Words from the Wounded Self

One of the most challenging steps in the healing process is de-fusing from the wounded  – or fear-based – self. Until you start to shine the light of consciousness onto the dark labyrinth of your inner world, you and your wounded self are fused into one seemingly seamless unit. If your core self is like your spinal cord, your wounded self is like a serpent wrapped tightly around this center line. Because you’ve been listening to the lies of the wounded self for a long time (usually your entire life), its voice sounds like your own voice; this is your running commentary.

The first step in de-fusing from the wounded self is to start to identify its lines: what’s the commentary that runs in the background of your thoughts, often so quiet that you can hardly hear it? (For a detailed explanation of the running commentary, please read this post.) For most people, the commentary usually contains at least one of the following negative mantras:

  • I’m not a good person.
  • No one likes me.
  • Things aren’t going to work out.
  • I’m not capable of love.
  • I’m a horrible person.
  • I’m doing it wrong.
  • I’m not worthy of love.
  • I have to be perfect in order to receive love.
  • My worth is based on my success. Failure is not an option.
  • I’m flawed.

One of the reasons why it can be difficult to differentiate between the wounded self and the truth is because the wounded self presents its thoughts and beliefs with conviction and authority. It doesn’t say, “You might feel anxious for a while but then it will pass,” but instead says, “You’re going to feel anxious forever.”  But this is actually a clue to when the wounded self is speaking and is a simple way to identify its thoughts. The wounded self is a black-or-white thinker and its vocabulary reflects this worldview. As such, when your thoughts include the following words, you know that the wounded self is in charge:

  • Always
  • Never
  • Forever
  • Should
  • Shouldn’t
  • What-if

For example:

  • “I’ll always be depressed.”
  • “I shouldn’t be feeling so anxious.”
  • “I should be over this by now.”
  • “I’ll never be happy.”

Along these lines, a member of the Conscious Weddings E-Course recently posted on this topic, using the brilliant analogy of recording music to help identify the voices of the wounded self. With her permission, I’m posting it here:

“I just wanted to chime in and say in the height of my anxiety after B & I moved in together, I started to think exactly like you in regards to “does this mean he is a lesson for healing but not marriage”. I started to think God was playing some awful trick on me. Kind of like teasing a dog with a bone by putting it right in front of their face and then taking it away from them when they reached out to enjoy it. Although I couldn’t see it at the time, now I can see that fear was most definitely in the driver’s seat, as it is for you. It’s a fear of loss. It’s a fear of losing him. It could also be a fear of deep down feeling undeserving of something good like this. Like KD mentioned, you have a lot to process, but what I think she meant by this is that perhaps there are things you were told about yourself by someone in your past (like your ex) that are deeply seeded in you and you don’t realize it yet. Things like, you are unworthy of love. You may not even be aware that that track is running in the background and playing a part in all your decision making.

“I was a musician for many years and spent a lot of time recording music. I’m not sure if you are familiar with the process, but in recording, every instrument including vocals goes onto it’s own track. Even each drum and cymbal would have it’s own mic and tracks. So once a song was complete, it was a combination of about 15-20 tracks all running together at once. Then, to perfect the sound, we would adjust and tweak each track in regards to volume so that it all blended together nicely. Sometimes, we had to eliminate tracks altogether if they weren’t fitting in with the song. I think of this when I think of my own thought process. Which tracks are loud? Which tracks are so quiet that you don’t even realize they are there at first? How are the tracks contributing to the song? Are they adding life and volume to it? Or are they making it cluttered and lacking direction.

“I had NO idea of the tracks I had running quietly in the background until I started listening for them. And they are prevalent in all areas of my life, not just my relationship, which was a huge eye-opener for me. I have been playing competitive hockey for the last 6 years and I am JUST realizing this now as I was starting to get anxious everytime I played and wasn’t enjoying it. I was eager to get off the ice just as quickly as I got on it. Then I wasn’t having as much fun with it and starting questioning if I loved it so much why was it making me so miserable?!? Thats when I started noticing the tracks playing in my head every time I was out on the ice. They were VERY quiet and I wasn’t even conciously aware of them at first. But they were saying things like “why are you even trying, everyone is better then you” or “you’re going to make a mistake and embarrass yourself” or “stop trying so hard, you’re not that good”. Holy crap, this was a HUGE eye opener to me. Where the heck did these thoughts come from? Truth is, they were there all along, they were just turned down very quietly. Now it’s my job to start putting the truth to these thoughts so that I can go back to enjoying my game.

“I quit playing music right when I was starting to go somewhere with it because I would get sick to my stomach before I went on stage and I couldn’t deal with the relentless anxiety. I let fear win that fight. It took one of my greatest passions away from me.”

What do you hear when you start to listen to those quiet lies that are wreaking havoc on your ability to enjoy your life? It takes courage to pull back the habitual protective layers that keep you safe inside a familiar box, and peeling back the lies is a healing transition unto itself. For once you start to identify your wounded self and call it onto the mat, it often feels like you’re falling apart. The serpent of the wounded self has wound so tightly around your true self that it feels like your core structure is crumbling when your loving actions cause the wounded self to loosen its grip. But with time, courage, and a commitment to living a loving and fulfilling life, you will be able to kick fear out of the driver’s seat and experience the joy and freedom of driving your own car.

6 comments to Words from the Wounded Self

  • SB

    I hear: “He’s going to leave you.” and “You will find someone better and have that “The One” feeling and then you will have to leave him”. It’s simply horrible. Though I do see that these tracks are based in my fear of abandonment and my unrealistic expectations of perfect love. The more I read (I have started reading The Road Less Traveled and HIGHLY recommend it to other readers) and process these thoughts I am able to separate my true self from them and move on in my day.

    That is not to say I am past these tracks but they are quieter now. One thing that I can say with 100% or 95% (because who is 100% sure of anything 🙂 is that I do believe I would be having these thoughts regardless of who I was with because I have dealt with them all my life. It is kind of nice (in very twisted way) to be an anxiety filled person because I believe it is my fear that brought me here but it is also leading me on the path of growing up.

  • The Road Less Traveled is probably THE best book on learning about real love. You’re clearly doing great work on yourself and, yes, you would be having these thoughts no matter who you were with!

  • Blm5126

    Perhaps part of the reason the moment of the proposal is so difficult and represents a moment of feeling disconnected from our core selves is because it is a moment when many of the negative false beliefs are directly contradicted. For example, I’ve noticed that some of my false beliefs are that I am not capable of real love and commitment and that I am a bad person who will just cheat on my fiancé (and soon husband!). At the moment of the proposal, you have a wonderful loving man who directly challenges those beliefs by saying to your core self:”I love who you are. You are an amazing, committed, and loving person. I know this so deeply that I want to spend my life with you.” The wounded self doesn’t know how to handle these contradictions between what it “knows” about you and what this amazing person is saying. With that deeper level of commitment you make by being engaged, the running commentary that you have had through your whole life comes back full force, trying to guide your actions to move you away from this person that contradicts your core false beliefs. The risk is greater with marriage, so the false beliefs try to make themselves louder. This leads to the thoughts that we then try to push down which eventually lead to anxiety attacks.

  • Beautifully said, BLM. Thank you for posting it here.

  • Brittany

    Thank you for this article. I have this amazing man who loves me unconditionally, even after I broke off our engagement (that I was pushing for for several months) and fell into a deep depression. My thoughts took charge to the point of where I couldn’t distinguish the lies from reality. Its been over a year since I broke off our engagement and our relationship is stronger than ever, yet I still find myself falling back into the pit of lies. He makes me so happy in every way, but my thoughts trail off to “are you really happy?” and sometimes I suffer from the grass is greener syndrome. Even though I know that it doesn’t get better than him (and I’m not just saying that, he really is the best thing that’s ever happened to me), why do I allow my thoughts to keep tormenting to where I second guess everything?

  • Sara

    Thanks for this wonderful article Sheryl. I so identify with everything you have said.

    I have what they call “spirals”. When i am in the flat alone with my newly wedded husband or if we are amongst a group of people who i feel confortable with, i.e., my parents or his, then i am fine. I seem to deal wtih alot of mistrust from childhood and because of this i fall into depression easily. When my husband came to pick me up from the station the other day, all of a sudden i had a spiral telling me that he isn’t the one, look at his ears, just run etc etc. Its a really horrible feeling when it comes up. Actually, hes one of the nicest people and i know that he loves me very very much. Why is the wounded self wants to escape all the time? I am hitting 33 next month and i’d always wanted to marry in my life. Dealing with so much mistrust!