The Wounded Child, Adaptive Child & Functioning Adult

The wounded child is the part of yourself that feels the pain from your past.  The fear, hurt or shame of the little child that felt alone.  This child comes out when she feels similar pain as an adult.  You are physically an adult on the outside, but the feelings inside are similar to the pain this child felt at 5, 7, or 9 years old.

I ask the client sitting in front of me, who is having an intense emotion, what are you feeling right now?  Does the feeling feel similar to an earlier event?  Can you remember?  This is a difficult question at first, but slowly she will go back to an earlier event that felt similar to the feeling she felt right in that moment.  She says, “It seems similar to what I felt when my mother didn’t stick up for me with my step-father.”  As we explore this earlier feeling, she begins to understand why she responds the way she does.  Her feelings are valid.  Her body response can’t decipher time.  Her body responds as if she was 7 years old again.

Pia Mellody who wrote, “Facing Codependency,” writes about the wounded child, adaptive child and functioning adult.  She describes the adaptive child as the adolescent  child who is trying to protect the wounded child.  She is the one that stands up and creates defenses to protect this child.  Sometimes these behaviors can be ineffective and cause her to create distance from others.  These defenses and responses may have been effective at some period of time, causing her to reinforce these behaviors into her regular daily behavior.

The adaptive child may be a tough girl who stands her ground with others and doesn’t let herself become vulnerable.  She has learned to adapt to her surroundings and people in her life.  She has learned to organize and structure herself in such a way that others may praise her for her behavior.  She obtains lucrative work and she is praised for her skill.  In some settings the adaptive child behaviors are highly effective and in other areas these same behaviors may be destructive (perfectionism, relentlessness, and workaholism).  These behaviors were created to survive her life, the life of the wounded child.  This child is no longer being hurt.  It’s time for her to find balance, learning when to use these skills and when to let some go.

The functioning adult is your mature self.  You are now an adult and can see when you feel wounded.  You have developed skills to work with your woundedness.  You have the ability to call on these skills at anytime to bring down your emotion.  You know how to self-soothe your little girl and validate her.  All her feelings are valid, no matter what others say.  She is able to articulate her feelings and be vulnerable with others.  She is able to set limits with others who invade her space.  She is able to listen and try to understand others, without defending or criticizing.  She is able to see all the parts of herself and observe without acting out impulsively with herself or others.  She has the ability to reflect and see what might be her part and what is another.

Elana Clark-Faler
  • Cheryl Irene Osborn
    Posted at 18:14h, 09 July Reply

    Please May I Have Information On This Troubling Issue. I Too Have This. My Address Is:

    Thank You

    • elana
      Posted at 21:54h, 12 July Reply

      Hi Cheryl,

      Thank you for writing in and responding to the blog post. You can learn more about these different adaptations by reading Pia Mellody’s book, “Facing Codependency.”


  • Oliver Felix Rojas
    Posted at 11:24h, 10 December Reply

    Thanks for writing this. I am currently struggling and as I do I am looking to uncover what I need to fix so I am to be exercise more energy towards self love, attunement and enrichment rather than dissociation when I am confronted with interpersonal situations, (positive or negative), that trigger emotional dis-regulation, .

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