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Reparenting is a technique that therapists use to heal deep, psychological wounds, and mental illnesses.
It is when the therapist takes on the role of a loving and trustworthy parent so that the wounded inner child residing in our subconscious feels safe to express itself.
It is based on the belief that most of our relationship and self-esteem problems are caused by improper parenting or inadequate love in childhood.
We end up carrying these childhood wounds into our adulthood.
To resolve our adult problems, we have to first heal our wounded inner child and free the pain that is embedded deeply in our subconscious mind. Otherwise, we will keep repeating the same patterns we developed as a child and keep getting stuck with the same outcomes or experiences.
What Is Reparenting Yourself?
The inner child concept can be found in books on the transactional analysis or the internal family system (IFS). But instead of talking about reparenting from a psychoanalytic perspective, we will be discussing reparenting from a self-care perspective in this blog post.
Unlike reparenting in psychotherapy, reparenting yourself simply means giving yourself the love you didn’t receive as a child. Instead of having someone else as a parent to your inner child, you become the parent to your inner child. In other words, it’s self-parenting.
Every one of us can benefit from self-parenting.
Reparenting is not only for those who have experienced childhood trauma or abuse. Most of us aren’t provided with unconditional love as a child. We only receive praise when we do what our parents want us to do. Or our parents are too busy or lack emotional sensitivity to give us the necessary attention, so we are emotionally neglected.
We all carry some kind of wounds from our childhood, no matter how small they seem. Reparenting yourself is not only an act of self-care and self-compassion but it is also about taking personal responsibility. We are not waiting for someone else such as our parents, partners, and friends to provide us with love. We are not blaming them for not fulfilling our needs.
Instead, we assume full responsibility for loving ourselves and our wounded inner child.
How to Start Reparenting Yourself
Reparenting yourself is not just about healing your childhood wounds. It’s also about growing your inner parent.
Most of us adopt our parents’ style of parenting. We treat our inner child the same way our parents treat us. If you are often self-critical, ask yourself “Do you have a parent who frequently criticizes you when you are growing up?” If you have a parent who is usually not at home or don’t give you enough attention as a kid, check and see whether you tend to neglect your own feelings and needs too.
We subconsciously internalize our parents’ habits and behaviors.
It’s difficult to heal your inner child when you are treating it the same way your parents have been treating you as a child. You will get the same result. Therefore, in my book, Parent Yourself Again, I talk about growing the inner parent too. We have to upgrade our inner parents and acquire new skills that a loving parent possesses.
Here are a few skills you can start to develop or things you can do to start reparenting yourself.
1. Remove the protective mechanisms gradually.
The inner child stores our memories and emotional pain. But it often gets denied or ignored by our inner parent.
The inner parent wants to protect us from our painful emotions. When our inner child shows up with emotional wounds, it usually gets suppressed by the inner parent as a form of protection. Doing so doesn’t help to heal the wounded inner child. In fact, it usually makes things worse.
The inner child who didn’t get to express itself
find a way to do so behind the parent’s back.
It’s just like how children lie to their parents or agree with their parents but act and behave in another way when the parents aren’t looking. If we don’t ease our protection and over-protect ourselves, our inner child won’t feel safe to communicate with us. It forces them to communicate with us in another way to get our attention, usually through unconscious behaviors.
We then find ourselves frequently reacting to similar events in the same way without knowing that it’s just part of our childhood patterns that we have been denying.
2. Listen to your inner child.
The best way to heal our wounded inner child is to listen to what they have to say. If you listen to your inner child attentively and frequently, they will feel seen, heard, and understood.
There will be less self-sabotage in your life or unconscious reactions to events. More importantly, your inner child will start to trust you more and share more things with you. They will know that you care for them.
Reparenting yourself is about developing a better relationship
with your inner child.
The things your inner child shares with you are valuable information that tells you exactly what your inner child needs. With these pieces of information, you can then find ways to satisfy the needs that you might be previously unaware of.
So how do you listen to your inner child? You can ask questions such as “How are you feeling right now?” and wait for the inner child to open up to you. It might take some time before there’s an answer. But if you do this regularly and demonstrate that you are non-judgemental and receptive, the inner child will eventually warm up to you.
Also, be observant and be aware of any reactive behaviors that you might be having. That is a good opportunity to connect and check-in with your inner child.
3. Develop self-soothing skills.
When your inner child is experiencing some intense emotions such as fear and anger, you have to be there to soothe its emotions.
Children don’t have the skills to deal with their emotions. When their needs aren’t met, they just cry for help until their needs are attended to. Our inner child reacts in the same way. They need assistance and assurance from their inner parents.
Imagine how you will soothe a baby and do the same.
To calm your inner child, it could mean placing one of your hands on your heart and patting or stroking your chest. It could mean repeating “You’ll be fine.” or “I’m here for you.” to your inner child. It could mean hugging a pillow and taking a few deep breaths.
There are many ways you can self-soothe. Experiment and choose one that makes your inner child feel comfortable.
4. Be patient.
Parenting is a test of your patience. What seems easy and simple for an adult to do might be difficult for a child. You can’t impose your adult capability on a child.
Your inner child will be triggered by the same or similar events multiple times. You can’t soothe it once and expect it to be healed completely. Your inner parent has to develop patience and not judge the inner child for bringing up the same issue over and over again.
At first, the pain might feel very intense.
But each time you care for your inner child,
you slow down the momentum of the wound a bit.
You stop it from building momentum and gradually the pain will subside. You will find your inner child will be less triggered when the same or similar events occur.
If your inner child brings you pain, see it as an opportunity to heal and love your inner child. Don’t see it as a distraction or something tiresome you have to do. A change of perspective will help you enjoy your reparenting process more.
5. Stay mindful.
Whenever you are healing your wounded inner child, it’s crucial to stay mindful. You must realize you are not the inner child. Even though you had experienced something traumatic and painful in the past, you are no longer the child that hurts.
If your inner child gets anxious or angry and you over-empathize or behave the same way, you will lose your center. Instead of helping your inner child, you get sucked into the past with your inner child. And if you are not careful or aware enough, you can get stuck in this emotional state for a very long time.
Just because you love your inner child
doesn’t mean you can’t have boundaries.
Having a little space and separation from your inner child is important. Even though you listen to your inner child, you don’t have to do whatever it tells you to do. Parents lead their children. Children need boundaries and guidance from their parents. It shouldn’t be the other way round. Otherwise, they will lose their way.
As a parent, you have to establish clear rules or limits for your inner child to follow. For example, if you are working or you are having a meeting at work, you can’t just stop everything and attend to your inner child immediately.
An agreement for such circumstances has to be established beforehand. You can acknowledge that your inner child is feeling sad and let it know you will revisit the issue when you get back home. When you do this consistently, your inner child will know when and when not to bring up their problems.
But of course, keep to your words! Be sure to stick to your agreement when you return home. Otherwise, your inner child will lose trust in you.
If you want to learn more about reparenting, be sure to read my book, Parent Yourself Again.
Featured Photo Credit: Josh Willink