The Hurt Child — Played Out in the Adult Life

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Victoria Lorient-Faibish, Holistic Psychotherapist

When we are having difficulty in adult relationships it is often because we are approaching them from the perspective of the ‘hurt child.’ This is someone who is always looking for love and approval, and is hypersensitive to criticism.

If a person comes from an environment of deep criticism, that person will develop a hyper intuitiveness, and a hypervigilance around other people… constantly wondering what others are thinking and feeling. Their tentacles are out “feeling” the situation, sensing the danger, or the OK to proceed. This can result in a deep lack of spontaneity. Moreover, it does not emanate from a logical place because it was learned so early, likely during the preverbal time frame of a person’s life.

The consequence is that the ‘authentic’ self gets stunted, even thwarted because as a child the person became preoccupied with gaining love and approval while losing the core of their spontaneous self. This continues through adulthood, and in the adult relationships this pattern is repeated. In fact, this person can be so out of touch with their authentic self that they do not know their own limits and boundaries, leading them into situations in which they are violating their true selves. A deep feeling of betrayal can occur. This turns into resentment and evolves into manipulative behaviour, reactivity, and an abundance of conflict in their relationship realms.

The main reason for hurt child behavior is that the individual’s attention is constantly placed on the outside of the self. “Do others love me?” “Am I accepted here?” “What do I need to do in order to belong?” As a child they did not discover that love is unconditional, and available to them at all times. As a result they couldn’t relax and just be themselves. If such a situation is not addressed, it will likely carry on into to adulthood.

There is a habituation to look outward instead of within. The inner child’s sense of “okayness” and self esteem rises and falls based on how they feel they are being perceived or treated. During childhood, the individual begins to test limits and looks back to see if the parent is still with them as they are testing. If the parent expresses harsh criticism the child will metabolize it and in order to get love and belonging they will turn themselves into whatever they believe is needed to be heard, seen and loved. In many cases they will stifle their own expression so that they can feel belonging and love with the only group they know – their family, specifically their parents.

I have one client who is extremely dissatisfied in his relationships. He constantly feels betrayed and hurt. When he gives to others he has specific expectations. He is unconsciously concerned that the other person is going to react in a way that will feed his lack of security. Inevitably the ‘other’ doesn’t step up to the plate. Unavoidably they will not measure up to his preconceived idea of what they should do, say or feel. His world becomes small and controlled. He has a judgmental, almost arrogant, disconnected way about him, which he uses as a shield for the deeply hurt and abandoned child within. He complains bitterly that when he gives to people they are not grateful enough, and don’t do anything he expected them to. This becomes an excuse to end the relationship, something he does frequently. Yet he suffers from deep loneliness, and would like to have healthy, lasting relationships.

Through therapy, we discover that this particular client was bitterly criticized by his mother. He felt deep resentment toward her that he never really got over. He never felt it was safe enough to be himself with her. So in a bid to resolve his hurt relationship with his mother, he was unconsciously starting relationships in which he felt unloved, unappreciated and unable to be authentic. As our therapy sessions continued, he began to discover his own part in this dynamic. He was constantly judging the other person so that they felt they could not be themselves with him either. This was a big aha moment for him in that he knew intimately the deep pain of cruel criticism and was unaware that he was doing this very thing in his relationships. He found out that he was acting in these ways in order to block intimacy, and thus stay safe. He only made comfort zone choices, so he never truly allowed any relationship to flourish with all of its ups, downs, ebbs, flows and risks. Control and safety was what he was after.

Hypervigilance to any sign of rejection or judgment was profoundly present. Through therapy he discovered that in this tight, inflexible environment, no real growth, no real relationship could expand or flourish. These discoveries were painful for this man who had invested years in not feeling his true feelings by masking them with a strong outer layer of arrogance and unawareness. Still it was the deep pain of this new awareness that eventually became his ticket out of it.

Frequently in therapy, emotional pain will seemingly increase. In reality, it is not that the pain increases, but rather the individual’s awareness does. At this point they are now able to feel the pain that was there all along. This is when the real healing begins. This is when they see the light at the end of the tunnel. But in order to get to the light one has to go through the tunnel. And that tunnel can be very dark and painful. Facing one’s dark side is a hero’s journey to be sure!

You can try and avoid the pain, and continue to ignore the messages of life, but these behaviours are keeping you away from your true purpose on the planet: to be authentic. One needs to go through the pain of awakening the authentic self. This is a healing pain. When someone starts to feel their authentic self for the first time, they will feel a great deal of suffering. The disease to please, the need to manipulate in order to have love, the need to control in order to maintain the status quo, the deep self neglect in order to have the energy to take care of others, the deep enmeshing with other people’s feelings – all hurt child behaviours – are stripped away leaving the person feeling naked.

Basically the person is in a new paradigm, and they have got to deal with themselves now. They are in the void, and since nature abhors a void, they will eventually begin to fill this void with new ways of being. In this new paradigm, they learn to no longer manipulate to get what they want, instead they ask for it, even if it means displeasing others. They are no longer helpless, passive or powerless; they bravely take action and confront life.

As a holistic psychotherapist, I work to promote awareness and to create a safe, sacred space in which a person can find the courage to confront themselves and the hurt child within. This work brings the person back to the real self – the self that was there all along. Then the hurt child can finally relax. The child within is able to rest because it realizes that the adult is now more in charge. The hurt child behaviour patterns no longer ruin the adult’s life!!

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