Children are born without any means to defend themselves or face the world. Children are totally dependent upon their parents for love, acceptance, and shelter. Sometimes parents fail to provide the emotional, psychological, and physical shelter required for healthy children. This results in adults who are stuck in trauma-time who remain forever ruled by an inside force, the wounded inner child.
There is a method for adults who were traumatized and not parented in childhood. It is called reparenting. This article will explore reparenting as a solution to the many damaging effects leftover from original parenting gone awry.
The Wounded Inner Child
The inner child lives in each human and is the core of who they are as people. The inner child is molded by the directions we receive in childhood that teach us how to parent ourselves. Painful, traumatic experiences, along with a lack of nurturing by dysfunctional parents, leave deep wounds in the inner child, and this, in turn, contaminates adult behaviors (Kneisl 1991).
These inside parts of ourselves have a significant impact on how we see ourselves and how we behave as adults. Some signs you have a wounded child might 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
- You 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 ridged 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 what the cost
- Have a deep-seated fear of abandonment
If you recognize yourself in many (not necessarily all) of the above-listed items, then there is a high chance that you have a wounded inner child.
What is Reparenting?
Some children live in environments where their parents are unavailable, either physically or emotionally. In some cases, as with the development of complex post-traumatic stress disorder (CPTSD), children are harmed by those who were supposed to protect and guard them. In fact, the following quote is valid: “The term reparenting designates a therapeutic operation by means the patient is offered new parental figures with positive characteristics” (Del Casale et al. 1982)
These inner children need reparenting.
Adults can’t return to their childhood and begin again. So, basically, reparenting means giving yourself what you did not receive in childhood from the original parents. Reparenting involves learning to give your wounded inner child all the love, respect, and dignity they deserved when you were young.
Sometimes survivors do not like the notion that someone else cannot reparent them. They balk at the knowledge that no one else can do the job but themselves. While it may not be what we adults want, learning to become our own parent is the only option to overcome bad parenting we received in the past.
The Life Skill That Was Never Taught
Children are supposed to learn many life skills from their parents, including how to take care of their own emotional and physical needs. These life skills include:
- Love and Respect
- Self-Belief and Self-Confidence
- Emotional Management
- Good Communication Skills
Let’s examine together each of these life skills.
Love and Respect. Parents are supposed to teach their children to speak to themselves in a kind and compassionate manner. Children need to learn to respect their values and believes but to be brave enough to challenge whether they are correct or not. Kids need to be taught to respect their bodies and to set appropriate boundaries. They also need to know when to let go of people who do not respect them.
Children also need to learn to value, love, and respect others, accepting other beliefs and backgrounds. They need to learn not to force their beliefs onto others and to express opinions in a manner that respects other’s feelings.
If any of these skills is missing, the child grows into an adult who not only does not love and respect themselves but also lacks respect for others.
Self-Belief and Self-Confidence. These two qualities can only be learned through experience, and it is up to parents to instill in their children to have self-belief. This belief system allows children to have the courage to take the necessary risks to further themselves in the world.
Teaching children that there is no such thing as a failure only opportunities to learn sets them up to try new things and to accept their faults. These kids will be more confident and competent in everything they do.
When parents do not teach their kids self-belief and self-confidence, they allow their children to internalize any mistakes they might make and to wallow in their failures. Children whose parents did not teach them self-belief and self-confidence grow into adults who are afraid to try new things and would rather be a follower rather than a leader.
Emotional Management. Learning to manage one’s emotions is one of the most important things a parent can teach their child. Children learn emotional management from watching their parent’s example, and if the parent does not regulate their own emotions, the child will not either.
The result is adults who are ruled by their emotions and who will be unable to respond appropriately to emotional stimuli. When faced with feeling depressed or scared, these adults are unable to act, and if nothing changes, nothing changes.
These adults become caught in a cycle.
Good Communication Skills. The success of adults both professionally and personally relies upon the quality of their communication skills. Parents are to teach their children to use and listen to both verbal and non-verbal communications and respond with authenticity, sensitivity, and actively.
When children are not taught to listen to others, they grow up to be adults who are unable to cultivate respectful relationships both at work and at home. Forming deep and lasting relationships becomes extremely difficult when communication skills are compromised by a lack of parenting.
How Does Reparenting work?
It may seem counterintuitive to think that an adult can be reparented by someone other than their original parents. In fact, many survivors fall into the trap of wanting their original parents to finish the job and hold resentment towards them because they cannot.
At the beginning of treatment, reparenting, a form of transactional analysis occurs when a therapist assumes the role of a new parental figure. The therapist begins to teach their client various life skills that can aid in the child, now an adult, in learning to live productively in the real world.
Reparenting must be carried out carefully by the therapist so that, eventually, the reigns can be turned over to the adult who must then carry on the lessons on their own. To be clear, this is supposed to be what happened initially, but the original parents were too damaged or self-involved to carry out these actions.
After instilling into their client, all the lessons they can, the therapist slowly backs off and instead helps the adult to attempt by trial and error to live successfully. The therapist needs to be vigilant that their client does not become entirely dependent on them. The idea is for the adult to grow into their own parent, not for the therapist to become a forever parent to their client.
Forms of Reparenting
While reparenting sounds straightforward, there are several different methods and forms of carrying out this form of psychotherapy.
- Total Regression
- Time-Limited Regression
- Spot Reparenting
Below we shall look at each one. It is critical to remember that therapists sometimes employ more than one method of reparenting.
Total Regression. First developed by Jacqui Lee Schiff, this type of reparenting was derived from transactional analysis theory. Transactional analysis theory suggests that social transactions can be analyzed to determine the state of the communicator as parent-like, childlike, or adult-like based on their behavior.
The survivor lives with the therapist for several years in an institution setting, during which time they are cared for and nurtured by their therapist. The therapist offers all the care and nurturing the survivor needs with the goal of totally changing the client’s parent ego state (Schiff 1977).
Obviously, this form of reparenting technique is seldom if ever used in the United States.
Time-Limited Regression. Developed by Thomas Wilson, time-limited reparenting is used to treat patients who live with the diagnosis of schizophrenia. The client is required to attend five two-hour sessions with the therapist instead of living with them. During this time, nurturing is offered that is more intense and more structured than total regression reparenting (Moroney 1985).
While this form of reparenting is primarily used with people who have schizophrenia, it can also be helpful for those who have CPTSD.
Spot Reparenting. This form of reparenting was developed by Russell Osnes and involves less time-intensity than regression therapy. This form of reparenting focuses on survivor’s traumatized by specific traumas and incidences rather than just on general disturbances in childhood (Osnes 1974).
Self-Reparenting. This form of self-parenting is the most popular of the reparenting methods used today. Self-reparenting was developed Muriel James and involved not replacing the parent ego state but confirming the positive aspects already present in the survivor’s ego. Instead of the therapy being reliant on the therapist being the parent, instead, the survivor is the primary agent (James 1998).
This form of self-parenting is incredibly powerful as it allows the person to learn from the therapist but to be their own agent in their recovery. Thus, they learn to love, respect, and care about themselves the way they should have been taught by their parents of origin.
Giving Yourself What You Did Not Receive as a Child
There is no substitute for good parenting. However, if you did not receive what you needed in childhood, it is never too late to begin anew by reparenting yourself.
Reparenting yourself allows you to give yourself all the love, respect, and dignity you did not receive in childhood. As your own parent, you can spend your time enjoying your years on planet earth because you feel stable, happy, and able.
Take time to listen to how you speak to yourself. Do you talk negatively, calling yourself the names you heard when you were a kid? Or do you tell yourself that you are good and worthwhile?
At first, it may seem awkward self-parenting, but with practice, you can not only contact your wounded inner child but heal the scars that exist deep down in your psyche.
Here are a few tips to reparenting yourself:
- Use positive affirmations such as “I am a good person.”
- Talk to your adult self to ask for aid in grown-up decisions
- Give rewards to yourself every day
- Get plenty of sleep
- Write in a reparenting notebook a daily to-do list and celebrate when you have completed the tasks
- Practice mindfulness to remain present
- Tell yourself that you love you even if it feels awkward
- Think about the good memories you had in childhood
- Make new “good” memories and traditions
By reparenting yourself you will find a powerful ally who will ever stick with you through thick and thin, yourself.