When Healing Words Cause Pain

How do we show up for someone in a way that provides genuine support? How do we speak to someone who is hurting to provide reassurance that they are not alone? Our careful attention to the words selected in these moments can often directly impact the efficacy of our desired intervention. If we wish to wrap a blanket of support around another person then it is important to tune into the difference between what feels comforting and what feels distressing to that person. It requires us to listen to the needs of another. It requires us to recognize that what one person may find supportive could be received in an entirely different way by someone else. But what happens when the carefully chosen words themselves carry their own conflicting messages? How is a person supposed to absorb a well intended message that immediately attaches itself to a tangled mess of ambivalent feelings?

Early in my healing journey, with the guidance of my therapist, I was directed to various books to help me understand the dynamics and impacts of abuse. The words in these books allowed my adult brain to make connections and gain an understanding of what really happened when I was young. These lessons helped to rewire the faulty messages that were imposed upon my traumatized adolescent brain. Gaining an understanding of the stages of abuse, the behaviors of pedophiles, and the lasting and numerous impacts of these experiences allowed my brain to slowly begin to erase the message that what happened to me was entirely my fault and my choice and replace it with the acceptance of the term sexual abuse to describe my experiences. This process took quite some time, but making these connections and repairs in my adult brain provided me with the necessary foundation to begin to dig deeper into my healing work.

A pivotal moment in my healing journey occurred when I began to connect with other survivors. The validating support that comes from the collective “me too” of trauma survivors is an immensely helpful component of healing. I first experienced this in a group therapy setting for female survivors of childhood sexual abuse. There I sat in a room with women who carried vastly different stories and experiences of abuse, and yet a common thread emerged again and again as we shared the impact of our experiences. It didn’t seem to matter how old we were when our abuse took place, the role our abuser held in our lives, or even how many instances of abuse we remembered. The heavy weight of lasting internal impacts and distorted views about ourselves and the world around us became common ground within this room of strangers. The more I allowed myself to share about what I could only describe as my own unique brand of crazy going on inside of me, the more I felt this comforting validation and reciprocation through healing connection. This experience reinforced the message that my adult brain was learning to accept. I am not alone.

Recently I have directed my healing to focus on working to build a connection with my internal wounded parts. I have come to understand that no matter how much my adult brain can rationally understand the dynamics of abuse, my inner child holds memories attached to feelings that impact the way I still function today. I cannot reason my way around these default responses no matter how hard I try. It requires a deeper understanding and connection. Through this work I am beginning to feel how my adult brain can receive and process messages differently from these internal parts. The same messages that have helped my adult self make healing progress are not received the same way by my wounded inner child. When my adult self hears that my fears, feelings, and experiences are common in survivors of abuse and I can lean on the words of survivors or experts printed in books to reinforce the concept that I am not alone, I am filled with the validation and hope that there is a way through and out of my pain. It makes me want to dig in and follow the research to guide me forward towards healing. But a strange thing happens when my inner child hears the same messages. She latches onto words like “common”, “typical”, and “expected” and instead of feeling validated and empowered she feels diminished. It feels like she is being told that her wounds are common and expected. It feels to her that all of the painful and specific details that she relives over and over inside do not matter. Instead she feels that she is being told to go stand in line and follow the provided script with all of the other injured kids who are just like her. Her experiences matter no more than the sea of faces she’s been lumped in with. Those words do not help her. To her those words feel dismissive and minimizing, and they connect directly to the messages that kept her silently suffering in the past. Instead she needs words that scoop her up out of the murky darkness, dust her off, and wrap her in comfort and security while looking deeply into her eyes and showing her that she is seen and heard and that all of her unique experiences matter.

How do I give this wounded child within all that she needs? How can I extract the messages necessary for my adult self to continue healing while also tending to the child parts that seem to require something entirely different? How can I decide which part of me is supposed to absorb each message that I receive to ensure that they provide help instead of harm?

18 thoughts on “When Healing Words Cause Pain

  1. For me, the answer to those questions lies with forming relationships and connections that are healing and accepting of my inner-child’s needs. My inner-child understand healing in the form of touch—hand holding, hugging. Etc and I am so lucky that the team I work with does those things with me. It helps so much. I hope you’re able to find out what is healing for your inner child and let the adult you provide or seek it out for her! 💗

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    1. Yes. You make a great point about the needs of the inner child often being non verbal. That is something I am tip toeing my way into understanding and accepting.
      I appreciate your thoughts. 💗

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  2. I think, for me, seeing myself through the eyes of my therapist has been powerful in helping younger parts. It’s a slow process, but it’s gradually replacing the old narrative of blame and shame that I’ve always (wrongly but understandably) held true.
    It helps when T says things like, “Oh poor baby girl, she was so brave, she didn’t deserve any of what happened to her…” that sort of thing. And on the other hand he’s saying it’s not surprising I have C-PTSD because of my complex trauma (the adult part needs to hear this said for validation!), but it doesn’t hurt the smaller parts to hear that because they’re getting the other stuff delivered to them.
    Not sure if that makes sense, but I suppose what I’m saying is, speaking different things to different parts seems to help bring it all together.
    I’m sorry you have these traumas to have to work through ❤️

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    1. Yes, that makes a lot of sense. Different parts need to hear and feel different things. I guess I’m just needing to learn how to allow each message to be absorbed where they are intended and needed without other parts intercepting and distorting that positive impact.
      I appreciate your thoughts – very helpful to read. 💕

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      1. I wonder if it helps that they’re often delivered in the same therapy session, so all parts feels catered for.

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      2. Interesting point. Do you feel like it took time for you to learn how to receive messages to different parts? Right now for me it feels like all parts are starving for anything tossed in our direction by a safe person. Then when the wrong part grabs hold of something that wasn’t intended for them it doesn’t land well and causes a defensive recoil inside. I think I need to learn to allow the part that needs to receive the message to come forward while other parts step back and allow the message to go directly where it is intended.
        So much to untangle inside.

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      3. Definitely, though I’d say not in the sense of being affronted, I think because he pitched both angles at the same time, but more that I felt irritable he could be so wrong about what he was saying! 🙈 and the receptiveness of it all perplexed me. I remember T saying once, almost as though talking more to himself than me, that maybe I’ll need to hear it did over and over again, for a while. Now I see he was right! Sometimes a tiny fragment resists with a little squirm, but largely it’s lapped up by parts thirsty to hear it.

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      4. Yes, that makes a lot of sense. My therapist has said the same thing to me about needing to hear a message again and again. I guess maybe that’s how our system begins to slowly allow the messages to get where they need to go.

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      5. Sadly it doesn’t happen overnight I guess, but is like a garden, things need to grow and then you see changes over time.

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  3. Such a good post and I can relate to it so much especially how child parts hear and understand the same words differently. I sense, but I could be wrong, that your child parts are looking to feel special as all children long to feel and how parents should make them feel. “Common” and “expected” are not at all messages about the unique (inner) beauty your child parts deserved to have had reflected at them.

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