children will unconsciously regard their emotional wounding, or more accurately, the events which lead to it, as being somehow ‘their fault’.

Children appear to have an inbuilt need to idealise their parents, on whom they depend for survival. The extremes to which they will go to see the problem as lying within them rather than within their parents can be quite extraordinary.

This often manifests with clients as an apparent lack of understanding of the true nature of their childhood experience, or a strong and misplaced loyalty to their parents (at least from our perspective).

We can summarise the nature of wounds in each Archetype in certain broad categories.

The Heart Centred Leader: At its core, this archetype is about self worth, about being good enough. So the emotional wounding here could be thought of as anything which reduces a child’s sense of self-esteem or self-worth.

We speak of the messages a child receives from its parents. This concept reminds us that a parent’s feelings towards a child are not always explicitly communicated in words. Sometimes a turning away, a negative expression, a gesture of some kind or some other expression of distaste, disapproval, dislike – or worse – is enough to convey a clear message to the child about how valuable he or she may be to the parent. (For example, one client told me that her father started to grind his teeth every time she came into the room. Unsurprisingly, she had a very low level of self-esteem.)

When we ask a client ‘What was the message you picked up from your parents?’ we are of course focusing on what the child believed was true, not what may or may not have been intended by the parents, because the former is what shapes a child’s beliefs about himself.

In the case of the Heart Centred Leader or Sovereign wound, the most common casualties of emotional wounding are self-confidence, power, the desire to be seen or heard, and a strong sense of self-worth. This all impacts a child’s ability to grow into an adult who can go out confidently into the world.

Wounding here can also reduce a person’s sense of what they are worth in various indirect ways, including their expectations of relationships, financial earnings, power and presence in the world, and how worthy they feel of being loved. This tends to mean they limit themselves by having low expectations of life.

For the Transformer, emotional wounding tends to be about a parent somehow instilling a sense of badness or wrongness in the child. This goes beyond regular disapproval or criticism.

It’s more of an overt or covert message to a child that they are in some way bad, or that there is something inherently wrong with them. This is pernicious, for it can induce deep shame, which is not always easy for a client to identify and name, even when they know something is wrong with how they feel.

Our impression is that many children will come to believe they are bad in some way when they are treated harshly or cruelly by the adults around them. Again, this reflects the way in which a child may come to believe they are somehow responsible for the treatment they receive at the hands of the adults around them.

So children may rationalize what is happening to them by deciding that they have done something bad, or that they are indeed inherently bad. They may come to believe that they actually deserve to be treated with disrespect (at the mild end of the spectrum) or even overt cruelty (at the extreme end of the spectrum) because they are bad in some way.

This can lead to abusive relationships playing out in adulthood: for example, an abused woman may repeatedly return to her abuser. We can assume this is somehow a reflection of the unconscious beliefs she holds about herself, particularly around her worth, or how worthy of respect she is.

We also need to keep in mind the fact that a lot of cultural conditioning goes into the internalized messages which form part of many adults’ self-image. For example, in societies with a strong religious culture, concepts such as ‘original sin’ may well lead impressionable children to conclude that they are born bad, and their lives need to reflect a search for redemption or forgiveness.

Another issue here of which we need to be aware is that of sexual abuse. Children frequently appear to rationalize abuse of this kind by somehow seeing themselves as responsible for provoking the abuse.

The Feeling Body: Deep emotional wounding can occur in this archetype when a child has not been loved adequately, or has been deprived of love. In the face of a lack of love, or as a consequence of abuse, a child may come to believe some variation of the idea that somehow they are not lovable, that they are unworthy of love, or that their love is not acceptable in some way. This can lead to problems in adult relationships: a difficulty in trusting another person, opening their heart, forming an intimate emotional bond, and perhaps not even being able to form a long term relationship.

The Action Taker: As a child begins to take their first steps into the world and develop a more sophisticated emotional life, the way their explorations of the world are received by their caretakers will go a long way to determine how much power and presence they feel as an adult. To be able to move outwards from mother and father with a secure emotional attachment leaves a child with a sense of confidence in their power and presence. If a child’s anger is received with compassion and adequately held by her parents, she will develop a sense of power and agency in the world.

‘Agency’ means your ability to take action, be effective, influence your own life, and assume responsibility for your behavior. These are clearly important parts of forming any type of relationship with clear boundaries. Thus a sense of agency is essential for you to feel in control of your life. When you have a sense of agency, you can justifiably believe in your capacity to influence your own thoughts and behavior, and have faith in your ability to handle a wide range of tasks or situations. Having a sense of agency influences your stability as a person in your own right; it is your capacity to be psychologically stable, yet resilient or flexible, in the face of conflict or change.

This indicates that with emotional wounding in the Action taker, a person may feel unable to change things in the world, may lack resilience, and have little sense of control over what happens to him or her.