The primal wound: latent marks of childhood that survive in the present

Sad woman because of the primal wound looking at sunset

The primary or primal wound is an unresolved trauma. It illustrates and signals the vulnerability of attachment, the weakness of this essential link between a child and his progenitors; it is a betrayal in the face of unmet and neglected emotional needs. This pain, which appeared at an early age and has not been resolved, is something that we tried to anesthetize as an adult … but which, in a way, continues to condition us.

One of the most common terms in the world of psychology and, more particularly, from the point of view of psychoanalysis, is the figure of injury as well as that of trauma. Freud explained to us that these psychic lesions go from the outside to the inside. They occur in our closest environment, especially in our childhood . Thus, and far from dissolving over time, this original wound survives, remains present and enters our being, being shaped on several levels, and begins to gravitate in all areas of our life …

“There is no greater extent than my pain, that no one sees. “

-Miguel Hernández-

If Sigmund Freud and his daughter Anna Freud revealed to us for the first time the transcendence that early experiences had in the development of our personality, in the 90s, a decisive book was published on this subject. Primal wound  or primitive wound painted a portrait of a reality that went much further. In this work, we were told about the silent, invisible but permanent trauma experienced by adopted children.

Nancy Verrier, who wrote the book, pointed to key ideas about the broken bond  or the often unconscious wounds that humans are used to dragging behind in adulthood, due to an inhabited childhood by voids.

What is primary injury?

Human beings have needs that go far beyond just eating. When a baby is born, it needs above all to feel protected, enveloped in affection and sheltered by tenderness. Love gives us meaning and nourishes us. It helps us to develop, to move safely in an empathetic environment, where we know we are important to someone.

a little sad clown boy

So when a psychologist or therapist receives his patient, he tries to create an atmosphere where empathy and closeness are always obvious and palpable. We need these types of nutrients  because if we don’t perceive, see, or smell them, our brains respond almost instantly. Suspicion arises, as does fear and tension.

This is what a child feels when he does not receive a secure attachment. The primary wound remains imprinted when the progenitors are not accessible emotionally, psychologically and / or physically. Little by little, the spirit of this baby, of this very small child, is invaded by anxiety, hunger, emotional anxiety, emptiness, loneliness, abandonment and neglect.

We can almost understand the primitive wound as an evolutionary sacrilege. This process of “hominization” that every human being goes through starts above all with an exchange of solid affection and a constant proximity between the mother and her child. We cannot forget that a baby is born with a brain that is not yet developed. He needs this skin and this secure attachment to continue to grow and give form to an  exo-gestation  that allows him to promote the continuity of his development .

If something fails in this process, if something happens in the first three years of our life, an invisible and deep fracture arises. An injury that no one sees. The one that will ( probably ) handicap us in the future and in several areas of our existence. Let’s take a closer look.

The effects of primary injury

There is a very interesting book that is considered the reference manual in the study of attachment. This is  Handbook of attachment  by psychologists Jude Cassidy and Philip R. Shaver. In the latter, they remind us that the end of the human being is self-realization. Our goal is to transcend, to move forward safely to promote our personal and emotional growth, thus enjoying a full life, with ourselves and with others.

One of the most important conditions for this to happen is to have had a secure attachment during our first years of life. A mature, close and intuitive attachment to our needs. If this does not happen, the primary injury arises, with all its consequences:

  • Insecurity and low self-esteem.
  • Impulsivity, emotional mismanagement.
  • Greater risk of suffering from various psychological disorders.
  • Difficulty building strong emotional relationships .
  • A “survival personality” develops. We are trying to be independent and secure, but there is still a vacuum. It is usual to go through times when you need isolation and solitude. Sometimes we also have a great need for proximity, whatever it is, even if it ends up being harmful or false.

How do adults heal from the primal wound? 

Throughout life, we each need to be “held and mirrored” by an empathic outer environment but also inner environment so that our being keeps growing and unfolding towards greater unity (in diversity) of all parts of the self in connection with the cosmic Self. Ideally this occurs in each individual’s life of family and friendships, where one feels seen, understood and cared for. When it does not happen in everyday life, therapists can fill the role of empathic outer environment. Therapists provide empathic holding environments in which we can rediscover our woundedness, accept it and heal it, instead of running from it. Of course, it takes some fortitude to explore the wound, feel the pain and realize that one will not disappear.

In addition, it is also worth while to state these basic strategies which are often used to face and heal our primitive wound. These would be:

  • Become aware of our latent emotions and give them a name.
  • Express our unmet needs (affection, support, closeness, empathy, etc.). We must legitimize them and not repress them.
  • Reflect on the loneliness that we felt during our childhood. We will do it without any fear, rage or shame. Some avoid thinking about the emptiness they felt in their childhood, others prefer not to look at these years of suffering because they feel pain and discomfort. We have to exteriorize this wounded “me”, that part of ourselves which is still full of anger because it has not received enough affection and security.
  • You should understand that you are not responsible for it. The victim is not guilty of anything.
  • Free yourself from this sadness and your internal emotions.
  • Engage with yourself to change. You have the possibility to transform yourself, to empower yourself in order to achieve inner well-being.

Finally,  experts in the management and confrontation of primary injury and trauma recommend that we forgive. Forgiving our progenitors does not exempt them from all guilt but it allows us to free ourselves from their figures. In this way, we accept what has happened. We take responsibility for everything we have suffered while being able to provide a forgiveness that allows us to end the pain. By doing this, we will move forward more easily. More lightly. Free from the pain, the rage and the memories of yesterday.