I’ve had more than a couple clients roll their eyes at me at the very mention of the “inner-child”. I’ve even had a few head roll back, eyes closed, and deep sighs of annoyance even saying that “inner-child work” is a thing. So, let’s call this self-reparenting.
Self-reparenting is the work of being there for yourself. Being present while you work through childhood situations when you didn’t get what you needed. As a kid, you are completely dependent on the adults in your life for your needs. if you are now an adult, the vital needs were apparently met.
More than just the basics.
What most of this work is about is not so much the “food, clothing, shelter” needs, but rather the emotional needs that are often neglected. They may not be met because there was a tragic loss in your family and everyone was grieving around you. They may not be met because your mother had to work two jobs and your dad was no where to be seen. They may not be met because you had a couple narcissists at the realm of your home. Or, maybe, it was simply a day to day feeling that something was missing.
Sitting with yourself, returning as an adult to difficult moments, and then seeing through your inner-child’s (there’s that word) eyes can be life-changing. This process will look different for each of us. There is no “one size fits all” approach.
Even if you are a functioning adult, there may be parts of you that haven’t had the opportunity to fully develop. For example, if you grew up in an overly restrictive environment, your independence may need some nurturing. On the other hand, if you grew up in an overly permissive environment, you may feel like you lack a safety net to take chances.
What is Self-Reparenting?
Self-reparenting is work. The work is to provide yourself with the emotional support and guidance you may have missed out on during childhood. The work is to acknowledge and validate these historical, and often buried, feelings and needs. The work is to sit with yourself without distraction as you grieve and heal from your past wounds.
Without a prompt, at least half of my clients say something like this at their first session, “I had a great childhood. We don’t need to go there.” They generally get my side-eye and I tap out a little something in my notes.
But, I want to make clear the process of self-reparenting is not about an attack on your parents. Self-reparenting is simply a way to nurture parts of ourselves that are begging for much needed attention. No matter how hard your parents tried and succeeded in providing for you, there will always be areas that could use a little (or a lot) more nurturing and healing.
Self-reparenting is there to help you identify and express your emotions, set healthy boundaries, and improve your overall well-being.
Self-Reparenting Through the Generations
Many of us grew up in homes where emotions were not always acknowledged or validated. I’m a Gen-X’er and believe within my generation and older, the societal norm was to bury those emotions as deep as possible. We did not chit-chat openly about our feelings or about what we talked about in therapy.
I was shocked at how things had changed when I first started my internship hours at a college around 2010. Not only did students not ask for a back door to sneak out after a session, but they would hang out in the waiting room and chat with other students. They consistently gave referrals to each other to my office. They also had open conversations with their coaches about therapy – coaches were my biggest referral source. Things had definitely changed.
How Self-Reparenting is Vital
I have seen so much good work done in this area that has benefited clients personally and with their relationships. Often the idea of caring for yourself can seem like a foreign concept meant for other people. It is hard and sometimes not a ton of fun, but it can be meaningful for you.
Below are some of the benefits you can experience from taking the deep dive into this work.
You can learn to name and express your emotions with self-reparenting
Much of the work of self-reparenting is in identifying and expressing your emotions. For this Gen-X’er I do not like this idea at all … and yet, I am grateful for it every day.
One of the lessons that must take hold is that emotions are not good or bad, they just are. Taking away the judgment of emotions can allow you to start hearing the messages they are trying to convey. Perhaps feeling angry isn’t bad, but rather it is a signal that there is a threat to one of your boundaries. Listening to the message rather than judging the anger can allow you to set and communicate boundaries that are in line with your values.
It is not easy to stop reacting and to start listening to emotions. Those very reactions are what have kept you alive so far. The initial feeling and desire to react may always be there to some extent. But, your job now is to recognize the emotion before you shut it down. Ask yourself, “What is this emotion telling me?” You might get some answers that tell you a lot about your needs and boundaries that have been hiding for most of your life.
You can learn to create boundaries with self-reparenting
“Boundaries” is a tough word to use. What is your gut reaction if someone were to say they needed to set boundaries with you? Would you get defensive? Would you believe they don’t like you? Would you feel anger or shame?
The word boundary, in a therapeutic sense, is much more healthy and loving than it feels when it’s used in conversation. A boundary is not a 20 foot high brick wall with guards and a moat. But, it is a set line that if crossed may make you feel violated in some way. Letting someone you love know your boundaries, will only enhance the relationship.
Time is often a difficult boundary to discuss in relationships. For example, if you love your work and have periods of time when focus and concentration are necessary, you may not want interruption.
A “Whatcha doin?” text or a TikTok link pinging through your phone when the other person expects an instant response can be infuriating – even if you love them.
Here’s the rub: You do want to talk to them about your day and you do enjoy a cute “Remember the 90’s” TikTok, just not at 2:00 when you are in the zone.
Instead of getting more and more annoyed at the interruption and feeling resentful to your partner, let them know your situation. You can then schedule time together for meaningful connection.
Setting boundaries is an act of self-care, and it is necessary to prioritize your own needs. It is necessary to be firm, but it is also necessary to be respectful and empathetic. I am guessing your partner/family/friend also has boundaries that may help your relationship if they are clearly set. Important relationships in your life are worth having these hard conversations.
You can change how you view yourself with self-reparenting
When you grow up in an environment where your emotions and needs are not validated, it can be easy to internalize a negative self-image. All those messages you receive as a child about what you are good at doing or bad at doing combine to create your self-worth and identity.
Childhood messages may point at you specifically . But often, they point at your gender, race, height, weight, or thousands of other variables that could define your identity.
You may come to believe that your are not good enough before you even try. Self-reparenting is one way we can challenge these negative beliefs. We can adopt a more positive and compassionate view of not only ourselves, but also of others.
You can begin by acknowledging and validating your inner child’s emotions and needs. You may start to see where these beliefs began and to then start healing these past wounds.
You now have years of experience to question the messages you received during childhood. It’s your job now to view your self-worth and identity through the lens of experience. You may now be able to recognize your strengths and accomplishments, learn to be kind and forgiving with yourself, and see your behavior in a new light.
You can become a better parent with self-reparenting
By acknowledging and validating your own emotions and needs, you can become more attuned to the emotional needs of your children. You may find you are better able to communicate, set healthy boundaries, and provide the emotional support and guidance they long for.
Learning to validate your child’s emotions and needs can work magic in building their confidence in and out of the home.
When your child expresses their emotions:
- Listen without instant judgment or criticism.
- Acknowledge their feelings and let them know it’s okay to feel the way they do
This validation can help they feel heard and let them know that they are valued and do not have to work to earn your love and attention.
Parenting is a journey, and it’s okay to make mistakes or encounter setbacks along the way. With practice and self-reflection, you can build a stronger relationship with yourself and your child.
Learn to Self-Reparent
1. Acknowledge and connect with your younger self.
I get a lot of push back when I talk in therapy about connecting with your younger self. I believe the, “Are you serious?” question has come up at least a dozen times. And, yes I am serious.
Connecting with your younger self involves revisiting memories or experiences from your childhood, and viewing them through a new lens of empathy and understanding.
For this work, I sometimes ask my clients to find a picture of themselves from an age when many of their childhood memories begin. A picture that represents a time that was special to them or simply shows them as “the cutest thing ever.” I want them to see how young they were when they were doing the work to understand their world.
It may also help to go to the places or do the activities from your childhood. Nothing like a random drive past your old home or high school to bring up some of those dormant memories. You could also fill the room with the music or television of your childhood as you color, dance, or play with your child’s legos. Recreate the environment and see where your memories take you.
As you reflect on these images and memories, try to approach yourself with a sense of curiosity and empathy. Self-reparenting is not about blaming yourself or others for past experiences, but rather about nurturing and healing parts of yourself that may need attention.
2. Determine the unmet needs of your inner child.
Look at that picture you found and imagine yourself as a child. Think about what you needed at that time. Were their emotions or needs that went unacknowledged or unmet? What messages did you receive from others about your worth and value?
Exploring your unmet needs can be a challenging and emotional process. But, this exploration is an essential step towards healing past wounds and building a stronger, more fulfilling relationship with yourself.
Questions to ask:
- Were you ever made to feel ashamed or guilty for expressing your emotions?
- Did you ever feel like your needs weren’t important?
- Did you ever believe that your thoughts and emotions were somehow wrong?
Be gentle with yourself. The goals of self-reparenting is to nurture and heal parts of yourself. By identifying your unmet needs, you provide yourself with the emotional support and guidance you may have missed during childhood.
Determining your unmet needs is a process, not a destination. As you go through this journey, you may uncover new emotions and needs that surface. When you create a safe environment, your inner-child may really start to share.
3. Allow yourself to feel any emotions that arise.
I don’t know about you, but allowing myself to feel emotions comes about as naturally as learning advanced calculus is to my pet fish. It can be challenging to confront difficult emotions if you grew up in an environment where emotions were not always acknowledged or validated.
However, there is hope. Allowing yourself to feel your emotions is the gateway to understanding the messages they are trying to convey.
If you find yourself struggling with difficult emotions, try to approach yourself with the same kindness and compassion you would offer your child or your friend. This is the time to use curiosity and empathy rather than the knee-jerk judgment and criticism we normally use to meet strong feelings and emotion.
It’s okay if you feel uncomfortable and vulnerable … mostly because there is no way around it – it is the way.
4. Release any shame or guilt you may feel.
Most of us carry around feelings of shame or guilt from past experiences we had little control over. These feelings can hold us back from fully embracing our true selves. These feelings are a natural part of the human experience, and you are not alone in experiencing them.
To release shame and guilt, start by acknowledging these feelings and exploring their origin. This may involve revisiting past experiences or memories, and allowing yourself to feel the emotions that arise.
Self-reparenting is about nurturing and healing neglected parts of yourself. This process may include learning to forgive yourself for past missteps.
Releasing shame and guilt requires self-forgiveness. One way you can move toward releasing shame or guilt is by writing yourself a letter of self-forgiveness. For example, you might say, “I forgive myself for past mistakes, and I choose to focus on the present and the future.”
5. Practice self-care.
Self-care involves taking the time to prioritize your own needs and engage in activities that promote your physical, emotional, and mental well-being.
Start by identifying solo activities that bring you joy and relaxation. It could be doing yoga, reading a book, going on a hike, or sitting in the sun. Approach these activities with a sense of openness and curiosity. Allow yourself to experience them without judgment or criticism. Prioritize your own needs during these activities and resist the urge to put yourself last.
Self-care involves treating yourself with the same kindness and empathy you would offer someone you love who is going through a difficult time. Approach yourself with a sense of patience and self-compassion. You can build a more fulfilling relationship with yourself and enjoy a greater sense of life satisfaction.
Who Can Benefit From Self-Reparenting
Self-Reparenting can benefit anyone who feels they missed out on certain aspects of emotional development during childhood. This could be due to a variety of factors such as growing up in a household where emotions were not acknowledged or validated, experiencing trauma or abuse, or simply not having access to the emotional support and guidance you needed at any particular time.
Self-reparenting may help:
- If you who struggle with anxiety, depression, or other mental health issues you can benefit from self-reparenting. By learning to provide yourself with the emotional support and guidance you may have missed out on during childhood, you can heal past wounds and develop a stronger, more resilient sense of self.
- If you struggle with setting boundaries or communicating your needs effectively, you may find self-reparenting to be helpful. By learning to identify and expression your emotions, set boundaries, and validate your own needs, you can build healthier relationships with yourself and others.
- If you are interested in exploring your past and building a stronger, more fulfilling relationship with yourself, you can benefit from self-reparenting.
With practice and intention, you can begin to heal past wounds and build a more resilient sense of self that will serve you well.
I encourage anyone who feels they may have missed out on aspects of emotional development during childhood to explore the process of self-reparenting. If you are interested in exploring self-reparenting and how it can benefit you, please consider reaching out. Therapy is a form of self-care and can help you heal past wounds and build a stronger, more resilient sense of self.