Loving the Wounded Gifted Child Within

photo courtesy of chinh le duc, Unsplash

When you were a little tyke, you probably had passions, curiosities, quirks, and quests.

You may have corrected the adults who didn’t know the difference between crimson and red. You may have wondered why the other kids wanted to be bunny rabbits for Halloween when they could be Richard Feynman. You may have corrected your teacher’s spelling. You may have cried when you heard a Bach concerto. You may have read every Ray Bradbury book you could find. You may have preferred BBC documentaries to Mickey Mouse. You may have questioned why the other five-year-olds were so immature and what it was about birthday parties that they loved so much. You may have organized a fund drive for the homeless kids in your town.

If you grew up in a dysfunctional or abusive home, you may have protected your siblings from harm. You may have hidden your sensitivities while fine-tuning your capacity for vigilance.  You may have been the most responsible one in the family. You may have become an expert nurturer of others and a lousy self-carer. You may have become a super-achiever. You may have been lost in a swamp of depression, anxiety, too-many-decisions, troubled relationships, and convoluted potential. You may have expected yourself to heal your parent’s addictions single-handedly; To be perfectly perfect at all times.

That little tyke? Needs your love.

You might think that it should be easy to love that child.

It’s not that simple.

Sure, you have lots of empathy. For others. But when it comes to yourself, you may feel judgment, criticism, doubt, and despair. You may feel that your child self is too emotional, too needy, too scared, too bossy. Too noisy. Too powerful. Maybe you will be overwhelmed with grief or anger if you acknowledge that little one. Or you will get stuck in the past when you think you should be letting go and moving on. Or you will be too vulnerable.

What you need to know is that the wounded gifted child in you is waiting. For your attention. Validation. Company. The wounded child doesn’t need much really. From you. Your understanding of what they have been through. Of why they get frightened or feel out of control or want to hide. Of why they need security and predictability now. Your empathy. Your patience. Your acceptance.

But that may be hard for you until you have been in therapy for a while and experienced what healthy validation feels like. From a loving, reliable adult who knows the journey. Who has rescued their own lost gifted child self. A therapist who knows that the road to heal a family legacy of abuse and neglect, generations of trauma, takes courage and time.

A therapist who loves your passions, curiosities, quirks, and quests.

Who loves you.

And their own little tyke.


To my bloggEEs: I understand that it might take time to find the right therapist. Here are some places to look. In the meantime, there are some things you can do. Look for articles and books about Internal Family Systems Therapy. Or books about inner child work or Jungian active imagination. Keep a journal where you start a relationship with the many parts of yourself. Gather photos and special objects and build a small altar to your younger self.

In the comments, let us know if you have done any inner child work and what that has been like. We all benefit from your sweet sharing.

And, your inner child might like my latest book. Find it here. My first book has examples of inner child work in therapy in the case studies, if you’d like to learn more. And hugs and love to you and your sensitive, passionate, curious, smart, quirky little ones.


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Author: Paula Prober

I’m a psychotherapist and consultant in private practice based in Eugene, Oregon. I specialize in international consulting with gifted adults and parents of gifted children. I’ve been a teacher and an adjunct instructor at the University of Oregon and a frequent guest presenter at Oregon State University and Pacific University. I’ve written articles on giftedness for the Eugene Register-Guard, the Psychotherapy Networker, Advanced Development Journal and online for psychotherapy dot net, Rebelle Society, Thrive, Introvert Dear, and Highly Sensitive Refuge. My first book, Your Rainforest Mind: A Guide to the Well-Being of Gifted Adults and Youth, is a collection of case studies of gifted clients along with many strategies and resources for gifted adults and teens. My second book, Journey Into Your Rainforest Mind: A Field Guide for Gifted Adults and Teens, Book Lovers, Overthinkers, Geeks, Sensitives, Brainiacs, Intuitives, Procrastinators, and Perfectionists is a collection of my most popular blog posts along with writing exercises for self-exploration and insight.

35 responses to “Loving the Wounded Gifted Child Within”

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  1. Loving the Wounded Gifted Child Within | Your Rainforest Mind | Late.Shift

    […] Source: Loving the Wounded Gifted Child Within | Your Rainforest Mind […]

  2. Dana Longpre Avatar
    Dana Longpre

    Working on self care and positive thoughts with my son ALL the time! This specific article applies so well to my son AND I! Too much to share now, but this article is spot on what my son and I have both experienced. Thank you for writing this!

  3. j'adore champagne Avatar
    j’adore champagne

    I recognise all of this, except that it is truly too scary for me. Because if i break down, which I have come close to a few times in the past….then there is a huge risk of not being able to recover and function and our society requires functioning! I believe I was “all of the above” in your list. Super Achiever (until I crashed), horrid at relationships (really, I like you but don’t get too close to me). attracted to the totally wrong people..
    But what I have done is raise a daughter where I hope I have broken a lot of the intergenerational family chains of misery. Yes, I had to move to another country to do this…But every time I heard some familial voice, feeling, anything crop up I would make certain that I didn’t pass it on. 98% of the time. Sometimes, I was just too tired.

    I have a terrible time being nice to myself; I imagine a lot of your readers would nod their head “yer”. Why? Because I feel GUILTY. I mean, a simple thing like enjoying pulling weeds has me thinking of all the other things I should be doing.

    My mom was a narcissist and my dad left when I was young. Do you ever find that this is a common thread with women?

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      The common thread being the guilt for taking time for self care? Definitely. Also a thread for RFM men.

      I understand how the deep inner work can be scary. It does need to be done very carefully and with great respect for limits and what can be handled. You’re right. It’s not helpful to not be functional!!

  4. dmstauber Avatar

    Paula, I remember when you first helped me contact my inner child. I felt so much anger and disappointment with her, I think feeling that she had allowed herself/me to be hurt so many times. It has been so powerful to very slowly be able to nurture her. You were patient and we did it gradually, mostly through my favorite method of visualization.

    Written dialogues with all of my inner voices have been so helpful over the years. The critical, upset, whiny, angry ones are often variations of my inner child. I give them names like “Trapped Wrong Thing Me” and “Responsibility Child” and listen to them and remind them that it wasn’t fair, that they are safe now, that they don’t have to do the grownup things I’m dealing with now, that they can go play in their favorite place (and get them to describe it).

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Thank you for sharing these examples, dmstauber. It will help give readers a clearer sense of this work.

  5. Anna Avatar

    Hey, thanks for the post and the spooky-good timing! I’m currently looking for a new therapist, and when I read this after a session yesterday, I was feeling crrrrrushed. I’d been sort of shaming myself for being Such A Snowflake… but nah, I think a better plan might be, “find a therapist who validates your inner experiences, even/especially when they seem weirdly intense and not the norm!!!”

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      That sounds like a great plan, Anna!

  6. treeguy1954 Avatar

    I was hoping to hear someone else bring up a topic I have been wanting to hear feed back on and/or maybe there is a post that touches the subject but have not found it yet.

    You, a person, wants to talk about existential topics and have a two way conversation. If you can’t find another RFM person, forget even going deep with existentialism, music, art, engineering and having deep emotional feelings (and how to interpret all your sensory information).

    Question or my point… Elders, parents and teachers get embarrassed for getting asked questions they are experts with or when questioned in a very deep way, just say “this is just the way”. Mostly, you are told to “say nothing” to fit in and not embarrass yourself, family, elder or teachers. You are already ostracized for having a RFM and you just want to fit in and have friends.

    What experience do others have when you question your birth religion? As much as K-12 and college education centers are pivotal for educating a child – the family’s faith, place of worship and religious writings are usually set in stone. A RFM person, will question and find confusion when over analyzing some of the writings and even just the behaviors of the other members who practice the faith.

    It is painful to leave or be forced to leave your house of worship and the huge part that the community played with your life. Also, you are then ostracized by friends, neighbors and family members – and your family gets to explain why you are not there or your family is also excluded because of your confusion. Or you stay silent in your faith only to keep your social groups.

    Or, you are told how your brain works is a gift from your faith and you have to figure out how best to utilize your gift based on scripture and you don’t get exposed to science, math, art, music. You are seemingly used and misdirected for an example of how others in the place of worship should live and strive to be, because you or parents prayed harder than them.

    Ok, I should of maybe just asked “how has your faith helped you or how have you reshaped your faith?” Reading the post made me think, love yourself as you love others. But my RFM can’t help but look at society, politics and the world and want to ask tons of questions.

    Thanks, Andrew

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      This is a great topic, Andrew. I hope that some readers respond with their experiences. I do hear from many RFMs who seek spirituality and community but have difficulty with organized religion. Of course your RFM has “tons of questions.” 🙂

    2. Arachne Avatar

      Andrew, I started questioning when I was nine years old, mostly in the form of arguing with my Sunday school teachers and questioning my parents. I learned there was a bigger world of beliefs at 12 or 13 and started investigating them. At 14 or 15, I took the next step and announced that I had chosen a different spiritual path. My parents responded by putting me in counselling (the only real counselling I’ve ever had, not super pleasant) and by no longer trusting me. The parents of my friends and my love interest (my first love!) responded by banning them from speaking to me. It was deeply heartbreaking, but I truly could not be inauthentic, and it taught me a lot about bigotry and minority. I walked many spiritual paths over the years, and now I walk none at all. I have seen (and felt) the benefit in the spiritual/religious paths, but at this point I can neither muster the belief nor the gumption to pretend. With spirituality, I have found that “fake it til you make it” does not work for me, and I do miss the beautiful, spiritual feeling of “deep and mysterious,” which I can get to a certain extent from scientific inquiry but it doesn’t hold the same wonder and imagination. My non-belief is a non-issue socially, even in the Bible Belt. The people around me no longer care what or who I believe in, so long as I am respectful and still show up for most of the holiday parties. In the end, they seem to care more about cultural norm (ie, Christimas gifts and Thanksgiving turkeys) than whether I really think there is any kind of sentient invisible force in the universe, because the conversations rarely go deep and when they do, they are easily answered generally with a hand wavge or else sidestepped. And sure, I feel a little sadder not having a spiritual side and feeling like my sentience is finite. But at least it’s honest. For now.

    3. M. J. Cuthbertson Avatar
      M. J. Cuthbertson

      Somewhere before I was 10 I began to wonder why a person would describe themselves as a *whatever* and then find it either impossible or choose not to follow the most basic teachings of the *whatever*. Why didn’t they simply choose something they could do?

      This has informed me in observing others my whole life.

  7. Arachne Avatar

    When I was young and feeling very despairing, I would hear a voice in my head that would appear and say the right soothing things. It didn’t sound like me. It sounded like an adult. Grandma would have called it an angel, but I never believed in those. I didn’t know what or who it was. These days I’m thinking… maybe it was adult me, telling little me that it would be ok. That sounds crazy. But it makes some amount of sense… more sense than most other theories I’ve thought about. Thank you for the resources. I am just starting to learn about such things.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      That’s not crazy in my view, Arachne. I do believe that we can access guidance from inside ourselves. Actually, I wouldn’t rule out angels or spiritual guides either! 🙂

      1. Arachne Avatar

        Thank you.

  8. bethplanetbethcom Avatar

    My intensity really blindsided my parents. My mother especially, who was already overwhelmed by the role of being a mom. I mean, I gave up so much of my telescopic awareness, at a very young age. To be fair to my parents, they really did do the best that they possibly could have. I don’t know how parents do it, actually. Because when I have a long awful day at work, I can at least look forward to coming home to a quiet apartment and being able to relax with a beer, and play with my cat. Parenthood allows no such luxury. I really wonder if life is all about understanding limitations, and learning how to ‘be’ within them. There is no such thing as perfection, a static state in which no longing, or pain, or any emotion, exists. Life just isn’t built that way.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      I hear you, Beth. Parenting would be such an overwhelming job. And there can be subtle ways that kids’ needs are not met. But then there’s abuse, trauma, and neglect. Even though it’s likely that patterns are handed down through generations, those abusive parents need to be held accountable. Seen as responsible. Not usually by direct confrontation. That is often retraumatizing for the adult child. But the wounded inner child needs to be understood and cared for and validated for the pain that s/he has experienced, for the serious mistakes/choices the parents have made. Make sense?

      1. bethplanetbethcom Avatar

        Yes. It does. I think I’m just at the stage where I am finished with processing the past events in my family. And having to come to terms with certain realities as I age, and going forward from there. I am rereading ‘The Road Less Traveled’ and very much liking M. Scott Peck’s philosophy of life.

  9. lauralynnwalsh Avatar

    In my case, the hurt child is a bit different. From all outer aspects, I had a great childhood. I had good parents, lots of opportunities, a good education, everything you could really ask for. I was even the “favored” child of the 4 of us siblings. I was good at figuring out what my parents wanted of me, and I excelled at giving them that. So good, in fact, that I never really quite figured out what I wanted. And, then I got married and had children. I was good at figuring out what my husband needed and preferred. I was mostly good at figuring out my children and their wants and needs. Now, at almost 70, I am trying to figure out what I want. And I seem to be overly sensitive to people trying to get me to do things that they think would be fun for me. I want to be the one who decides. I want to be able to say, No, I really don’t want to do that – even if it is something that I might actually enjoy.

    I started writing music about 10 years ago. I wrote my very first song when I was 59 years old. I have a lot to learning about writing music, but I have had difficulty finding teachers. I am too stubbornly insisting on trying to find MY OWN VOICE in the music. What I like, and not what I have been told to like. One of my music teachers keeps telling me that I need to listen to a wide variety of music, to learn to like various styles. But I don’t WANT to learn about other people’s music. I want to learn about MY OWN and how to make it better. Yes, I fully understand that listening to other kinds of music might actually help me with mine, but my inner child says, ME, ME, ME. I want to be the voice that is heard.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Sounds to me like NOW is the perfect time to get what YOU want and find your particular voice. Cheering you on, lauralynn!

    2. Mark V Avatar
      Mark V

      I am a self-taught musician and songwriter and other such creative stuff. I got a relatively late start in adulthood as well.

      In modern society we are constantly bombarded with the message that there is a right way and a wrong way to do things, that experts know better than we do and so we need them and all the structures they operate within. This is even true in the arts.

      Formal instruction works for some people. Structured practice works for some people. Theory works for some people. But not everyone.

      Some of us need the freedom to learn our own way, to experiment, to make mistakes (oh the mistakes!), and to intuitively feel our way toward a destination neither we nor anyone else knows or understands yet. We usually arrive many years behind schedule, but sometimes ahead, (if there is any schedule at all.)

      If we try to impose structure or limitations or value judgments on what we are doing – especially someone else’s – our precious, powerful intuition and spontaneity and creative spirit often disappears.

      When you do things your own way and don’t have much support while you are hacking your way through the woods, it is extremely hard to maintain a reasonable sense of curiosity and adventurousness without being overcome with crippling self-doubt or impostor syndrome. So you have to somehow balance being both your own worst critic and biggest fan.

      This is something few experts understand and even fewer will advise us to trust our own instincts on, because it is not in their interest to tell us that we do not need them, or that the world needs many more of us to be doing things our own way.

      Or something like that…

      I hope I have not been too didactic.

      1. lauralynnwalsh Avatar

        Yes!!! I really need to be able to “somehow balance being both your own worst critic and biggest fan”. That is my truth right now.

      2. Paula Prober Avatar
        Paula Prober

        Thanks Mark. I think it was pretty obvious that you were speaking about yourself, so not too didactic. And I appreciate your awareness of the value of speaking from personal experience versus in general terms.

        1. Mark V Avatar
          Mark V

          This does actually come back to the topic of loving our inner wounded child.

          My father was a music teacher. An expert. When I was young he refused to buy me an instrument unless I also took lessons. Already sick of school, I didn’t want to give up my free time for yet more dull instruction.

          My Dad convinced me that only children who received formal training could ever become capable enough at music to become songwriters or composers. It was only by accident that I discovered in adulthood that I had talent for music.

          When Dad found out, he scoffed saying “Who are you to think you’re good enough to write songs?”
          I shot back “Who are YOU to judge? How many songs have you written? Zero?”
          I was sticking up for the child who could not defend himself when I was younger.

          That gave me the confidence to try to teach myself other creative skills. I won’t ever presume to be great at any of them, but put together they are definitely my own distinct thing.

          I never would have had the courage to even try if I had continued to listen to people like my father.

    3. lauralynnwalsh Avatar

      As an addendum: tonight I performed my most recent song in a Cabaret performance at the Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival. It went very well. I am feeling pretty good about that right now.

      1. Paula Prober Avatar
        Paula Prober

        Congratulations, lauralynnwalsh!!

      2. Mark V Avatar
        Mark V

        Wow, however you felt about the exposure, knowing what you have posted here I’m sure it took a lot of courage to put yourself and your art out there. So congratulations. Now that you’re a rockstar, go trash a hotel room to celebrate.

        1. Paula Prober Avatar
          Paula Prober


    4. j'adore champagne Avatar
      j’adore champagne

      I like what you are doing a lot. And I totally understand the “people pleaser” habits – when you are young it is a survival tactic and hard to outgrow (I have found).
      Good luck with your music and well done.

  10. Themon the Bard Avatar
    Themon the Bard

    So here’s a little gimmick that helped me. At some point in my late 30’s, I started noticing that when in private and mentally unengaged — particularly in the shower in the morning, still waking up — I would review all of my failures in life, large and small, and then castigate myself subvocally for them while wallowing in shame. “Stupid.” “What were you thinking?” “Will you never learn?” “What’s wrong with you?” “You are such a child.” “When are you going to grow up?”

    Once I noticed I was doing that, I made the decision that every time I spoke ill of myself — every single time — I had to apologize. Out loud. Explicitly, and sincerely. Just like I would apologize to a friend if I had called them names.

    The first time I caught myself after that, it was pretty embarrassing, even though I was alone in the shower. Partly because I was apologizing out loud to myself, but more because I had caught myself being a bully. However, the embarrassment was surpassed by the relief my inner child felt at receiving that apology.

    It took surprisingly little time to break myself of the self-castigation habit, and the “stupid child” I had been beating up started to heal.

    Just sharing it as a technique. YMMV.

    1. bethplanetbethcom Avatar

      See, it’s confusing, isn’t it. Just which ‘I’ am I? I yell at my self. And then I get mad at my self for yelling at my self. Now, who or what is that entity who witnesses the self yelling at a or the self, who empathizes with that self? Being human is kind of tricky.

      1. Paula Prober Avatar
        Paula Prober

        Yes, tricky, Beth. The Internal Family Systems IFS model is one structure that helps sort out who is who! You might find it creative and enjoyable.

      2. Themon the Bard Avatar
        Themon the Bard

        Philosophically tricky, I suppose, but I just took it as an exercise in habit-breaking, and an attempt to foster courtesy and good manners. 🙂

    2. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Sounds like a wonderful technique, Themon the Bard. I can see how speaking out loud could be a way to connect with that child part. Thank you for sharing it with us. What’s YMMV??

      1. Themon the Bard Avatar
        Themon the Bard

        Your Mileage May Vary.