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Wounds of Childhood: Three Understandings to Facilitate Healing of Past Wounds in the Present

images-663Early experiences have the power to subconsciously shape our lives, in particular, emotion-laden events in which we created meanings about our self and others in our interactions with primary caregivers. Largely, our core beliefs about who we are, what we are capable of, how we want life to be, and so on, were formed in the formative years of childhood. Consciously or not, these meanings guide our steps and inform our choices in enduring ways as we walk along our path in life.

Some affect us in positive ways, giving us stamina to overcome challenges, or encouraging us to sustain our enthusiasm, maintain our momentum, express our talents and interests, and so on, while others in negative ways block or limit our growth and happiness.

Often the impact of negative (and positive) childhood experiences remains dormant until problems in an intimate relationship surface, seemingly, making it imperative that we take a fresh look at some deeply painful aspect of ourselves or lives, perhaps ones we’ve disowned or kept well hidden deep inside.

Without question, our most intimate relationships are the ones that more often cause the most pain. It is perhaps because they also offer the most fertile ground and opportunities for creating happy, meaningful lives that makes healing these wounds an essential part of living happy, fulfilled lives. Healing always involves, at minimum, becoming more consciously aware our self as a choice maker, and thus, engaging in tasks such as exploring unexamined beliefs or unresolved wounds from childhood.

We may uncover issues coming up of trust or control, fear of abandonment or engulfment, or perhaps we find ourselves instinctively reenacting the actions of a parent that we found hurtful and swore to never repeat, based on our current values. We may experience painful emotions and feelings that overwhelm or rob us of the energy and hope we need to make better choices. Regardless the challenge, we each have the power within us, as adults, to change, transform and heal ourselves at the deepest level.

What facilitates our healing?

1. It helps to start from a place of knowing, that: if we survived the formative years of childhood—which we would not have, had we not received some level of love and care, physical and emotional,   from our primary caregivers—we are now, as adults, whole beings unto ourselves (despite the reality that we are social beings at heart).

Whereas this would have been an insurmountable task in childhood, with the wisdom and cognitive abilities of our adult self, we can learn to be the nurturing parent or guardian who lovingly—and wisely—guides us with just the right balance of encouragement and discipline we needed as a child. We may always prefer to receive the love we want from others in just the exact way we wished as a child — it’s our nature to do so. It’s also our nature, however, to realize that as adults we really, really have everything we really, really need inside us, for example, we have all the love, joy, wisdom, fun, purpose, personal power, compassion, and so on, ready to be energized inside of us,  to potentially create a life for ourselves and loved our ones that is enriching, harmonious and meaningful.

This means we must examine certain wishes or expectations that “demand” things “have to” occur in certain precise ways. Others may make us happy, yet, if we want to mutually empower one another’s happiness, we must let go of holding them responsible, or even worse, blaming other people or events for our unhappiness. This literally gives away our action-generating power and the responsibly we own for creating joy and happiness, which is an inside job. Protecting our happiness is our own beautiful responsibility.

Similarly, we are never primarily responsible for others’ happiness, though we may love and prefer them to be happy. Our responsibility to each other is to promote, and avoid standing in the way of, one another’s efforts to enrich life.

2. It facilitates healing to see life as a journey or learning process in which one of the most important lessons is: to learn how to love and accept self and others unconditionally, especially in key moment by moment situations when we are triggered and not at our best, rather prone to go into scary places, do desperate things, etc.

This ability for compassion, an understanding love, allows us to forgive ourselves and others as people, even as we recognize what actions, our own and others, are harmful and destructive to our happiness and health.

In his best-selling book, “Man’s Search for Meaning,” Austrian psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor, Victor Frankl states that, “Everything can be taken from a man but …the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

3. It also helps to understand that: we are not our emotion, and we are not the thoughts that cause our emotions. We are much more, we are the observers, choice makers and creators of our lives, thoughts, feelings or behaviors.

Our feelings are not right or wrong, negative and positive per se; they are merely communications from our body to us telling us, at any moment, where we are in relation to where we aspire to be. Essentially, emotions and feelings (especially upsetting ones) are vital signals, critical information that inform our choices, help us to better understand ourselves and others. They often call us to note that something we are thinking or believing may not be serving us, for example, they may be telling us to stop focusing on changing others or “waiting” for them to love or accept us, etc. (as this is not within our “control”), and instead  to take optimal action to restore and balance our own emotional state.

In short, what facilitates our healing is shifting our overall approach to self and life around us. Life offers ample opportunities to clear the weeds of childhood wounds in the gardens of our lives. As we do, we may recreate different scenarios in our mind’s eye, exploring different possibilities or outcomes. In doing so, we imagine different reasons an event may have occurred as it did, and perhaps even accept that, as painful as it was, in other ways, it served the highest benefit of all concerned.

In other words, the reason to bring up painful events in our lives is to create integrative experiences that allow us re-examine them from different angles, and find fresh and empowering ways of understanding our self and others as, well, human beings..

We have more power to create the healthy and happy life and relationships we want than we think. The key is to live life consciously — aware of our beliefs, feelings, thoughts, needs—and the power of our moment to moment choices. When we become aware of beliefs and limiting ideas that do not serve us, we can choose to let go or transform them in present moments.

There are of course obstacles to face and overcome. The most common impediment is our tendency as human beings to avoid what is painful or difficult in the moment, and give in to doing what is easier and more pleasing. When we pass up chances to face old fears and pain with courage, when we choose pleasing or luring distractions to “help” us avoid the inevitable, we unfortunately miss out on avoiding needless suffering  and getting stronger as old wounds drain our energy and power to live more fulfilled, authentic lives.

Of course, we may find that we need support to heal past wounds, and, in this case, turning to a professional who can offer tools for healing may be the best choice to your own path for healing and breakthrough limiting barriers. As long as we remember that the child we were lives on within us, we are always free to go back and right old wrongs, correct mistaken perceptions, heal wounds, in time, forgive, and begin anew.

These understandings help us stop looking for love and power outside of ourselves, from some person, event, food, drink, and so on. They invite us to embrace the responsibility we each have in our moment by moment choices—to consciously nurture our own physical and emotional well being daily, and, from this place of tender love for ourselves and life, then reach out caringly to nurture the relationships with those we most love.

Wounds of Childhood: Three Understandings to Facilitate Healing of Past Wounds in the Present

Athena Staik, Ph.D.

Relationship consultant, author, licensed marriage and family therapist, Dr. Athena Staik motivates clients to break free of anxiety, emotion reactivity, and other addictive patterns, to awaken wholehearted relating to self and other. She is currently in private practice in Northern VA, and writing her book, What a Narcissist Means When He Says 'I Love You'": Breaking Free of Addictive Love in Couple Relationships. To contact Dr. Staik for information, an appointment or workshop, visit, or visit on her two Facebook fan pages DrAthenaStaik and DrStaik

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APA Reference
Staik, A. (2013). Wounds of Childhood: Three Understandings to Facilitate Healing of Past Wounds in the Present. Psych Central. Retrieved on January 29, 2020, from


Last updated: 21 May 2013
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