To be sure, that doesn't mean every negative childhood experience you had can be equated to trauma, nor that you can blame all of your negative behaviors as an adult on your parents. Instead, Pharaon’s approach suggests we understand our childhood family systems as the foundations of how we go about our lives as adults. When we fall into unhelpful patterns or behaviors, we can then often trace the reason why to a particular dynamic or circumstance of those formative years.
Drawing the line between these childhood realities and our adult behaviors is the subject of Pharaon's new book, The Origins of You. In it, she outlines five main categories of inner-child wounds—worthiness, belonging, prioritization, safety, and trust—and how they ripple into adulthood, as well as how to begin healing. To accompany the book, she also created an online quiz, which you can take to get a glimpse into the origin wound you may be carrying, and how it’s influencing your actions today.
What is the “origin wounds” quiz designed to reveal?
The questions of the quiz lead you to reflect not just on your childhood experiences but on how you respond or react to various circumstances in the present. “One of the big indicators that we have an origin wound that’s unresolved is when we have strong reactions present-day,” says Pharaon. In turn, this quiz includes questions designed to pinpoint what kinds of maladaptive beliefs you might have internalized as a kid (for example, “I always felt the need to get straight As in order to be worthy”) and how strongly you identify with similar beliefs in adulthood scenarios.
The idea is to get to the root of why you might repeatedly make unhelpful decisions or act in unsupportive ways as an adult—which is why it may be especially useful to take the quiz if you’re finding yourself in a negative behavior cycle, says Pharaon.
“If you keep having the same conflict with a partner…or if you’re unhappy at every job you have...this quiz can help you figure out the origin of that behavior.” —Vienna Pharaon, LMFT, relationship and family therapist
“If you keep having the same conflict with a partner or if you keep dating emotionally unavailable people or if you’re unhappy at every job you have, and you can’t seem to shake the pattern, this quiz can help you figure out the origin of that behavior,” she says. That’s especially true if you know where things are veering off course, and you’d be able to advise a friend on the same issue, but you just can’t seem to take your own advice, she adds. In this case, an unsupportive belief formed during childhood is more than likely to blame.
Again, that doesn't automatically point to a bad childhood or bad parents. “Wounds don’t always have to come from negligent, abusive, or malicious places,” says Pharaon, sharing an example from her book of a man with a prioritization wound (aka, feeling like you’re never the priority in the life of someone you love).
“Andre grew up with a single mom who was always working two jobs, and while he loved and respected her, the only time they got to spend together was on Sundays to go to church,” says Pharaon. “While he could certainly rationalize that his mom working two jobs was her way of prioritizing him, it still didn’t change the fact that he always wanted to spend more time with her and to be prioritized in that way.” The point is that “sometimes, wounds still get created even when parents are doing their absolute best and are so well-intentioned,” she says.
“This isn’t about...bashing our parents. It’s about being able to acknowledge the pain that does exist in our lives because it runs our lives by creating the unwanted patterns we act out today.” —Pharaon
In cases like this, where no harm was intended, it’s all the more tempting to suppress or ignore inner-child wounds. But that just delays their resolution, says Pharaon. “People often think, ‘Why do I need to go searching for something that was bad?’ especially when they know their parents did the best they could with what they had,” she says. “But this isn’t about going on some wild goose chase or bashing our parents; it’s about being able to acknowledge the pain that does exist in our lives because it runs our lives by creating the unwanted patterns we act out today.”
Understanding your quiz results: the 5 main inner-child origin wounds
1. Worthiness wound
This wound is the result of growing up in a family that placed conditions around love. “You needed to be perfect or you needed to please or you needed to perform in order to receive love, connection, presence, attention, validation, or affirmation,” says Pharaon. Perhaps that came in the form of always needing to get straight As or be a varsity athlete or be the comic relief or the peacekeeper of the family, she adds.
In these childhood scenarios, your value was dependent on something external—what you could do or achieve and not who you inherently are. And that can lead you to feel as if you need to play a similar role in adulthood in order to be worthy of love or connection.
For Pharaon, it’s this wound that hits close to home: “Whenever I was really easygoing as a child, my father was super helpful and present, but when I was ‘difficult’ or expressed needs, he would punish me by giving me the silent treatment for days on end,” she says. “So, I learned early that if I just don’t speak up, if I pretend like I’m unaffected by things, then that’s when I'm worthy of love, and if I have a reaction or have something to say, then that’s when I risk love.”
In turn, she wound up in romantic relationships in adulthood where her partner didn’t value her for who she was—because that’s what she felt she deserved. And it was only in identifying and healing this wound (more on that below) that she began to accept that she was worthy of unconditional love, as is.
2. Belonging wound
When you grow up in a family that maintains a rigid belief system around how they behave or present to the world, and you don’t fit the mold, you might feel as if you just don’t belong. “Often, people with a belonging wound will identify as the black sheep of their family,” says Pharaon. “From a young age, they may feel the need to trade their authenticity in order to be accepted, and as they grow up, they could swing the pendulum in the other direction and take a path of rebellion.”
If you were the teenager who chose to wear all black just because your mom always forced you to wear flowery dresses as a kid or the one who decided that they hated sports after being pushed to engage with sports throughout childhood, you might have a belonging wound. And as an adult, that wound could fester as the continued feeling that you just don’t quite fit in, that you have to adopt a certain persona to gain friends or romantic partners, or that you’ll never really be understood.
3. Prioritization wound
Just like Andre, in the scenario above, the person with a prioritization wound wasn’t made to feel important growing up. “Oftentimes, this will happen when a parent is a workaholic or perhaps, there are addiction issues in the family or a health challenge that takes over,” says Pharaon. “In other cases, you might have parents who are constantly fighting, such that the conflict is the priority, and you fall to the back burner; or perhaps, after a divorce or a relationship ending, one or both of your parents is really focused on dating and loses track of what’s going on with you.”
No matter the reason, if you have a prioritization wound, you felt, as a kid, that you weren’t important enough to be the priority in the lives of those you loved. And that can make you extra-sensitive to situations where you’re feeling de-prioritized in adulthood. “This could be the person who comes across as pushy or has a hard time respecting others’ boundaries because they need reassurance that they do, in fact, matter,” says Pharaon.
If getting canceled on, left on read, or ghosted has left you spiraling or assuming that no one actually likes you, you may have an unresolved prioritization wound.
4. Trust wound
A trust wound forms in the absence of honesty and transparency during childhood—when a kid is lied to, deceived, or restricted from accessing information that has a clear impact on their well-being. This can happen overtly or in more subtle ways, says Pharaon: In the case of the former, perhaps you witnessed infidelity, were pressured to keep a really big secret from someone in your family, or watched as a parent opened credit cards in your name; or maybe, it was as simple as a parent repeatedly promising you things and then not following through on those promises.
In any case, having your trust broken as a kid can lead you to be a hyper-vigilant adult, says Pharaon. Cue: trust issues. “You might be the person who has to look through their partner's text messages and DMs and emails to just make sure that you’re not being betrayed,” she says, “or you’re just constantly scanning your environment to make sure everything is okay and second-guessing everything at the first sign of inconsistency.”
5. Safety wound
Of all the inner-child wounds, the safety wound is likely to be the most obvious, given it’s associated with the kind of outright abuse and neglect recognized as an adverse childhood experience. “With this wound, there was an overall lack of care, concern, and respect by a child’s caregivers for the child’s overall well-being,” says Pharaon.
Harboring a safety wound could lead you to become avoidant as an adult: “When you don’t feel like other people have care and concern for you, you’re likely to put up walls,” says Pharaon. “You can’t have closeness, you can’t have connection, you can’t have intimacy with people because when you feel the need to constantly protect yourself, you can’t really let other people in.” If you have a safety wound, you could wind up closing the door prematurely on relationships that might’ve otherwise blossomed into loving, supportive partnerships.
How to begin healing inner-child wounds
Acknowledging and witnessing any of these inner-child wounds in yourself is the essential first step in healing. “It's important to know that your wounds are not here to destroy your life by keeping you stuck in the same patterns,” says Pharaon. “They’re tugging at you because they want you to turn around and feel what needs to be felt.”
Naturally, that’s easier said than done, given that what you find when you turn around could be deeply upsetting or unsettling, requiring you to confront negative childhood experiences or circumstances head-on. But it’s only in doing so that you’ll be able to take the next step toward healing: grieving. It’s important to grieve whatever it was that you craved but didn’t receive in childhood—whether it was worthiness, prioritization, trust, safety, belonging, or some combination of the above, says Pharaon.
“It’s a misconception to think that the person who participated in the pain must also participate in the healing.” —Pharaon
In doing so, you can move toward healing, even if the parent or other caregiver who caused the original pain does not or cannot acknowledge their part or apologize. “It’s a misconception to think that the person who participated in the pain must also participate in the healing,” says Pharaon. “If that’s available to us, it’s a beautiful thing, but more often not, it isn’t—and that’s okay.”
Instead, she says, you can be a witness to your own pain. And ideally, once you feel comfortable doing so, you can share it with someone else who can act as a loving witness as well, says Pharaon. “That can be a partner, close friend, or therapist who’s able to acknowledge you, who can connect to the pain, and who can really validate what that experience was like for you.”
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