Learning New Ways to Cope: Taming the Wounded Child
Have you ever been in a situation where you felt so emotionally vulnerable that anything that triggered one of your tender spots was going to result in some kind of crazy outburst?
It’s a distinctly different reaction than the common every day passive reaction of most codependents. The inappropriate freak out is a state that I’ve come to think of as somewhere in between a severe codependent reaction and an emotionally healthy psyche. It’s a place where you’re no longer so accepting of poor treatment, instead your self-esteem has reached a level where it’s saying, “Hell no you don’t get to treat me like this.”
It’s not a healthy response because it lacks a certain amount of control. It can be over the top, excessive, mean or explosive. It’s a reaction that goes for the jugular. It’s volatile and leaves the individual feeling completely raw emotionally and the recipient shocked and wondering what the heck is wrong with you.
If you’re lucky or determined, it’s a transient state. It’s where the codependent, who has been abused for too long, is now building their self-esteem and are tired of being taking advantage of. They are learning how to defend themselves, but the behavior is not yet mature. The process is in its infancy, as the coping mechanism is still being run by the wounded child and that child is now angry.
The codependent, at this stage, is awake now and aware of their precarious situation. They have a lot of fear of being taken advantage of again. They want to fight back, but are unaccustomed to the volatile emotions boiling inside of them. They know what was done to them wasn’t right and they are keenly aware of immediate slights, yet they lack the skills to know how to control what they are feeling.
At this stage, in my own development, I remember being in a budding romance with someone I worked with. It was triggering my fear of intimacy and my fear of rejection. I was still in pieces after my long-term Narcissist had left me and I really had no business even thinking of being in a relationship. I remember saying something rather stupid that made me look incredibly needy (and I was) and immediately afterword he grew distant and didn’t have the same interest. I got so angry that I let him have it verbally and then later in an email. He did what any normal person would do, if the one they were interested in started acting crazy, he pulled back and my vicious tongue afterword, confirmed for him, that he had dodged a bullet and I was left looking like a crazy mad woman.
My ego was too raw, too fragile to handle any kind of rejection. The wounded child was still steering my reactions and she was having a temper tantrum. My insides were screaming,”You have to like me. I’m a good person. Can’t you see who I am. You don’t get to hurt me, I’m going to hurt you worse.” Chalk another one up to ‘not my finest hour.’ The reality was that I had not yet learned how to act like a mature healthy adult, whose new relationship wasn’t working out, nor had I learned how not to be needy in the first place.
Letting the Adult Reign
Learning the right ways to cope means tempering your reactions with the appropriate emotions and behaviors. It’s been said that codependency is a reactionary disease, whereby the reactionary defense system doesn’t function properly. This is because early childhood trauma meant their survival and safety was dependent upon how well they repressed those reactions.
As healthy adults it’s our responsibility to learn how to control ourselves, so that we don’t act crazy. This means teaching ourselves how to behave appropriately in the moment and knowing that we very likely didn’t learn the appropriate coping mechanisms as children.
The first part of tackling this issue is learning how not to internalize the behaviors and opinions of other people. Wayne Dyer always used to say, ‘What other people think of us is none of our business.” We never know what someone’s agenda is, just like we never know just how healthy they are. What someone says or thinks of us says nothing about who we are and everything about who they are. When someone is talking trash about you, usually the best response is no response at all. Your power comes from your ability to not react.
Being healthy means knowing your own worth and not having it waver based upon someone else’s opinion. It’s about not needing external validation and learning how to block out the influences of others. For further reading on this see my blog entitled The Power of Indifference
The second part is releasing the grief associated with our past, so that it is no longer a trigger for us. If we have a fear of rejection then we shouldn’t be putting ourselves into a position to be rejected until we have healed and come to terms with the underlying source of it. Once we can trace it back to it’s source and see where it comes from then we gain a general understanding of how it is controlling our emotions. Your job then is to sit with it, get comfortable with it and realize that it no longer has any power over us. We can write a letter – but not send it, or have an imaginary conversation with those who have hurt us to acknowledge and give a voice to the hurt inside of us. When you tuck away your pain and your feelings and don’t deal with them you will always have triggers, when you sit with the pain and allow yourself to feel your feelings it allows you to release the grief inside so that similar situations will no longer trigger the initial painful event. For more on this see my blog entitled Releasing Your Grief Energy
The most powerful tool in combating this behavior is mindfulness. When you are aware that you have a problem in this area you are more apt to not let your emotions get the better of you, so that you’re not just reacting. Being mindful means that you proceed with caution and that you allow logic to enter into the equation by asking yourself questions like – What is the best reaction I can give which would allow me to obtain the results I am after? How would a healthy person behave in this situation? Am I reacting as a result of a trigger?
Answering these questions in the moment allows you to put conscious thought into your behavior, which limits the emotional punch of your reaction. When you are aware of something it means you can spot it and be in control of it rather than it being in control of you.
Part of life is about learning how to survive and cope in all situations. You learned how best to survive your childhood by learning the coping mechanisms necessary to do so. As we grow it’s important to understand that we should never stop learning, especially when the way were taught was wrong in the first place. When you react to most situations in a calm and mature manner, regardless of what comes at you, you will know that you are in control. It’s time to put the child to bed and let the adult run the show.
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