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April 9, 2020

Arrested Development: Overcoming Childhood Wounds

Os Hillman • Spiritual Warfare
Arrested Development: Overcoming Childhood Wounds

How long, O you sons of men, will you turn my glory to shame? How long will you love worthlessness and seek falsehood? (Ps 4:2).

Arrested Development: Overcoming Childhood Wounds

How long, O you sons of men, will you turn my glory to shame? How long will you love worthlessness and seek falsehood? (Ps 4:2).


Bruce Willis starred in a movie in the year 2000 entitled The Kid. Russell (Willis) is a 40 year old single, egocentric executive that runs an image consulting business for high profile politicians, business executives and TV anchors. His rude, abrupt, over confident, narcissistic "the world revolves around me", attitude is the personality he hides behind. Life must revolve around him and when others get in the way, he dismisses them. He has no patience for weak people who do things with anything less than excellence. He has the best of everything-cars, home, girlfriend, clothes, etc. Whatever he wants he buys. He moves from one client to another, solving their image problem, something he takes great efforts to maintain for himself. In essence, his job was to polish the false self (poser) image of each of his clients in order to give them the image they feel their public wants to see and they want to maintain.

Russell is a person filled with bitterness toward his father and refuses to have any relationship with him. The roots of his bitterness go back to when he was eight years old. One day an eight year old chubby kid shows up in his ultra-modern bachelor pad. He discovers that this isn't just any little boy-he is Russell himself incarnated at the age of eight. Through the rest of the movie Russell rediscovers his childhood through Rusty (his eight year old version of himself). Rusty begins to inquire about the adult version of him and he concludes he grows up to be a failure because none of his childhood dreams come true. He does not get married, doesn't have a dog and does not fly airplanes for a living-everything he dreamt he would grow up to fulfill which would equate to success in his mind. He challenged Russell to find out what went wrong. Together they go on a journey of discovery to revisit some key events that made Russell the man he became.

Russell has a girlfriend who partly puts up with his selfish and egocentric ways because she sees something in him she actually likes. However, his negative personality all but drives her away until she discovers the young Rusty and falls in love with the boy and also wonders what happened that resulted in the adult Russell. Together Russell and Rusty begin to piece their childhood memories together and actually relive them to discover how Russell became so dysfunctional in his personality.

One day Rusty turns to his older self (Russell) and says, "I get what you do now. You help people lie about who they really are so they can pretend to be someone else who they are not." "Yeah, kid. I guess you are right," responded Russell. The truth of his life is beginning to unfold.

The climax of the story is when little Rusty replays a scene with his father outside his home when his terminally diagnosed mother has to go pick him up from school for fighting. His father is extremely upset with Rusty for making his mother go to the school to pick him up. "You're killing your mother! How could you make your mother have to come get you!?" he screamed into his face as he shook him with both hands. Little Rusty was devastated. It was a life-defining moment for Rusty. His life would never be the same. This became an agreement over his life that he would live out as an adult. "I am flawed. I killed my mother. I'm shameful." He would spend a lifetime trying to cover-up his shame to become someone others would accept and respect.

As he grew older his false self became a hard shell that he hid behind designed to protect him from anyone who might hurt him again since his own parents did not protect him. His egocentric executive personality became his outer protective personality. As Russell began to recognize the truth of his situation, he began to change his behavior and ultimately becomes a new person. He realized his father was reacting out of his own pain and forgave his father after holding onto years of bitterness. He began to reveal his true personality that was actually caring and sensitive. The end of the movie shows him in the future--making a career change to become a pilot and even had a dog. He married his girlfriend.

I so identified with the Russell's character in the movie. When I began my own ad agency in the early 80s I was driven to succeed like Russell. Although I was a Christian, I often found myself conflicted in the need to succeed and the desire to be led by God and be sensitive to His direction. Traits of stubbornness, selfishness, independence and ego would show up. I struggled with this side of me, wrestling with what Paul describes in Romans when he says "there is something inside of me that does what I do not want to do. It is the sin within me." I may not have exhibited the same level of dysfunction Russell displayed, but I did struggle inside, keeping it in check as a good Christian should.

The false self of competence and performance was seeking to deal with the unknown, unrecognized pain that drove me to need to be validated through my performance and success. The problem is it was mixed with a genuine relationship with God that helped soften the false self but never allowed me to see the outer core for what it was-a protection against being hurt that was a result of childhood wounds. It represented a conflict between God's glory in me and that which sought to mask my true self rooted in childhood wounds. The false-self is rooted in shame and falsehood. "How long, O you sons of men, will you turn my glory to shame? How long will you love worthlessness and seek falsehood?" (Ps 4:2).


When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known (1 Cor 13:11-12).


Although Russell was a financially successful man, he acted like an emotional 8 year old as an adult that required the world to revolve around him. Arrested development is a term that describes how adults revert back to an emotional state of their childhood. They are in essence "arrested" at that age and never mature past that age emotionally as an adult. They may at one moment act like an adult but the next minute revert to childish behavior because they have been frozen within two years of the age of their woundedness. "Arrested development that is caused by the wounds of childhood amplifies or magnifies our sin nature. The deeper the wounds, the more we act selfishly and childishly. When we have too much childhood trauma, we are hindered in our ability to develop genuine healthy relationships with our Creator and others close to us. We can't readily reach out or accept others-because our wounds have made us unteachable, unable to trust and afraid of truth," according to Dr. Paul Hegstrom, author of Broken children, Grown Up Pain. "We can't embrace grace and mercy, so we struggle with accepting what's freely given," says Dr. Hegstrom. [1]

Arrested development sabotages the heart's good

intentions and turns us into a spiritual hypocrite.


I discovered that shame, performance and the death of my dad at age 14 all contributed to arrested development in my own life. In order to mature emotionally, it required revisiting, just like Russell did, the events of the wounds. Gaining healing from those wounds was required to move into emotional maturity.

Pop star Michael Jackson died suddenly in July 2009 from a prescription drug overdose. Jackson is one of the most extreme cases of arrested development you will ever witness. It was widely known that Jackson was physically abused as a child by his father. Jackson's father often held the kids upside down, tripping them, pushing them into walls,screaming, shouting, and frightening them. Michaelshared that he often cried from lonelinessand sometimes got sick or started to vomit upon seeing his father. He recalled his dad sitting in a chair with a belt in his hand when heand his siblings rehearsed and hearing his dad say, "If you don't do it the right way,I will tear you up." These were early childhood wounds that caused arrested development in Michael.

The world watched this grown man live as a child emotionally. He even built a multi-acre theme park home called NeverLand, complete with amusement rides. He loved spending time with kids, but did not relate to them as an adult, but actually as a fellow child. People who knew him often referred to him as childlike. Jackson was probably arrested in development around the age of 9 emotionally.



"And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free" (John 8:32).

Dr. Hegstrom cites that "most of the time, just the knowing that our behaviors have a source will restart the growing process. Denial blocks the growing process. The mind needs to understand that there's a reason, not an excuse." As we learn the truth about our past we can begin to walk in the truth of who God made us to be.




[1] Dr. Paul Hegstrom , Broken children, Grown Up Pain, Beacon Press, Kansas City, MO p.48

Visitor Comments (1)


Reading this short article has had a tremendous positive impact.After researching many articles- this was the first to mention the connecting between the struggle as a Christian with arrested development. Acknowledging and naming the problem has huge implications of positive emotional upward trajectory. This explains in basic format how we can be our own worst enemies. Ultimately, we have to love ourselves before judging,criticizing or genuinely loving others.I applaude your narrative.

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