Thich Nhat Hanh Q & A: Healing A Wounded Inner Child

Peace In Oneself Peace In The World

Q: How can those of us who had a painful childhood get past our pain and learn to trust people again?

A: Many of us have a wounded child within. When we’ve been deeply wounded as children, it’s hard for us to trust and love, and to allow love to penetrate us. Because we are so busy we don’t have time to go back to our wounded child and be with her to help with the healing. Many of us are afraid to go back to ourselves and be with that child. The block of pain and sorrow in us is so huge and overwhelming that we run away from it. But in this practice, we are advised to go home and take care of our wounded child, even though this is difficult. We need instructions on how to do this so that we are not overwhelmed by the pain inside. We practice cultivating the energy of mindfulness to become strong enough.  With this energy, we can go home and embrace our wounded child within. The practices of mindful walking, mindful sitting and mindful breathing are crucial. Also, our friends’ energy of mindfulness can help us. Maybe the first time we need one or two friends- especially those who have been successful in the practice- sitting next to us, to lend us their support, mindfulness, and energy.  When a friend sits next to us and holds our hand, we combine her energy with our own and we can go home to ourselves to embrace our wounded child within.

You have to talk to your wounded child several times a day. Embracing your child tenderly, you reassure him that you will never let him down again or leave him unattended. If you have a loving Sangha, your practice will be easier. To practice alone, without the support of brothers and sisters, would be too difficult for beginners. Your wounded child may represent several generations. Maybe your parents and grandparents also had a wounded child within that they did not know how to handle, so they transmitted their wounded child to you. Our practice is to end this vicious cycle.

People suffer because they have not been touched by compassion and understanding. If we generate the energy of mindfulness, understanding and compassion for our wounded child, we will suffer much less. Then we can allow people to love us. Before, we were suspicious of everything and everyone. Compassion helps us relate to others and restore communication.

From Answers from the Heart (2009) by Thich Nhat Hanh. With permission of Parallax Press, Berkeley, California.