Choosing to do your inner work is no easy task. In fact, many of us spend our whole lives running from parts of ourselves we don’t want to face, only for our shadows to end up smacking us square in the face anyway.
It is thought that Plato once said
‘We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light’
It’s true that putting yourself under the looking glass to assess what isn’t working in your life is often a painful, time-consuming process. But it is only by facing, working with, and ultimately accepting the parts of ourselves we are scared to face that we can slowly and deliberately move towards the light.
No one wants to admit to themselves that they’ve contributed to their own unhappiness. No one wants to admit that they played a starring role in a situation that has grown toxic. But running audit on yourself and the parts of your thought process that are causing you pain or stopping you showing up as your best self is one of the most loving actions you can commit to, both for yourself and others. Even if at times it feels difficult.
Not only that, but the process is incredibly empowering.
Once you stop outsourcing your power to others and take personal accountability for your unhappiness and problematic behaviours (where necessary), you’ll feel liberated at how much there is you can control.
That’s not to say that any trauma you have experienced should be considered as your fault, or that the process of reparenting should be rooted in self-blame.
Reparenting simply recognises that whilst it is not in any way your fault if you have experienced trauma, it is your responsibility to do your best to heal it so you don’t hurt yourself, or pass your pain onto others. It is ultimately a process rooted in self-love and compassion to try and create a healing, safe environment in your body and mind.
It all sounds good in theory, right?
So, how do we go about implementing this process in our daily lives?
It all stems from a process called reparenting.
What does it mean to reparent yourself?
The process of reparenting essentially involves giving yourself the love and support that you didn’t receive as a child.
Reparenting yourself can be an incredibly healing experience, allowing you to patch up lingering emotional wounds gained in childhood which are still playing a role in your life as an adult.
Through this process, you gain a greater awareness of who you are underneath any lurking childhood conditioning by doing work that rewrites your internal belief system and rewires your sub-conscious mind.
As a result, you’ll be able to show up in your life more authentically, from a point of conscious awareness rather than from a place of shame and pain.
Even if you feel your childhood was largely supportive, chances are you can still benefit from the practise of reparenting yourself. Even nurturing, loving parents are still human beings who make mistakes from time to time.
So, even if you feel your childhood was overall a safe, loving experience, don’t feel guilty for doing the work around parts of your experience where you felt your parents maybe missed the mark.
Reparenting yourself doesn’t mean you don’t love your parents, or that you’re betraying them in some way. It just means that you are honouring areas you know you can work on in an honest and productive way. You don’t owe anybody the stagnancy of your growth and happiness.
The process of reparenting yourself:
Below we’ve outlined some steps you may find helpful if you’re looking to rebuild or improve your relationship to yourself (and eventually, others too!).
It’s important to remember that this is a process that Reparenting yourself often comes with some growing pains, but these are a completely normal and healthy thing to experience during this process.
To release any stored anger, hurt and shame you may be carrying, you must let them pass through you first. So, if you feel things are getting worse before they get better, don’t be disheartened.
But, if you’re really struggling with difficult emotions, it can be useful to talk to a mental health professional who can guide you through the process and offer one to one support.
Step 1: Creating awareness of your childhood and unmet needs
Before rushing into ‘solving’ any issues you know you want to work through, first it is important to ask yourself, without judgement or guilt, what your honestly childhood felt like to you.
Try to be as honest and open with yourself here as possible. Remember times when you felt hurt, sad, frightened, or lonely, and how your parent(s) responded. Journal them down.
See if you can recognise any patterns, such as a reoccurring need that was frequently unmet, or any noticeable emotional triggers for you.
Some questions that might help prompt you are:
- Did home feel safe physically and emotionally when you were growing up?
- How did your parent(s) respond to you when you were happy, hurt, sad, angry?
- How did your parent(s) respond to you when you did something ‘bad’?
- How was conflict handled at home?
- Did your parent(s) place high expectations on you? What happened when you didn’t achieve them?
- Did your parent(s) frequently weaponise things against you, such as past mistakes, your appearance, or your personality?
- When you would do something ‘wrong’ your parent would regularly respond with regular emotional outbursts, shaming, or the silent treatment?
- Did you feel loved unconditionally growing up?
- Were you told and shown you were loved regularly?
- Were you frequently shamed for your emotions, being called ‘over-sensitive’, ‘dramatic’ or ‘stupid’ when you responded to a situation emotionally?
Remember, this process can be just as much about recognising what did happen as well as what didn’t. If your parent(s) felt absent, disinterested, or preoccupied, this is also something that understandably can result in a lot of confusion and pain for a child which can last well into adulthood.
Now, try to see if you can connect the dots from these experiences to your adult life in the present. Is there a particular trigger that always sends you into a reactive tailspin that could originate from your childhood wounding?
Maybe a friend showing up late for dinner makes you lash out because it brings up an old feeling you experienced in childhood when your parent frequently forgot to pick you up from school. Or perhaps you’re extremely sensitive to criticism in your job because as a child you were made to feel like a failure when you made even a small mistake.
Chances are, there are links between the past and the present, so try to spot where old wounds are playing an active role in the here and now.
Step 2: Run a personal audit on what is no longer serving you in your life
The next step in the process of reparenting is clearing out the old to make way for the new. Let’s call this process a personal audit, where you take stock on everything that is working for you, as well as everything that isn’t.
This step can be a tricky one, because we often become attached to outdated habits, places, or people, simply because they are familiar. It’s no secret that our brains love routine, and without realising, we often commit to habits that are detrimental to our well-being.
Sometimes, even if a situation is unpleasant, it can feel scary to let the familiarity go, even if we’re stepping into something better. Remember, our lives are filled with expiration dates. If someone or something in your life has passed their expiry, it’s time to let them go.
Take a pen and paper and make a table with headings for each of the following categories that make up of your life: Lifestyle, Career, Personal Development, Mental Well-being, Physical Fitness and Well-being, Relationships (Family/Friendships), Relationships (romantic), Happiness/Peace/Fulfilment.
Now, make bullet points on what each section is like now, and whether you think this is serving you.
Then, create a list below of actionable and realistic steps you want to take to improve each area, as well as noting how you plan to remove or reduce factors which are contributing to any negativity you’re experiencing.
It is fundamental to your healing to learn how to set boundaries around things which are no longer serving you or bringing you peace. If you’re struggling with this, remember it is imperative to clear out any deadweight that is keeping you from being your happiest, best self.
Be firm with yourself and embody the role of protective parent in your own life. Ask yourself, “would I be okay with my child experiencing this situation?” If the answer is no, be firm, and remove yourself if possible. Failing that, create a firm boundary around unacceptable behaviours.
Please note: if this feels really hard for you, that is not a sign that a boundary should not be there!
Step 3: Heal your nervous system
If your childhood was emotionally turbulent and traumatic, then healing your nervous system is an absolute must.
Repeated trauma pushes the nervous system to the brink through placing the body in a constant state of fight or flight. This really dysregulates the body and can manifest as physical and mental illness.
If you’re interested in just how much trauma can affect the body, check out Psychology Today’s article When Trauma Gets Stuck in the Body.
Returning to the body and rewiring the nervous system so you feel safe plays a huge role in reparenting yourself. Nervous system healing such as meditation, yoga, cold exposure, breathwork, intentional movement (walking, sprints, heavy lifting) and grounding in nature teaches us it is safe to return to the body.
If feeling safe in your body was a lesson that your parent(s) skipped teaching you as a child, it is crucial to make sure your inner parent step in and helps you learn these skills as an adult.
Step 4: Build trust in yourself by keeping small habits daily
Creating a realistic and calming personal ritual such as a morning or night-time routine is an essential part of the reparenting process. Think of it like this.
As a child, would you trust a parent who said they were going to do something, but frequently didn’t follow through? Of course not. You’d rightfully feel frustrated, confused, and probably hurt.
The same process applies to yourself. If you struggle to commit to things that you know are good for you, and fail to keep promises to yourself, it is going to be very difficult to trust your own word. But if you keep small promises to yourself daily, you’re going to feel you can trust yourself more and therefore, feel safer.
Building habits is just like building a muscle-it takes dedication and practise!
So, give yourself permission to fail sometimes while you build your strength. You’ll get there in the end.
Step 5: Recognise and reprogram your inner critic
If you ever feel like you are your own worst enemy, you’re not alone. It can be hard enough brushing off other people’s hurtful comments, but what about the comments we make about ourselves inside our own heads?
These can be some of the most painful of all and can be incredibly difficult to overcome.
Another term often used for how we speak to ourselves in our heads is called an inner critic. This is the voice in your head who calls you names, brings you down, and insults you. There are two things to know about it.
The first is that it doesn’t always tell the truth.
In fact, There are a few ways you can spot when your inner critic has taken the wheel. For instance, the inner critic often deals in absolutes: “you must be x way before you can feel x”, “you’re the only person who does x”, “you’re the most x person in this room”.
The inner critic also doesn’t sound like your internal voice-more like it is an unwelcome invader who rudely broadcasts itself in your head. That leads us to point number two:
Your inner critic is often an internalised voice of a negative figure from your childhood. Often, it mirrors the voice of a parent.
This is especially true if your parent was regularly critical, dismissive, or mean to you.
Seriously, next time your inner critic takes the floor, ask yourself where have you heard this before. Is anything about the way it speaks familiar to you? From the wording it uses, to the tone of the delivery, to the message it is trying to send you,
How we talk to ourselves matters. So, when your inner critic pitches in, come back at it with the voice of your loving, inner parent. Find a process that works for you.
If you’re stuck, a simple “we don’t talk to ourselves like that anymore” is a good centring statement that can bring you back to a point of awareness if your inner critic is being particularly vocal.
Identifying your inner critic is the first step in reprogramming it so that it is less formidable. Whilst it’s likely you’ll never get rid of your inner critic completely, you can change your relationship to it through building the voice of your inner parent.
Sifting through who you actually are vs who you have been programmed to believe yourself to be is an incredibly powerful experience that allows you to clear out other people’s emotional baggage that you’ve internalised.
Once you recognise what is yours versus what is someone else’s projections, it’s much easier to step into you who authentically are without the weight of their limiting beliefs holding you back.
Step 6: Inner child work
Reconnecting with your inner child as a nurturing inner parent can help heal remaining wounds that are left over from your childhood.
Reconnecting with fun activities that you liked to do or wanted to try as a child can be a rewarding exercise that helps continue the work of healing your nervous system, so your body feels like a safe place to experience life in.
Some examples of how you might reconnect with your inner child are:
- Engaging in play (being goofy, rearrange your room just because, build a fort)
- Being creative (drawing, painting, sewing, gardening, reading comic books)
- Enjoy simple pleasures (eating an ice cream on a sunny day, splashing in puddles as you walk)
- Write a letter to your inner child. You might ask questions about them, or help explain something you know they were finding difficult growing up, or offer them reassurance that you’re here now to look out for them.
If you’re new to the process of reparenting, we hope this article has given you some useful steps to help you along your journey.
Even if at times doing the work feels like a rocky ride, remember, you’re doing it for that childhood version of you who was scared, confused and alone trying to figure out the big and scary world by themselves.
Deep breaths. You’ve got this.
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