The wounded child

Our "internal operating models”, developed during childhood, determine our style of attachment by strongly influencing our adult behavior and our relationships with others, first of all with our partner.

Couples often arrive with a load of pain that started a long time off.

Mary said: I always feel invisible, I try to win his love as I did as a child with my father who was always absent from home”. And Luigi added: I always feel criticized, never up to the task as I felt with my mother when I came back from school and even a good grade was never satisfactory enough”.

For this couple, as for all of them, their relationship is affected by the bond of attachment that each one had with their parents. Being able to go back from the “here and now” of their relationship to the “there and then” of their relationship with their parents can be useful to unravel the skein of conflicts and pains of the present moment.

It is now known that attachment is the basis for creating a bond with another person, characterized by the search for stability, protection, acceptance, security, and well-being, but also that our way of creating adult bonds will be influenced by the quality of the bonds we had as children with our main reference figures.

Our interpretations of the behavior of others, whether friends, partners or colleagues are in fact influenced by the mental representations we have built since childhood, starting from the bonds of attachment experienced with our parents and figures of reference and care. They are therefore the result of our previous bonds of attachment.

These experiences build our “internal operating models”, that is, the beliefs we have about ourselves and others in important relationships; they contain predictions about how those around us  will behave and influence the way we behave, attributing emotions and behaviors to others based on the content and structure of our internal Operating Models. As adults, therefore, we see the world and build our reality through the filter of these mental representations, which originated in childhood affective bonds and are influenced by their quality.

The point is that, if dysfunctional, deficient, or abusive care relationships have been experienced, it is likely that insecure or disorganized attachment styles have formed, which could also have repercussions in the way important relationships are built and lived in adulthood.

What to do when as a couple, but also as individuals in relationships with others, we realize this? It is necessary first of all to understand that as children we were absolutely dependent on others for our survival. In that vulnerable condition, it was easy to feel unsafe or unloved. As a result, we have lived- more or less- traumatic experiences that have engraved wounds in our psyche. Intense and brief traumas or small traumas repeated often, have structured within our psyche, what Jung called a “complex”, made of painful emotions, negative beliefs about oneself and destructive behavioral patterns. We call all these “complexes”: the Wounded Inner Child.

As adults the Wounded Inner Child is usually removed and relegated to the subconscious or unconscious and from these hidden places in the psyche causes confusion, concentration problems, anxiety, sense of depression and numerous other individual and relational difficulties. It is therefore necessary to take the step of recognizing our inner wound linked to the  mistakes (often involuntary or unconscious) made by the caregiver, the one who most of all should have protected us, cared for us, welcomed us and taught us to become safe and strong.

It is difficult to accept the idea that the pain we have inside, the difficulties we experience in relationships with other people – especially with our partner – originate from the way our mother treated us as children (when she was the main caregiver). The attachment style, however, is not a pathology in itself, but it is good to explore if this style of attachment in the present of our lives becomes an obstacle to a rewarding and effective relationship with important people and, as an adult, with our partner. In fact, dysfunctional attachment patterns not elaborated or corrected, can lead to wrong sentimental choices or dysfunctional and unstable relationships or relationships characterized by violence, oppression, or submission.

Therefore, it was useful for Maria and Luigi to work towards a true and deep understanding of how things had gone in the bond with their parents, and the motivations that they had produced. This was the main way to move from understanding to accepting the past for what it had been and, finally, to forgiveness in respect to the inner wounds received as children. As Carlo Taglia writes: “If you do not heal what has hurt you, you will bleed on people who have not cut you”.

It is therefore important to become aware of this, not only out of respect for our partner but for respect of all other significant relationships. If, for example, I have had an experience of exclusion that derives from my family of origin where, for various reasons, I felt sidelined and unimportant, I can continue to always feel excluded regardless of how others will behave towards me because my “internal operating model” dictates the law with respect to my representation of myself,  of  others and of relationships, even if the data of reality sends me a different narrative of what I feel.

Therefore, making peace with one’s wounds is indispensable, indeed unavoidable, so that the wound closes and stops hurting.
In its place there will be a scar, memory of the pain experienced but which, touched, no longer causes pain, and no longer impacts on one`s life today.