Lesson 1 of 7  - free your true Self to guide you

What's a "Grown Wounded Child"?

How Kids Lacking Early Nurturance
Develop Psychological Wounds

By Peter K. Gerlach, MSW
Member NSRC Experts Council

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The Web address of this article is https://sfhelp.org/gwc/gwc.htm

 Updated  02-04-2015

      Clicking underlined links below will open a new window. Other links will open an informational popup, so please turn off your browser's popup blocker or allow popups from this nonprofit Web site. If your playback device doesn't support Javascript, the popups may not display. Follow underlined links after finishing this article to avoid getting lost.

      This brief YouTube clip provides perspective on what you'll read here: The video mentions eight self-improvement le4ssons in this site: I've reduced that to seven.

      Option - listen to a 1' 20" podcast of this summary on The Progressive Parent's YouTube channel: at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=461QHiHA6pI     

      This is one of a series of articles in Lesson 1 in this Web site - free your true Self to guide you in calm and conflictual times, and reduce inherited psychological wounds. This article assumes you're familiar with...


      I have worked as a family-systems therapist with over 1,000 typical men, women, couples, and some of their kids since 1981. Many of them have been in troubled and/or divorcing biofamilies, single-parent families, and stepfamilies.

      I now believe there are up to five interrelated reasons why millions of couples divorce psychologically or legally. Perhaps the most powerful and least known of the five is the psychological effect of early-childhood abandonment, neglect, and abuse (trauma)..

      My research suggests that if young kids get too few of their developmental  needs met, they automatically survive by forming a multi-part (split) personality. This causes several interrelated psychological "wounds":

  • excessive shame, guilts, and fears;

  • major reality distortions and trust problems; and for some...

  • difficulty loving, empathizing and bonding with some or all other people.

      Unseen, these psychological wounds seem "normal." They significantly stress relationships, careers, parenting, and physical and mental health. Our media uses the vague term "mental illness" to refer to what this site calls "psychological wounds." See this brief research summary and this reprint on U.S. parents' lack of "baby knowledge." 

      Over 80% of the many hundreds of troubled women and men I've consulted with since 1981 have clear symptoms of significant psychological wounds - and most didn't (want to) know it. Once such wounds are understood and admitted, they can be greatly reduced (vs. cured) over time. Lesson 1 here shows you how.

      This article outlines...

  • what a "Grown Wounded Child" (GWC) is;

  • perspective on normal personality subselves, or "parts"

  • perspective on your true Self and "false-self dominance;" and...

  • six psychological wounds many parents inherit and pass on to their vulnerable kids without knowing it.

   What Is a "Grown Wounded Child" (GWC)?

       Premise: families exist to fill key physical, psychological, and spiritual needs of adults and kids - i.e. to nurture. Depending on many factors, families (like yours) range from "very low nurturance" to "very high nurturance."

      High-nurturance families and organizations display a set of observable traits. A GWC is an adult who survived unintended deprivation of too many of these ~30 nurturing factors by their early-childhood caregivers. Usually their ancestors were significantly neglected, wounded, and unaware too, and didn't know it or what to do about it. Family trees show clear symptoms of inherited wounds and unawareness.

      Adults who got enough of the factors often enough (a subjective judgment) can be called Grown Nurtured Children, or GNCs. "Significant childhood neglect" has occurred when a child or adult has "too many" of the six psychological wounds below, in someone's opinion. Ultimately, each adult (i.e. you) must decide what "too many" is.

   About Personality "Subselves"

      To understand "psychological wounds," you need to know how human personalities develop. Here...

personality means "the evolving values, beliefs, traits, reflexes, talents, and limitations that make every person unique."

      Child-development researchers propose that while our personality or character changes across our life, our core beliefs, values, perceptions, and priorities are largely "set" by the time we're about six years old. So how well our developmental needs are met in our early years has a profound effect on how our neuro-hormonal system develops, who we partner with, the work we choose, and our health, productivity, and longevity.

       Positron Emission Tomography (PET) shows living brains at work. PET images show that many different brain areas may act concurrently to produce the simple experience "I see my hand." Different interrelated parts of our brains and neurological systems automatically process and cause sensory stimuli, emotions, thoughts, short term and long-term "memories," and so on. 

      Our amazing brains compose "meaning" from interpreting information from our six senses and accumulated knowledge. One brain area decodes meaning from abstract concepts ("Is Frank telling the truth?"), and other areas do "logical" analyses ("Martha's frowning, so she must be mad at me.").

      Different brain regions decode colors, visual patterns, shapes, movements, temperatures, touches, sounds, and smells. Decoding meaning from a specific person's facial expression or voice dynamics activates networks of many different brain areas (Parts) without our awareness. Different brain centers control hormone and antibody productions, others direct our muscle-cell activity, and sleep, eating, digestion, and elimination cycles.

      So "you" are an astounding interconnected network of many organic "mini-computers" programmed by Nature and your early and ongoing experiences. Though we have one body and one brain and feel like "one person," our personality is naturally determined by a dynamic group of semi-independent parts or subselve s (brain regions).

       The primal ability of our brain to adapt to the environment by developing specialized regions (subselves) has been described as multiplicity, fragmenting, plasticity, and splitting. Does this modular-personality concept make sense to you? If so, note an implication: having a "split personality" is normal!  

 About Your True Self

       Many philosophers and average people agree that we each have a self. There has been rich and raucous debate about what that is, across centuries and cultures. For our purposes, I and other thoughtful researchers propose there are conceptually two or three types of human self which regulate our perceptions, personality, and behaviors every moment:

  • our "self" (lower-case "s") - our body + mind + soul or spirit;

  • our Self (capital :S") - the executive leader of our personality subselves; and...;

  • our "Higher Self - a wise entity that transcends our mind and body.

      If our early-nurturance needs are filled well enough, we seem to automatically develop a part of our personality which acts like a talented orchestra conductor, athletic coach, or chairperson our true Self (capital "S"). This subself has clear, realistic, wide-angle, long-range vision. S/He consistently makes effective (healthy, balanced) minor and major decisions based on history and the dynamic input of our five or six senses and other subselves. 

      Ideally, our subselves (brain regions) are steadily directed and coordinated by this naturally-skilled leader. When that happens, kids and adults commonly report feeling some mix of calm or serene, centered, grounded, light, "up," clear, firm, alive, alert, aware, compassionate, strong, resilient, focused, open, sure, confident, decisive, positive, and purposeful - even in a crisis

      But ...

      If young kids aren't nurtured well enough, their brains and personalities seem to automatically develop a different kind of self (small "s"). Their true Self seems overwhelmed or blocked from growing able to direct their actions by a group of well-meaning but limited, impulsive subselves who want to control the person - i.e. to survive.

       This is like a violinist, tuba player, and lead tenor pushing their conductor off the podium and fighting over who will lead the orchestra. If not nurtured well enough, our personality evolves with different parts of it in competition, rather than in consistent harmony. When did you last experience "confusion," "seeing both sides," "changing your mind," and/or an internal argument.

 About "False Selves"

      Kids and adults (like you) can range between grounded, centered, and "together" to "crazy and hysterical" depending on (a) the environment (situation), (b) how many subselves are vying for control, and (c) how much their dominant subselves' values and perceptions conflict. This set of squabbling personality parts becomes a false self.

      If someone has been governed by false selves most of their life, they define that as normal. The idea that there is another Self within them that - if allowed to - can consistently make better life decisions, sounds like low-grade science fiction.

      A common first reaction to this personality-subself idea is anxiety about "being crazy" or having a "multiple personality." Since about 1980, psychiatrists and psychologists have guesstimated that about 5% of Americans seems to have extreme personality splitting.

      Once called Multiple Personality Disorder (MPD), this splitting condition is now dubbed "Dissociative Identity Disorder" (DID) by the American Psychiatric Association. The common clinical word for being controlled by a false self is dissociation.

      Research repeatedly finds that typical highly-dissociated ("fragmented") people were subjected to extreme neglect, abuse, abandonment, or other trauma as young children. Their nurturance deprivations were profound. The great majority of us don't have anywhere close to this degree of personality splitting - and do have some.

       So in this Web site, a Grown Wounded Child (GWC) is an adult who survived a low-nurturance childhood by developing  protective, short-sighted, reactive false selves. We GWCs live some or all the time dominated by a protective group of short-sighted Inner Kids and Guardian subselves. We're usually unaware of this, though we're pretty quick to spot false selves controlling other people - specially "toxic" parents, mates, and some coworkers and neighbors.

      Significant false-self dominance has powerful personal, marital, parental, and social implications. I suspect that many (most?) people who are addicted, obese, abusers, depressed, homeless, "mentally ill," divorcing, self-neglectful, bigoted, terrorists, anti-social, paranoid, delusional, criminal, homicidal, and suicidal are unaware trauma-survivors ruled by well-meaning false selves. What's your opinion?

 Reality Check

      When you're undistracted and your Self is guiding your personality, clarify your reaction to these ideas with the statements below. A = "I agree; D = "I disagree," and ? = "I'm not sure" or "It depends on (what?)":

Families exist to nurture (fill the needs of) their kids and adults.  (A  D  ?)

All children have a range of developmental needs they need informed adult help to fill  (A  D  ?)

Some families are more effective at nurturing than others. (A  D  ?)

How much psychological and spiritual nurturance a child experiences in their first four to six years greatly affects how their personality develops. (A  D  ?)

Normal (vs. pathological) human personalities seem to be composed of semi-independent "subselves" or "parts." They are probably specialized brain regions. (A  D  ?) If you're curious or skeptical about subselves, read this perspective and letter, and then try this safe, interesting experience after you finish this.

Normal personalities range from fragmented and disorganized to steadily harmonious, locally or over time, depending on which subselves guide them.  (A  D  ?)

The concept of a true Self and a false self sense to me. (A  D  ?)

I want to learn more about (a) family nurturance and GWC wounds, and (b) whether psychological wounds may be affecting me and my family.  (A  D  ?)

+ + +

  Based on what you just read, are YOU a Grown Wounded Child?

Were either of your parents or their parents?

Is your present or former mate (if any)?

 Now What?

      You have many options...

  • Learn how psychological wounds and unawareness silently pass down the generations.

  • Commit to studying Lesson 1 in this free educational Web site. It shows you how to assess for and reduce significant psychological wounds.

  • Read several unsolicited reactions to these Lesson-1 concepts

  • Learn three powerful options for preventing psychological wounding

  • Share and discuss these concepts with family adults and supporters

  • Read this example of a real stepfamily stressed by the [wounds + unawareness] cycle.

  • Review these selected research summaries supporting the ideas in this article.


      This Lesson-1 article describes "Grown Wounded Children" (GWCs) - women and men who survived significant early-childhood abandonment, abuse, and neglect and inherited up to six psychological wounds. It proposes that normal personalities are composed of three types semi-independent "subselves," including a wise "true Self." Until typical GWCs take proactive steps to reduce their wounds ("recover"), they're often ruled by well-intentioned "false selves," causing many personal problems - including unintentionally wounding young people in their care.

      The article closes with a status check on what you believe about these concepts, and an array of useful next steps.

      Pause, breathe, and reflect - why did you read this article? Did you get what you needed? If not, what do you need? Who's answering these questions - your true Self, or ''someone else''?

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