Learning to Parent Yourself
In our last blog, we discussed what ‘reparenting’ is and why we could all benefit from it. It’s definitely worth the read, as it explains some of the terminology we’ll be using in this post. So if you missed it, check it out here. (Cliff’s notes: it’s about learning to support yourself in a way that empowers you to identify and move past emotional triggers and toxic behaviors.)
How the heck do I ‘reparent’ myself, you ask? We’re getting to it, but first it’s important to understand some of the ground rules about your inner child and your inner parent.
Keep in mind that your inner parent’s intentions are pure, and they are trying to protect your inner child from pain.
The problem is that your inner child’s pain needs to be seen and acknowledged, otherwise it can manifest itself in unhealthy coping mechanisms and self-sabotaging behavior.
Not unlike how toddlers have a penchant for lashing out about not getting enough attention by drawing all over their parents’ freshly painted white walls.
That’s why in order to reparent ourselves we need to work both on our inner parent and our inner child at the same time.
Let’s take a look at our inner child (that subpersonality that comes into play when you feel hurt), because they have needs too. Some of them are:
Needing to be seen and heard.
Needing to feel loved and valued for who you are.
Needing a sense of belonging and connection.
Needing to feel safe.
In pursuit of helping your inner child bury pain, your inner parent might use the following tactics:
Denial - If you don’t recognize your pain, it can’t hurt you, but you also can’t work through it.
Anger - Uncovering denial can leave you feeling fired up, angry and frustrated with yourself... and others.
Resentment - a.k.a. Anger’s passive-aggressive cousin who tends to dig in his heels and overstay his welcome.
Self-blame - a.k.a. the root of people pleasing behavior. You might rationalize others’ behavior when they hurt you, and put the onus on yourself to make yourself “more acceptable” to others in the hopes of receiving the type of love your inner child needs.
Yes, it’s hard work, but some mindful reparenting exercises can make a big difference. Next time you feel triggered by something, go through this exercise. Pro tip: journaling is a great way to process these thoughts, but if you don’t have a pen and paper handy, an inner monologue works well too!
Bring your full attention to your feelings and not the trigger.
Ask yourself how old you feel. If you don’t know, instead try to remember your earliest memory of that feeling, or what taught you to feel that way as a child.
Stop and check in with yourself. Remember those layers of protection we mentioned? They might make it difficult to identify what your inner child is feeling, but sitting with your feelings and giving yourself permission to feel them deeply can help to identify the wound your inner child has been suppressing, allowing your inner child to be seen (one of their needs!).
Allow yourself to engage in a little role play - ask your inner child to tell you exactly how they feel, and don’t allow yourself or your inner parent to try to rationalize the situation or downplay your inner child’s feelings.
Ask your inner child what they need from your inner parent to heal from what happened.
Visualize your inner child receiving what they need from your inner parent. It can be helpful the name the pain and burdens your inner child is carrying.
Now ask your inner child if they’re ready to let go of these burdens, and if not, why? What is your inner child afraid will happen? Work through those fears.
By working through the layers of the emotions behind your triggers, you’ll begin to identify the root of your toxic behaviors and unhealthy relationships. You might even uncover some you weren’t aware of. This can be daunting - not unlike the last 5 minutes of an intense workout, when every part of you wants to quit and go home. Persevering when trying to identify the roots of your triggers is similar to pushing through those last few burpees, that once done, leave you feeling fan-freakin-tastic, with a knock-on positive effect on the rest of your day.
Once you know what your inner child needs, you’ll be able to use your inner parent to self-soothe when triggered. This will help you to navigate life more smoothly, and rely less heavily on others for your emotional needs to be met.
When you do work on yourself that involves digging deep into the cobwebs of your psyche and clearing out the dust bunnies of your soul, you’ll discover new incredible new strengths and clarity, and maybe some wounds that can make you subconsciously go on the defensive. These defense mechanisms may be so good at burying your pain, that you could become frustrated, lose motivation and give up halfway through the process. If this is the case, or if you suffered abuse, it is a great idea to work with a therapist to help guide you, support you, and celebrate your breakthroughs with you.
While reparenting can be an investment in time and emotions, there are also simple steps you can take to reparent yourself every day, some of which take up less than 1 minute.
Here are some of our favorite ways to heal wounds by consciously acting in your best interest:
Give yourself permission to validate your own feelings and emotions. When you find yourself wanting external validation, turn inwards to your inner child and find out why. Honor the needs of your inner child.
Allow your inner child to be curious, to learn, and to play. This could be lipsync battling with your BFFs, or starting a that hobby you’ve always been curious about.
Work on some some self-discipline. Set yourself small, attainable goals each day. These could be as simple as making your bed, washing the dishes before you go to sleep, or setting a time limit to social media. These don’t seem like much, but they are building a foundation of responsibility that will help you to develop the more challenging habits that will ultimately help you reach your personal, professional and emotional goals.
Give yourself permission to set and maintain boundaries.
Eat balanced, nutritious meals. Remember how you parents insisted that you eat your greens? Turns out they were right!
Give yourself a bedtime. Prioritize a healthy sleep schedule.
Most importantly, allow yourself to be imperfect. Take a moment to remind yourself of all the amazing things you are accomplishing all of the time. The work you do for yourself is challenging, but so worth it.
Self-Therapy: A Step-by-Step Guide to Creating Wholeness and Healing Your Inner Child Using IFS, A New, Cutting-Edge Psychotherapy, by Jay Early, Ph.D.
Parenting Yourself Again: Love Yourself the Way You’ve Always Wanted to Be Loved, by Yong Kang Chan