Embracing the Shadow: Working with a Wounded Child
Originally published in Coaching for Transformation
Almost everyone has been wounded, physically or emotionally. Our original wounding—the fi rst time we found out that we are not okay—often becomes a driving force in our lives. Th e fi rst time an innocent child hears, “No!” can be traumatic. Bewildered, the child starts to believe it is fl awed or not good enough. Core beliefs become embedded in the psyche, such as, “I don’t matter. I am bad. If I don’t do what people ask, I won’t be loved.” Even people who have had extraordinary parenting and idyllic childhoods usually have a wounded child within.
When a wounded child begins to re-emerge, this is a vulnerable moment. Our role as coaches is to be present, hold the pain with compassion and liberate the energy that’s held within the wound. Within the vulnerability flows life itself.
We don’t rush through this; we just stay present, sitting with the child, without trying to change it. There is nothing to get over or get through. Mourning opens the heart and helps the child to meet life fully. Mourning is pure sadness—a feeling that often has no words. The sadness is very alive and connected to something valuable that has been lost. The yearning is for that precious thing the child has lost.
When the child rests in the pure life energy of its desire, the old core belief loses its power. The original trigger is replaced by unconditional acceptance of life energy.
We only work with the Wounded Child if the protectors agree. Th ey often have very good reasons for keeping the child hidden, so we make friends with the protectors before asking to talk to a wounded child. If the protectors refuse, we talk to those parts rather than the Wounded Child. Perhaps they have conditions that we must agree to before they’ll give us permission. If they are adamant about not talking to Wounded Child, we thank them for keeping that part safe.
The Wounded Child’s role is to hold all the suppressed emotions connected to the original trigger. So we accept all expressions of emotions with compassion. We don’t try to change the wounded child unless it specifically asks for help with a change. We don’t give advice or try to get it to see things differently or encourage it to grow up.
Many child parts are fragile or delicate and need to be held with care. Our role as a coach is to listen and help the client’s Self to integrate what the child part has expressed. In doing so, we create a warm relationship and connect empathically with the child’s feelings. Some child parts are too young to speak, but we can still honor them by giving them space to gurgle, cry or be held.
Only when we let the child know that we really get how bad it has been do they begin to release the burden.
Working with a Wounded Child Example
Claire wanted to change her relationship with her father, but she had not spoken to him in years. “I don’t even remember why I stopped talking to him; it was so long ago…” Her coach intuitively sensed that Claire was protecting a wounded child that needed to be heard, so asked for permission to talk to her little girl. Claire’s protectors agreed.
Coach: I want to thank your protectors for introducing me to your little girl and allowing me to talk to her.
Claire: Okay, she’s a little tentative…
Coach: Yes… can you be the little girl and move to a place in the room where the little girl would like to be? And just feel the tentativeness.
Claire: The little girl is sitting on the floor behind the chair.
Coach: So can you sit on the floor and be the little girl? Thanks for meeting with me today. What’s it like to be you?
Claire: [silence] She cannot talk.
Coach: Okay, so just be the little girl and feel what the little girl feels.
Claire: [more silence] I’m scared.
Coach: What’s scary?
Claire (Little Girl): I’m not loveable.
Coach: When was the first time you thought you were not loveable?
Claire (Little Girl): ... When my mother died, my father sent me to live with my aunt in Mexico. I didn’t speak the language. I didn’t know anyone. I begged him not to leave me there, but he said, “You remind me too much of your mother,” and he walked away.
Coach: So you’ve been carrying a lot of feelings that Claire didn’t want to experience.
Claire (Little Girl): Yes, I was hurt, crushed, lost.
Coach: Which parts did you enlist as your allies to help Claire?
Claire (Little Girl): Mainly, the protector. When Claire’s father came back to get her a month later, the protector insisted that Claire not look at or speak to her father. And he’s been reminding her of that ever since.
Coach: So the protector is keeping Claire from looking at or talking to her father. And what has happened to you?
Claire (Little Girl): Most of the time, I don’t think Claire even knows I exist. She ignores me completely.
Coach: And what would you like from Claire?
Claire (Little Girl): I’d like her to pick me up and hold me once in a while. Talk to me.
Coach: What would you tell her if she would listen?
Claire (Little Girl): That I’m sad. And lonely. I’m not loveable.
Coach: So you’d like Claire to know how bad it is for you. That you’re sad and you’d like some attention and some love?
Claire (Little Girl): [big sigh] Yes. I just want to say how much I want to be loved.
Coach: Anything else you’d like Claire to know?
Claire (Little Girl): I feel relieved to be listened to like this…
Coach: Thanks so much for sharing what it’s like to be you and telling me what’s really going on inside.
Claire (Little Girl): I want Claire to just talk to me once in a while.
Coach: I will talk to Claire about that. Are you ready to move back to Claire’s chair?
Claire: Phew… yes… I didn’t even know I had a wounded little girl inside. That was intense. I had completely forgotten about living with my aunt for a month and what that felt like.
Coach: So take some time to integrate. [pause] Now that you’ve heard from your little girl, how does that impact you?
Claire: I appreciate her a lot more now. I want to spend some time with my little girl, getting to know her. I’m feeling more tender toward my father. But I’m still really angry with my father.
Coach: So let’s talk to that angry part of you and the tender part next week. How does that sound? [coach recognizes a new part coming in and names it]
Coach: Would you like to spend some time this week with your little girl? Just getting to know her?
Claire: Yes, I’ll do that.
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