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


Q&A about Psychological
Wounds and

By Peter K. Gerlach, MSW
Member NSRC Experts Council


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

Updated 01-14-2015

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      This is one of a series Lesson-1 articles in this self-improvement Web site - free your true Self to guide you in calm and conflictual times, and reduce inherited psychological wounds  

       From 36 years' clinical research, I propose that another unseen hazard promoting most personal and social problems is psychological wounds from early-childhood trauma. Lesson 1 in this We site focuses on assessing for wounds and reducing them over time. The Lesson-1 guidebook Who's Really Running Your Life? - free your Self from custody, and guard your kids (Xlibris.com, 2011, 4th ed.) integrates the answers to the questions below and more.

      This Q&A article assumes you're familiar with...

  Questions you should ask about psychological wounds

      Links lead to answers in this and other pages. With the latter, use your browser's "back" button to return here.

1)  What is a "psychological wound"? Are there different kinds of wounds?

2)  Where do these wounds come from?

3)  Do all adults and kids have these wounds?

4)  Does having these wounds mean a person is mentally ill, sick, or crazy?

5 How can I tell if I or another person has "significant inner wounds"?

6)  What are the common effects of having significant wounds?

7)  What are personality parts or subselves?

8)  What is a true Self? Is it better than other subselves? How can I tell if my Self (capital "S") is leading my inner team of subselves?

9)  What is a false self, and why do I need to know about it?

10)  Does having an "inner family" of subselves mean I have "Multiple Personalities"?

11)  Can wounded people recover from false-self dominance and free their Self to harmonize and guide their personality (inner family)?

12)  How does inner-wound recovery relate to 12-step addiction recovery?

13)  Is there any danger in recovering from psychological wounds? No!

14)  How long does wound-recovery take, typically?

15)  Is there a best way to reduce psychological wounds?

16)  What is pseudo recovery, and how can it be recognized?

17)  How does recovery from false-self dominance progress, and what are the typical benefits of true-Self leadership?

18)  Do I need professional help to reduce my wounds? If so, how can I pick a qualified helper?

19)  What do I do if my someone I care about has inherited significant psychological wounds? 

20)  Why haven't I heard about inner wounds, subselves and wound-recovery before?

21)  Can you recommend any helpful books on wounding and recovery? Yes.

      Also see these questions and answers about normal personality subselves. If you're skeptical about them, please read my letter to you, and try interviewing one of your subselves. For perspective, almost 80% of site visitors responding to a poll say "Yes, personality subselves are real, without question."

If you don't find your question there or above, please ask!


Q1)  What is a "psychological wound"?

      In this educational site, a psychological wound is a specific mental-emotional-spiritual condition that inhibits an adult or child from living at maximum potential - in someone's opinion. This site explores the origin, nature, and effects of six inter-related inner wounds:

  • a fragmented personality

  • excessive fears

  • over or under-trusting

  • excessive shame and guilt

  • excessive reality distortions

  • difficulty feeling. bonding, empathizing, and loving.

      Personality fragmenting promotes false-self dominance (a disabled true Self) and the other five wounds. Disease, organic malfunction, and unawareness (ignorance) also hinder living at maximum potential, and may amplify psychological wounds. Recent research suggests that inner wounds stress the immune system, which raises susceptibility to illness and premature death.

      Personal wound-assessment and patient, self-motivated recovery and commitment to family-adult education can significantly lower this risk over time, and protect descendents from developing their own psychological wounds. For perspective on preventing wounds and their toxic effects, see this.


Q2)  Where do these wounds come from? 

      Recent psychiatric evidence suggests that normal people develop personalities composed of semi-independent parts or subselves like the talented members of a sports team or orchestra. Each subself has unique traits, goals, and perceptions. Many biological and environmental factors shape which subselves dominate a personality, and cause current and chronic thoughts, feelings, needs, and behaviors. See this for perspective.

      Each psychological wound comes from one or several active subselves. For example, excessive (vs. normal) fears usually come from hyper-reactive Scared Child, Worrier, Pessimist, and Catastrophizer subselves. When such subselves rule and disable the wise true Self (natural leader), they form a "false self."

      The degree and frequency of anxieties and fears depend on how often such subselves disable the resident true Self and control the other active subselves. Psychological wounds seem to come from kids not getting their developmental and daily needs met well enough in their first four to six years, perhaps starting in the womb. Initial inner wounds are reduced or amplified by how well a child's wholistic developmental needs are met through puberty and late adolescence.

      A recent sobering discovery is that "childhood trauma" like abuse can cause certain genes to "express" (activate). This can promote physical and/or psychological problems. We can wonder if such genes are then passed on to the next generation.

      Caregivers who (a) are significantly wounded themselves and (b) aren't well aware of and/or responsive to, dependent kids' normal and special needs, risk unintentionally promoting development of a disabled true Self  and related psychological wounds in their dependents. Recent research suggests that this inexorably raises their children's risk of long-term psychological and physical illness and premature death.

      If you doubt that normal (vs. "crazy") people like you are controlled by dynamic personality subselves, read my letter to you with an open mind, and try interviewing one of your subselves. To learn more about your inner family of subselves, see this.

  Learn something about yourself with this anonymous 1-question poll,  


Q3)  Do all adults and kids have psychological wounds?

      Since every infant and their mosaic of evolving needs is unique, even the healthiest parents can't nurture (fill kids' needs) "perfectly." That suggests that...

  • the nurturance-level of any child's environment ranges from very low (wounded, unaware, neglectful caregivers) to very high, so...

  • each of us - including you and any mate and children - has an array of dynamic subselves, and minor to major psychological wounds.

      The question is not "Do I have psychological wounds?" but "What wounds do I (or my mate or children) have, and how much do the wounds affect our wholistic health, our family's functioning, our relationships, and our life-productivity?" A vital implication: being psychologically wounded is normal, and does not warrant shame or guilt!


Q4)  Does having these wounds mean a person is mentally ill, sick, diseased, or crazy?

      No. Human sickness, disease, and illness mean being infected by germs and/or organically impaired. Having significant psychological wounds does not mean you (or anyone) is sick. If crazy means "thinking and acting very differently than social norms," then having inner wounds is not "craziness" because "significantly wounded" is our social norm!

      "Crazy" people's wounds and behavior are excessive compared to normal woundedness. A powerful implication is that most (all?) non-organic "mental illness" is really a symptom of psychological wounds . That suggests that reducing "mental illness" should focus on retraining and reorganizing dominant subselves, and freeing the wise resident true Self to guide them in all situations. Inner-family therapy provides an effective way to do that. See this for more perspective.


Q5)  How can I tell if I have - or another person has - "significant inner wounds"?

      Each psychological wound causes distinct behavioral symptoms. For example, excessive (vs. normal) shame often causes people to avoid eye contact, use "we" instead of "I," to feel inferior and play the victim, and to discount merited praise. Once you learn their symptoms, inner wounds become very apparent from observing the way an adult or child behaves (or doesn't).

      To make this more real, scan these common behaviors that imply significant wounds. For a quick assessment, see this comparison of true-Self and false-self behaviors. For more detail, see the Lesson-1 checklists for typical symptoms of each wound, and see this article about assessing for them.


Q6)  What are the common effects of having significant wounds?

       Personal and social unawareness and denial of false-self dominance and related wounds promote far-reaching personal, marital, family, and social  effects - including psychological and legal divorce. Follow the links for perspective and practical options to reduce these effects. To prevent psychological wounds and related unawareness, see these options.


Q7)  What are personality parts or subselves?

      Advances in computer and radiographic technology in the last generation make us the first people to see living brains at work. What PET brain-scans show is that normal "thinking" and reacting to environmental changes causes many separate brain regions to activate (process information) and exchange neuro-chemical signals at the same time. Each region provides a special function, like each player in an orchestra or sports team does.

      What we experience as a single event ("I chew-taste-smell-swallow the pizza") is really a web of sub-events processed by different parts of our brain like a network of minicomputers. We're unaware of  this web operating, and which subselves control it. Some neural networks process sensory information more accurately and productively than others.

      From this, it appears that our personality subselves are semi-independent brain regions interacting together below awareness to cause our perceptions, thoughts, needs, and behaviors. It's now well documented that some people have "multiple personalities." They act as though there are several "different people" in the same body.

      This supports the idea that all personalities are composed of "parts" or subselves. Multiple personality disorder [now called "Dissociative Identity Disorder" (DID) by psychiatrists] is the extreme case of normal adaptive personality splitting (dissociation) into parts. Some degree of splitting seems to occur in every child's early years. Significant dissociation [false-self take-overs or meltdowns, breakdowns, "losing it" (control),etc.] can occur to anyone in significant traumas and crises.

      Like individual talented players in an orchestra or athletic team, every subself has its own values, traits, perceptions, limitations, and function (role) in the personality. As an orchestra can be in or out of tune, multi-part personalities can range between chaotic to disorganized to harmonious in normal and special situations.

      So a vital question is "Which subselves dominate my 'inner family' of subselves in calm and conflictual times?" To appreciate the marvelously rich, dynamic inner crew that comprises you, study this and these common questions.


Q8)  What is a true Self (capital "S")? Is it better than other subselves? How can I tell if my Self is leading my other subselves?

      Nature seems to provide infants with a subself whose undeveloped natural talents are...

  • coordinating (leading) other personality subselves effectively, and...

  • using acquired knowledge and available information to make wise (health-promoting) short and long-range decisions.

Just as some people are more effective group leaders than others, your true Self is innately skilled at inner-family leadership than other subselves. S/He and other Manager subselves become wiser and more competent as life-experience increases.

      Just as each player contributes to the overall function and quality of an orchestra or sports team, your Self is not "better" (more powerful or worthy) than any other subself. Each subself is uniquely valuable, and has its own talents and limitations.

      See this for more perspective on your excellent true Self, and how to tell when s/he's leading your (or anyone's) dynamic team of other subselves.


Q9)  What is a false self, and why do I need to know about it?

      In this nonprofit Web site, a false self is one or more subselves who distrust and disable your true Self, and affect your thoughts, emotions, body functions, needs, and behaviors. False selves originate in early childhood, when the true Self is undeveloped and doesn't know much about the world. To survive, children must depend on their caregivers' ruling subselves.

      Ideally, their adults are guided by their true Self most of the time. Judging by our U.S. divorce rate, homelessness, obesity, abortions, suicides, "mental illness," bulging jails, drug epidemic, and other social problems, most kids are raised by well-meaning adult false selves. When a false self dominates a personality, the person's exhibits characteristic behaviors.

      "Growing up" (attaining stable maturity) can be seen as the slow process of...

  • the resident true Self developing (a) wisdom (how the world "works") and (b) its innate leadership skills over 30 or more years, and...

  • your other subselves gradually learning to trust and depend on the leadership of your Self and other Manager subselves rather than on caregivers, teachers, hero/ines, and friends.

      I suspect very few parents and human-service professionals are aware of our normal subselves so far, so they leave this vital leadership-transfer to chance. The social, cultural, and environmental results of this unawareness steadily dominate our media headlines. 

      For more perspective on - and common symptoms of - typical false selves, see this.


Q10)  Does having an "inner family" of subselves mean I have "Multiple Personalities"?

      No. Media headlines and programs have sensationalized "Multiple Personality Disorder" (MPD) - now called  "Dissociative Identity Disorder" (DID). Like most people, do you automatically associate this condition with craziness or mental illness

      Having a multi-part personality now appears to be normal. The great majority of us adults and kids have an active team of subselves silently shaping our perceptions choices, and behaviors. Psychiatrists guess that ~ 5% of Americans suffer the extreme inner-family disorganization that causes DID behaviors. Most (all?) of these sufferers report massive childhood neglect and abuse - i.e. very wounded caregivers, and very low family nurturance.

      Mental-health workers specializing in "dissociative mental disorders" repeatedly report lasting reductions in DID behaviors over time. This implies that with awareness, skilled guidance, and encouragement, our reactive, disorganized subselves can change toward more inner harmony. Lesson 1 in this site offers a proven, effective way to do this over time, called ''parts work.''.


Q11)  Can people reduce psychological wounds and free their true Self to lead?

      Yes. As a professional inner-family-systems (IFS) therapist for 21 years I have witnessed scores of courageous women and men confront and reduce their inner wounds, and live more serene, productive, Self-guided lives. I've heard similar results from many other graduates of the Center for Self Leadership (CSL).

      I've also met hundreds of troubled adults who hadn't accumulated enough pain, weariness, and despair (hit bottom) to commit to this primal healing process. Here's one example.

      For more perspective on inner-wound recovery, start here. My practical Lesson-1 guidebook Who's Really Running Your Life? (Xlibris.com, 2011, 4th ed.) offers an effective wound-assessment and recovery framework and related resources.


Q12)  How does inner-wound recovery relate to 12-step addiction recovery?

      There is little public or professional doubt now that the 12-step "Anonymous" philosophy and its global network of support groups is an effective way for most addicts to "recover" from (manage) their toxic compulsions.

      As the recovering son of alcoholic parents and working clinically with scores of addicts, I've learned a lot about addiction, the 12-step philosophy, and addiction "recovery." After 36 years' practice of family-systems therapy, including two decades of studying and practicing inner-family therapy, I now believe...

all four kinds of addiction are well-meant false-self  strategies to self-medicate (temporarily mute) unbearable inner pain - i.e. shame + guilt + confusion + anxieties + hurt + rage + sadness + despair;

12-step programs can be effective at arresting, vs. curing, toxic self-medication strategies. These programs promote what may be called preliminary recovery, because they don't advocate reducing the underlying psychological wounds. Evidence: addicts who stop attending 12-step meetings often resume their toxic compulsions (relapse);

And I believe...

intentionally working to free your true Self (Q8) and increase inner-family harmony is full recovery. It includes effective strategies to permanently replace inner pain or numbness with steady serenity, clarity, awareness, and resilient life-purpose.

      Based on this, I respectfully propose this amendment to the 12 "Anonymous" steps to promote full recovery from psychological wounds.

      Using the traditional "Anonymous" label prolongs the obsolete, self-amplifying delusion that addictions are shameful "character defects." No, they are false-selves' normal attempts to survive and reduce intolerable chronic inner pain! Addictions are unconscious (and with alcohol, genetic) responses which inexorably overcome "willpower" and "logic."

      Self-medicating is no more shameful than reflexes like breathing, burping, crying, passing gas, sweating, or vomiting. I trust we're moving slowly toward changing "Anonymous" 12-step program-titles to something like "Recoverers United."


Q15)  Is there a best way to reduce psychological wounds?

      Yes and no. Recovery from psychological wounds is as unique as your fingerprints. No one else has the composition, history, and dynamics of your inner family. No one else lives in the social and physical environment you do, or has your unique mix of dreams, fears, assets, experiences, limitations, and personality traits.

      So if you're burdened with significant psychological wounds, your recovery process must be unique. However, you have the same goals as other wounded people: freeing your Self to harmonize your inner family, over time; and patiently reducing any related psychological wounds. You also have the same resources available to you. Study this overview of typical inner-family recovery.


Q18)  Do I need professional help to reduce my wounds? If so, how can I pick a qualified helper? 

      If you feel your psychological wounds significantly degrade your health, relationships, and serenity,  you'll probably benefit from some qualified professional help during your recovery process. Definitions of qualified vary as widely as current theories of "personality disorders" and "effective therapy."

      From 36 years' study and practice of psychotherapy with over 1,000 average women and men (and original training as an engineer), I'm biased toward family-system-based schemes as being more effective than most other brands of "talk therapy." Effective means "promoting desired permanent changes in attitudes and behavior."

      In particular, I recommend a veteran licensed social worker, psychologist, professional counselor (LPC), marriage and family counselor (LMFT), or pastoral counselor who has training and experience in inner-family therapy or ''parts work.'' The Center for Self Leadership (CSL) trains therapists in this model.

      Other therapies that may help in reducing inner wounds are EMDR ("Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing"), Psychodrama, "(Inner) Voice Dialog," and "Theophostic."

      The effectiveness of any of these clinical approaches is only as good as the health, experience, and creativity of the clinician. At the least, any therapist or counselor should be (a) aware of their personality subselves, and (b) consistently guided by their resident true Self.

      Many experienced clinicians propose that effective healing requires some (a) personal work and (b) some experience in a group of recoverers, preferably led by a seasoned professional. I now believe effective wound-reduction therapy must include personal spirituality (vs. religion or mysticism).

      This is partly because of the demonstrated healing power of "turning over" insoluble or overwhelming personal problems to a trusted Higher Power and no longer compulsively trying to control the uncontrollable. There is growing documented evidence that heartfelt, individual and group  prayer really does seem to foster desired change, often in unexpected ways.

      Any recovery professional you choose should be grounded in Lessons 1 thru 6 or 7or equivalent. For more perspective, see this Q&A page on "counseling."


Q20 Why haven't I heard about inner wounds, subselves and wound-recovery before?

      There are at least two reasons. For perspective on the first - public ignorance and skepticism - note that general acceptance of family therapy vs. Freudian psychoanalysis, has taken 60 years (and is still happening). Clinical acceptance of multiple personalities and other "dissociative disorders" is less than two generations old. Public awareness lags that.

      The new concepts of modular brain functioning and the origins, dynamics, and effects of personality  subselves were unknown to your ancestors and childhood teachers. They're too new and controversial to have seeped into general public (your) awareness yet.

      The second reason these concepts are new to you and your peers is repugnant to most people. The unacknowledged [wounds + unawareness] cycle proposed here implies that global societies provides no legal sanctions discouraging unwise child conceptions and ineffective parenting - and we deny that, tho indisputable evidence is everywhere.

      We require vehicle operators, attorneys, police, plumbers, veterinarians, teachers, pilots, doctors, food purveyors, and CPAs to pass rigorous competency tests to practice - but we don't license couples to conceive and raise children yet.      

      Our governments and institutions use our tax money to analyze, report, and try to cure (vs. prevent) major symptoms of low-nurturance  parenting, like crime, cancer, obesity, abortions, addictions, terrorism, homelessness, child abuse, welfare, suicide, murder, "mental illness," divorce, and "clinical depression."

      We do that rather than face the horror that we are nations of wounded people unable to admit our widespread wounds, where they came from, and what they mean to living and future generations, and to our environment. Our society has not hit a meaningful "bottom" yet, so our citizens and legislators continue to deny our denials and focus fruitlessly on curbing surface problems.

      Because this is so controversial and impactful, I know of no organization or media that has funded a concerted national effort to raise debate, research, and public awareness of the repugnant, vital need to license responsible parenting. As cartoon character Pogo said years ago, "We have met the enemy, and he is us."

      Until this changes, people like you must courageously assess and heal your own wounds, forgive your unaware ancestors and younger selves, admit and grieve your losses, and protect your kids and grandkids from inheriting [wounds _ unawareness] by working patiently to raise the nurturance levels of your homes - despite major distractions, conflicts, and competing responsibilities.

      Are your family adults doing that for each other and your descendents yet?

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