Ask an Expert: How do I know when I am reacting to conflict from my inner wounded child?

By Kaka Ray, MSFT, BCN


When we are triggered by conflict and become disregulated (sometimes called “flipping our lid”) it is very common for us drop into one of our younger parts. You can quickly assess whether you are reacting from your inner wounded child by asking yourself three basic questions:

1. Is my response appropriate to the current circumstance? If my response is over-the-top, disproportionate to what is actually going on right now, that’s a clue that I’m reacting to the memory of an unhealed hurt.  One of my younger parts, still tender from past trauma, has sensed a familiar threat and is moving quickly in a misguided effort to defend me. These old feelings are clouding my perception of the current conflict and overloading my emotional circuitry, making it impossible for me to think and act maturely.

2. Is my reaction escalating? When I am no longer thinking like a grown-ass adult but am reacting from my wounded inner child, I instinctively abandon the more developed emotions and revert to the primitive emotion of anger. My heart rate jumps. My breathing quickens. My voice gets louder. My posture changes. I adopt an aggressive or defensive stance. Remember this: “righteous anger” is a real thing, but it is exceedingly rare. If I am using anger to engage, I am almost certainly reacting from my wounded inner child.

3. Am I willing to surrender an oppositional stance? As Brené Brown says, we can only resolve conflict when we are willing to “move to the same side of the table” as our challenger. If the issue is between us, we cannot come together, but if the issue is before us we can examine it together like grown-ass adults.  If I am unwilling or unable in my current state of mind to abandon an oppositional stance, then I am reacting from my wounded inner child.

Nobody behaves like a grown-ass adult all of the time. So what should you do when you find yourself reacting from your inner wounded child? It’s simple really Take a time-out.  

Temporarily disengage, step back, and breathe. It might take you 30 minutes or so to get grounded again, but wait until you are regulated and willing to move to the other side of the table.