Are you struggling with anxiety, insecurity, and low self-esteem? Believe me, 9 out of 10 of us are…And that other person is likely just in denial. I say that to normalize the human struggle we all have with our emotions, self-confidence, self-love, and self-acceptance. Let me normalize one more thing: this is a lifelong journey of figuring out what is getting in the way of our self-love and acceptance, addressing the hurdles, and then repeating.
While there are many tools in our toolbox to cope with anxiety, lack of self-confidence, and/or body image issues, one that we talk very little about is the concept of reparenting ourselves, specifically our younger selves, who learned they were not enough as they were. We do this not as a quest to prove our parents wrong but actually to give ourselves permission to explore what we were going through as children and sort out the parts that didn’t work for us. Every generation of parents is responding to the parenting that was modeled for them. For those of us who had parents who were absent or who struggled with mental health or addiction, we may have begun parenting ourselves early in life, but that doesn’t mean we knew what we were doing, either.
This is also not meant to shame parents; for the most part, a parent who was trying his/her/their best couldn’t have done any better. If you find yourself reflecting on your childhood or
the way you grew up, and feeling anger, betrayal, confusion, hurt, fear, and other negative emotions, you don’t owe anyone an apology or explanation about it. At our therapy practice in Woodland Hills, we see people trying to heal childhood wounds who feel compelled to clarify, “I love my mom, though!” or, “But I know my dad loves me.” This impulse to protect our parents and clarify that we love them is natural. When you consider how and why you’d like to reparent yourself, you don’t need to add a disclaimer to that decision. The important thing to focus on is what you need, why you need it, and how to give it to yourself.
What does it mean to re-parent your inner child?
Your “inner child” is your connection to your life as far back as you can remember. Your earliest memories are probably from childhood. Everything you’ve ever seen, you’ve seen either as a child or as the older version of that child. That means that what you absorbed in childhood shaped your worldview, the connections you made, your attachment style, your triggers, your happiness, all of it. No matter how old you grow, the wounds you suffered in childhood are still with you. That doesn’t mean that you are doomed to be unhappy or that you cannot take steps to heal. If you experienced neglect, trauma, and pain in your childhood, then you will continue to feel triggered by the things that remind you of that pain, you will feel shame where you felt shame as a child, and so on. Reparenting your inner child is the process of going back to those times, allowing yourself to express the emotion that you didn’t feel safe experiencing at the time, and having compassion for that inner child.
How can Inner Child Work help you?
First and foremost, it is important to know that this exercise of reconnecting with your inner child and reparenting her can be a helpful part of your therapy at any point for any mental health issue. You may utilize this exercise when recovering from addiction or an eating disorder or when processing grief and loss. It may be something you would try if you are working on your public speaking anxiety or fear of moving out of your comfort zone. There isn’t one particular issue or disorder that this fits. However, we would advise you to consult with your therapist when in your treatment journey It will be most helpful to reconnect with your inner child. If you just started therapy and your mental health symptoms are heightened, any therapist would first want to cover some basic coping skills, such as stress management and thought-reframing, so as to stabilize your mental health.
Reparenting yourself is a process that requires introspection and role-playing. So it is important to know that this may feel awkward or emotional. You may be feeling compelled to do this work because of the way you are experiencing life as a parent now. Reparenting might feel very high-stakes for you, as not only is your own healing and happiness on the line, but that of your child(ren) as well. Many adults realize that they have childhood wounds to heal when they become parents themselves and notice that their reactions to their children’s behaviors feel uncomfortable or triggering on top of their regular parenting stress. Maybe because childhood patterns are being repeated, even if the person thought they would never do anything as their parents did.
3 Ways to Connect with Your Inner Child
1. Revisit childhood memories:
Create a timeline of events that may shape or trigger the unhealed wounds. Where were you? How old were you? Do you identify a series of events, a few major events, or a mixture? You may
have experienced simple trauma, complex trauma, abuse, and/or neglect that was physical, emotional, mental, or all three. Some of your childhood memories might be happy; there is no reason why they shouldn’t be! Uncovering positive memories doesn’t eliminate your need to heal from your negative memories and experiences or invalidate the pain you feel. You may discover that you are missing large chunks of your childhood. This is a common experience with trauma. You may or may not be anxious to recover some of these memories.
A lot of the work we see and do in reparenting involves properly acknowledging, identifying, and expressing emotions. If you weren’t permitted to express the feelings, you had about your unmet needs, if you had a parent or guardian who was too emotionally unstable to support you, if a parent modeled being very reactive emotionally, all of these have an impact on how you would process your emotions now. Did you reach out for help, only to have it ignored? Were you punished for crying or expressing anger? Yes, it’s true that a child who is being physically destructive may need to be separated from others for safety, but there is a difference between creating a safe environment and creating isolation in the face of distress. If you were told to go sit by yourself until you “had a better attitude,” you are not alone. What you probably absorbed at that time was that any emotion that you expressed other than happiness and contentment was inappropriate. Do you remember often swallowing your feelings down because you knew that they wouldn’t be well-received or validated? Did you feel misunderstood by the people who were raising you? When we are unhappy, and the people around us minimize it, we can feel betrayed at their inability to understand us. It can create feelings of loneliness, frustration, fear, and confusion.
2. Explore what the unmet needs were:
Start to name the unvoiced feelings and thoughts of those earlier childhood memories. Remember that at that younger age, you didn’t have the vocabulary to voice your feelings and thoughts. This means that it doesn’t matter what the adult sees and understands now. So many people who are thinking about beginning this work put it off because they can rationalize and comprehend what went on now that they are grown up. They think that having that intellectual understanding should be enough, but it isn’t. No matter how well you can unpack the situation now, your inner child is still hurt, scared, angry, confused, and conflicted. Your inner child needed support, compassion, patience, consistency, or a litany of other things that weren’t given.
You may want to explore your unmet needs from today backward, meaning that you think of something that causes you difficulties in your daily life and try to identify when it first became a problem for you. For example, if you have trouble asking for help. You might find that your first thought of where it started is correct or that it actually connects to something earlier. In this way, you are retracing your steps. Through this process, you not only identify the root but validate your experience with the examples you found along the way. If you moved out as soon as you graduated high school, you might think that your independence started there. But then you may realize, “But I moved out right away because I didn’t feel assisted at home, which went back to at least the beginning of the secondary school… but before that, I remember having to solve this or that problem on my own…” and the trail continues. You may realize, looking back, that you were asked to cope with big emotions at a very young age, as long as you can remember. If you cried and no one came to see if they could help you, you learned that you were on your own. If you couldn’t figure out how to assemble a playset and were told to figure it out for yourself, you learned that you were on your own. If you were responsible for knowing your extracurricular schedule and getting yourself to and from your own events, you learned that you were on your own. It is no wonder that now, as an adult, you recoil at the idea of asking for help. You’ve always been told to sort it out for yourself.
3. Engage in self-compassion to meet your needs:
At this stage, people often use pictures to talk to their younger selves. This can get a bit awkward because your younger self is no longer physically here. Pictures can help you not just visually represent the person you are speaking to but also remember how fragile and young you were, so you can keep your
dialogue honest and vulnerable. Ask yourself what they might need from you. Validate that need aloud. Is it something you can do for yourself now? Can you provide yourself with a safe space to experience emotions? Can you provide yourself with someone to trust and be vulnerable with? Can you provide yourself with gentleness and room to make mistakes?
Don’t stop at extending compassion to your childhood self. Have and show compassion for yourself in your current state. A lot of emotions will rise. You may experience guilt and shame for things you felt, things you feel, or things you didn’t feel or don’t feel. You may be speaking to your childhood self as an adult who has now lost a parent. It might feel uncomfortable to acknowledge a troubled or unhealthy relationship with a parent who has since passed away. Take breaks when you need to. Rest when you need to. Tell your childhood self and your current self that you are doing the best you can.
If a need arises that you feel an impulse to ignore, ask yourself where that impulse comes from. Consider meeting that need in spite of your initial resistance to it; it’s not silly or frivolous to have a need met. It doesn’t make you any less qualified to do your job, to be a friend to others, or take on any of the adult responsibilities you now have. We all exist as multifaceted people. We all have needs, great and small. You are well within your rights to own your own needs without apology.
As your inner child begins to heal, you may wish to branch out in how you connect with your inner child. A lot of people find great comfort in showing up for the young people in their lives the way they wish someone had showed up for them. If you are a parent, you are probably revisiting your childhood so that you can do better for your children. You might think that you need to heal your inner child before you can achieve your goal, but in actuality, the two go hand in hand. You will find that parenting your children the way you are reparenting yourself makes it easier to do both. If you are not a parent but have access to children, creating safety for them can be very healing. For example, many children are encouraged to hug to say hello and goodbye. If your physical boundaries weren’t respected as a child, breaking this pattern may help some of your wounds around that. “Hi! Would you like a hug today? It’s okay to say ‘no’.” There is no guarantee that everyone (or anyone) else in that child’s life will offer them that same respect, but you will know that you did. You cannot change what happened in the past, but you do have agency over how you proceed in the future, for yourself and for others. Breaking a cycle in any way, big or small, can feel incredibly curative.
Here at Embracing You Therapy, we invite you to explore with us how life would be different if you had more control over your thoughts and emotions. We invite you to consider that it is possible to accept things just as they are, embracing imperfections to create a gentler place for calm in your life.
Let’s learn what drives your unique perspective on anxiety and stress. Then, let’s find the tools-your unique tools that help you respond to life in a healthy, calm way. Contact us today for your complimentary 15-minute phone consultation with our Client Care Coordinators.
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