The cry of the wounded inner child
(8 min read)

Andrew Solomon

Andrew Solomon

Trauma-informed therapies are increasingly prevalent in the symptomatic treatment of trauma, particularly post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Thanks to the pioneering work of a new wave of psychologists, psychiatrists and doctors it is clear that the origins of trauma arise on more subtle levels of being than can be attributed to a single traumatic experience.

Children on the road
Image by Annie Spratt from Pixabay

Perspectives for trauma-informed therapies

Brilliantly articulated in the work of Dr Gabor Mate and others, the ontological origins of all trauma are explained as arising from the often dysfunctional way we individually and, as a society, have been conditioned from childhood. Exploring such origins holds extraordinary possibilities, not only in the treatment of illness, but in broadening the horizons of human potential.

The functionality of any species depends on maintaining essential homeostasis. For humans this must be present not just physically but also on the psycho-emotional levels of being. The simple yet generally unrecognised requirement for the development of homeostasis in a child is the holistic nurture of inner (original) nature.

Nurture holds the potential for the enlivenment of a child's original nature. This ought to be a natural process. Just as an apple seed has the inner intelligence to grow into an apple tree, so original nature has the inner intelligence to grow and develop into the being the child came into life to be. The outer acknowledgment of original nature activates an infant to grow and learn to embody the fullness of their original nature through physical presence and psycho-emotional expression.

What is evident is that inner trauma arises from the way original nature is nurtured. Most often it arises from the failure to develop attachment between infant and caregiver(s). Attachment is an essential requirement of nature that all mammals need from the nurture of caregivers to survive and thrive. Only this enables the formation of the deep inner roots a child needs to begin to develop their original nature.

The essential ingredient for attachment is deep acceptance of original nature. That 'Life must acknowledge life' is an existential reality, illustrated by the way an apple seed is accepted by the elemental chemistry of earth, air, fire and water and supported by soil structure as it begins to grow into what it came into life to become.

As we are increasingly discovering, humans are a vastly neuro-diverse species. No two of us is wired in exactly the same way. Whilst nurture ought to offer an equivalent to the structure and elemental nutrition required by an apple seed it is rarely achieved. This is because nurture means different things to different people.

We are lovingly or otherwise nurtured to learn from our caregivers. We are encouraged, taught, even coerced through the words, actions and body language of caregivers and peers to develop and interact with our outer environment in a manner acceptable to familial, cultural and societal norms. The process of socialisation sets the context for our physical and psycho-emotional conditioning and continues in some way throughout our lives.

True attachment requires the acceptance and acknowledgment of a child's unique original nature as-is, on all levels of being, i.e. physical, emotional, mental and existential. This is only possible through the frequency of unconditional love, without conditions, judgment or expectation. By any standards, a quality of love is very different to the conditional, transactional type ordinarily experienced.

As the original nature of every child is uniquely different it is not always an easy task for a parent to understand, respond to and unconditionally accept every child's original nature as-is. From the moment of conception, the path of a parent is an almost unimaginable journey. A baby with a unique neuro-biological configuration arriving into a family is like a novice learning how to sing introduced to an experienced choir. Each member has a vibration and frequency that can offer a unique note to the group. The potential of the family group is to learn to vibrate in harmony with each other. In most cases, the responsibility for a completely unique, utterly defenceless newborn, is not as harmonic given the innumerable physical, emotional, environmental, cultural, socio-economic and relationship challenges.

Most of us do the best we can for our children, yet we generally have developed our ability to care for others in response to the way we were cared for as a child. A child whose original nature is not accepted and acknowledged as-is by the outer experience of nurture experiences subtle levels of inner trauma. More often it is very subtle, rather than grossly obvious. This principle was beautifully illustrated by a line in a recent movie: 'Parents will do anything in the world for their children except accept them for who they are!'

Because original nature can only ever truly be true to itself, inner trauma births a deep lack of acceptance. This inhibits an infant from developing the inner structure necessary to develop in their uniquely authentic way.

As an infant has not yet developed the adult fight/flight response, only a 'freeze' response is possible. Sudden or repeated freezing or 'tuning out' from outer experience begins to produce a traumatic dissociation from original nature.

The common denominator of traumatic dissociation is a deep, inner lack of self-worth that casts a shadow over original nature and produces what is increasingly recognised as the wounded child. The wounded child reflects the essence of original nature we have come to believe is unacceptable to the world we perceive. In countless ways it is a secret shame that both hides and acts out a lack of self-acceptance. The unworthiness of the wounded child presents two sides: under entitlement and over entitlement. Trauma is projected inwardly as I reject me and, outwardly as I reject you, because if I am unworthy of love, why should you be worthy?

Trauma casts a shadow over original nature. The projection of uniquely individual ego defence mechanisms in response to trauma produce inauthentic parts of ourselves we believe are needed to be viable and worthy (lovable) in the world we perceive. Our defences weave the mask we wear to hide original nature. Our parts coalesce as of the ego personality we perceive ourselves to be. The dissonance between original nature and the parts of the ego personality arises as the inner critic. This is never part of original nature. No infant berates itself: I should be better than/ more developed/ out of nappies by now!

Ego defenses are the wellspring of our core beliefs about the unworthiness (un-lovability, un-viability) of original nature. They drive our fragmented patterns of feeling, thinking and behaving. Our unworthiness sets poor boundaries that otherwise ought to set and flex in accordance with original nature. Instead, they drive undue needs for attention and approval and manifest in many other behaviours.

Behind the outward trappings and stories about the challenges we experience as humans, the common denominator is the inside story of the wounded child. Trauma begets trauma! The conditioning of nurture leaves an untold legacy through ancestral lines over countless centuries. From pauper to president, traumatic dissociation is evident in our subtle in-authenticities and chronic disconnection from each other and the earth on which we live. It is evident in the disorientation of childhood, angst of teenage years, mid-life crises and chronic loneliness of elder age as well as behaviours such as judgment, neediness, greed, addictions.

Psycho-emotional trauma becomes manifest as what is becoming known as the 'pain body'. The physically abused child can exhibit signs of differential brain development as described by researcher Jennifer Fraser PhD in her pioneering work The Bullied Brain. From anxiety to personality disorders, neuroses, depression and psychosis the trauma of the wounded child is key to everything we regard as mental illness. Our addictions are not simply a behavioural cause of dysfunction and illness. They are symptomatic of unresolved trauma, likely also a causative factor in many diseases linked to a lifetime of hyper-tension and in difficult to diagnose conditions such as chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia and others.

Inner trauma is contagious! The signs of humanity in crisis are plain to see in all levels and aspects of human life. It dwells in the endemic inequities and corruption of human rights. It drives inter-personal conflicts and violence that rages unceasingly across the globe. It is evident in rising rates of socio-economic inequality, mental illness, addiction, incarceration and suicide. More costly still is the lost opportunity to grow and expand into the greater reaches of our human potential.

The wounded child develops and projects self-limiting beliefs in their life by assumption, then directly or indirectly models, teaches and shapes the same self-limiting beliefs to their offspring. The inner trauma of a child reflects itself back to the parent and on and on it goes! Whether child or caregiver almost everyone is left to contemplate the experience of a less than optimal relationship, even estrangement with their own dissociated parents and/or adult offspring.

It is no wonder so many of us are triggered to act out with frustration, irritation, anger and rage when inner trauma frustrates the need of the wounded child for acknowledgment and expression. For trauma is not left in childhood, it is a response to present experience. A moment of rage as another driver cuts us off, is never truly about that, it is an event that has triggered a traumatic memory of not being acknowledged, of feeling disrespected.

Consciously or otherwise, the work of healing the wounded child is not only that of a client, it is equally the inner journey of the therapist. Whilst trauma sets its limits, this cannot be made the determiner of what it is to be human. Without trauma there is no point at which a human ends and original nature begins. Our inability as a species to understand the true nature of nurture, and to heal the trauma of the wounded child, leaves the creative intelligence of original nature largely unrealised.

At a fundamental level, every human challenge, real or imagined, boils down to relationship. To really get to know the original nature of oneself or another is a mysterious thing indeed, for it is a relationship undivided from the elemental force of life itself. If we act out our inner trauma with each other, how can we find truly loving, abiding and fulfilling relationships? As we perceive our lives through our ego defenses, what do we really perceive?

The trauma of the wounded child reflects a lack of love. It follows the acting out of the wounded child must reflect a call for love. Why is it that if we are honest with ourselves, we can all admit to being harder and more judgmental on ourselves than on anyone else?

Deep within all of us is a yearning to reclaim original nature, to be unconditionally accepted and expressive as-is. Regardless of whether symptoms are banished, the ultimate potential for all healing work can only be to support and facilitate true self-acceptance. When we stay open minded, any presenting issue is reflecting and teaching us something about our relationship with ourselves.

Psychotherapist Dr Irwin Yalom writes of his decades of experience revealing that some 80 per cent of the efficacy of the therapeutic relationship turns on the 'quality' of relationship between therapist and client. Quality includes being sincerely intended, present, acknowledging and non-judgmental.

For each one of us it is an unfolding, often lifelong journey. It cannot be accomplished in a single session or for everyone by one particular therapy. Life itself plays its part. Yet each step, short or long, that assists in undoing the ego defenses that mask our original nature is a step closer to self-acceptance.

For most of us, peaceful self-acceptance comes only when we can fully forgive ourselves (and our clients) for spending our lives trying to be someone other than who we were truly born to be.

Andrew Solomon is an Honorary member of the Australian Society of Clinical Hypnotherapists (ASCH). He is based in Sydney, Austalia, and is an existential counsellor and mentor. Visit his website at

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