Children depend on their parents for more than just their basic needs (food, clothing, and shelter). In fact, during the earliest stages of our lives, we learn from our parents how to process emotions and how to validate our feelings. Good parenting teaches children emotional intelligence (EQ), resilience, boundaries, and mechanics of healthy relationships. If we’re not given these psychological tools in our childhood, it unconsciously affects us. In these types of neglectful or dysfunctional environments, we are left with social-emotional deficits that follow us into adulthood. In some extreme cases, the unfair fact remains that in the absence of a secure, loving, and nurturing parental figure, one must learn to parent themselves to survive. So, learning to reparent yourself can help you heal your inner wounded child and become the emotionally healthy adult you aspire to be.
As stated by Sharon Martin, a psychotherapist, writer, speaker, and media contributor on emotional health and relationships, some social-emotional skills/needs often neglected in childhood include:
- Communication skills: The ability to express yourself clearly and effectively. The ability to resolve conflicts. Being assertive rather than passive or aggressive.
- Self-care: The ability to identify your needs and meet them. Feeling deserving of care and comfort and the belief that your needs matter.
- Awareness and acceptance of your feelings: Being able to identify a wide range of feelings and to see the value in your feelings.
- Emotional regulation and self-soothing: The ability to manage your emotions – to calm and comfort yourself when you’re distressed, to respond rather than overreact or underreact to emotional situations, to tolerate unpleasant feelings, and use healthy coping skills.
- Self-validation: Affirming your feelings and choices; reassuring yourself that your feelings matter, that you matter, and that you’ve done your best.
- Boundaries and healthy relationships: Seeking and creating relationships based on mutual respect and trust. Voicing your expectations and needs. Caring for others and letting others care for you. Being emotionally and physically vulnerable/intimate with safe people. Recognizing unhealthy relationships and ending them. Enjoying time alone and not needing someone else to make you happy or whole.
- Self-discipline or setting limits for yourself: Limiting unhealthy activities and creating healthy habits (such as going to bed on time, limiting how much you drink or play video games).
- Accountability: You take responsibility for your actions. You apologise and/or make amends when you’ve harmed another. You learn from your mistakes. You encourage yourself to follow through on your commitments and goals. And you do all of this with compassion and understanding for yourself, not harsh criticism or self-punishment.
- Self-compassion and self-love: Treating yourself with loving-kindness – especially when you’re having a hard time or made a mistake. Doing nice things for yourself. Saying kind, supportive, and uplifting things to yourself. You notice your good qualities, progress, effort, and accomplishments and feel proud of yourself. Generally, liking who you are and knowing you have value.
- Resiliency: The ability to overcome setbacks, to persist, and to believe in yourself.
- Frustration tolerance: The ability to accept that you don’t always get what you want and things don’t always go your way; being able to handle such experiences with grace and maturity (not throw a tantrum like a toddler).
Understand that parents can only parent from their own level of awareness. They offer and provide what they can. In the same way, we can only give others what we have practiced giving ourselves.
According to the Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (CPTSD) Foundation, signs that indicate you may have a wounded inner child include that you:
- Have a deep feeling that there is something wrong with you
- Are a people-pleaser
- Are a rebel and feel alive when in conflict with someone else
- Are a hoarder
- Are not able to let go of possessions and people
- Experience anxiety with something new
- Feel guilty for setting boundaries
- Are driven to be a super-achiever
- Are rigid and a perfectionist
- Have problems starting and finishing tasks
- Exhibit constant self-criticism
- Feel ashamed at expressing emotions
- Feel ashamed of your body
- Have a deep distrust of anyone else
- Avoid conflict, no matter the cost
- Have a deep-seated fear of abandonment.
Each of these issues may manifest differently for each person, but they’re all tied to one thing: conditioned behavior practiced since childhood. These would include the things that we learned from our parents.
We tend to be protective and defensive around our childhood experience. Still, the truth is we have a unique opportunity to heal and consciously choose to do different behaviors as adults, regardless of what we have experienced in our past – a process called reparenting.
In short, reparenting involves the act of providing yourself with what you didn’t receive from your parents as a child. However, it’s important to mention again that your parents are not at fault for not giving you what you may have needed back then. As mentioned, they were giving and doing the best they could with their level of awareness. Reparenting is our personal responsibility, and it will take time, commitment, and patience. This process will require you to show up every day as it is not a quick and simple fix. In this practice, you will be able to heal and forgive.
4 Pillars of Reparenting, mentioned by the Holistic Psychologist and Patricia Williams, include:
- Discipline: setting healthy habits and rituals that improve your mental health;
- Joy: learning your own unique passions and interests (instead of doing what you’re supposed or expected to do);
- Emotional regulation: involves embodied introspection, allowing you to understand when you’re being true to yourself and when your thoughts are controlling you;
- Self-care: meeting your emotional and physical needs.
To begin your reparenting journey, the steps that can be done are:
- Breath: as mentioned, reparenting is a long process that requires commitment. So to avoid becoming overwhelmed and falling back to old patterns, follow the steps and don’t try to do everything at once.
- Keep a small, doable promise to yourself every day: choose something that puts you into a situation where you’ll succeed. For instance, waking up early or starting your day with a meditation or walk. Like the previous step, don’t try to do something that will prompt some overwhelming feelings. Start with doing something for two minutes, then build up from that.
- Other than your parents, tell someone you trust that you’re beginning the process. As mentioned, your parents did their best in giving you what you needed, so telling them may be hurtful to them and they may become defensive. Reparenting is for you. However, support, especially from the people you trust, will always be helpful in your practice.
- Look for role models and teachers: observing others can also be done. If you have a close relationship with them, it may also be beneficial to ask for tips on how they set boundaries or soothe themselves.
- Use a Mantra: such as “What can I give myself right now?” can be especially helpful when experiencing strong emotions. When you ask yourself this in those moments, it helps you slow down and ground yourself. Sometimes you may not know immediately what you need, but sometimes asking yourself this is enough to help you practice connecting with your intuition. If you stay committed, you will begin to get answers.
- Celebrate when you show up: reparenting is difficult. It’s soul work. So, acknowledge the courage it takes, own your progress, and celebrate the person you are becoming.
- Practice a lot: As reparenting isn’t easy, don’t expect perfection.
- See a therapist: therapists are trained to help you with social-emotional skills. They may also help you identify your blind spots and provide you with a safe space to practice new skills. When your therapist treats you with compassion and respect, and models acceptance, validation, and emotional regulation, it’s both a corrective experience and an example of how you can treat yourself.
Inner child work is a significant part of the InnerCamp Breathwork Method training. We invested our research resources into investigating more about traumatic experiences and multiple ways of how to overcome it in a safe way.
Davis, Shirley. “Reparenting to Heal the Wounded Inner Child.” CPTSDfoundationorg.
Esposito, Linda. “Learning to Parent Yourself as an Adult.” Psychology Today. Sussex Publishers.
Martin, Sharon. “How to REPARENT YOURSELF.” Live Well with Sharon Martin. 06 July 2021.
“What Is Reparenting and How to Begin.” The Holistic Psychologist. 29 September 2019. Web. 28 August 2021.
Williams, Patricia. “What Is Reparenting and How Can It Transform Your Relationships?” Medium. Be Unique, 10 September 2020.