“Reparenting yourself,” even though it might sound like hokey therapy-speak, is one of the most central ideas to healing and personal growth. Some of us might need more reparenting than others, but we can all benefit from it, because there isn’t a person alive who had perfect parents. Like perfect people, they simply don’t exist.
Reparenting is a simple idea. It means that we learn to love, nurture, and forgive ourselves the way we missed out on being loved, nurtured, and forgiven as children. We learn to replace the negative messages we learned either overtly (from sadistic parents/caregivers) or inadvertently (from unthinking and fallible parents/caregivers), with more positive ones.
Many people get stuck in patterns of seeking the validation they didn’t get as children. This is a normal impulse, but without awareness of our true needs, we tend to answer this extraordinarily human calling at the wrong address. For example, we might continue to seek approval from our invalidating parents far into adulthood (which, without some major epiphany on the part of the parent, we will never get) or we re-direct the impulse into finding a romantic partner who can fully validate us (a human impossibility), or we look for the validation in our own parenting, from our children (also an impossibility, and itself a form of invalidation for the child), or we bury the pain of the invalidation under a mountain of seemingly unrelated behavior like addiction and other compulsive behavior.
Many of us do all of the above. (I know I did, minus the having children part.) On a rudimentary level, it’s actually healthy, or at least the impulse itself is: trying to get the validation we hunger for is an attempt at self-care. As is, oddly enough, addiction (compulsive behavior being a way we both distract and soothe ourselves). So even if our efforts haven’t been very effective thus far, we can congratulate ourselves for making them. Our natural instinct to feel better is healthy and normal, and we’re doing the right thing by trying to pay attention to it. This is, in itself, an attempt at reparenting.
But it is far more effective to become aware of your brokenness on as deep a level as you can and find healthier, more self-loving ways to heal. You may have inklings about how your present behaviors are linked to your past; you may suspect that your childhood wasn’t as perfect as you once believed. You may have disturbing dreams or memories that recur regularly, or you may be plagued by symptoms of depression, shame, rage, or low self-esteem. All of these, and more (look within!) are your deepest, inner, truest self crying out for attention. She knows how desperately in need of reparenting she is. Your first job of reparenting is merely to listen to her–in a way you were never listened to as a child.
We avoid the truth of our situation because it hurts too much to face it. And the truth does hurt. But if we want to truly heal and move on, face it we must–and thus begin the reparenting process in earnest. Any sort of awareness-building activities, activities meant to answer questions like Why do I feel so bad about myself all the time and Will I ever be happy and Can I ever feel truly lovable/worthy/valued/special, are attempts at reparenting. You may research your pain on the Internet or in books. You may seek out relief by talking to friends or journaling or writing letters you don’t intend to send. You may begin meditating to get in touch with your deeper thoughts and feelings. All of these are great help in learning reparenting; I did all of them, and they helped me immensely. But they may not go far enough.
For many of us, therapy is our first experience in reparenting. While reparenting is ultimately something we must do for ourselves, therapy can often be our first connection with a truly validating and supportive “other.” In fact, the reparenting experience is one of the most valuable experiences we can get from therapy, if not the most valuable. In experiencing real validation from another person, we learn what validation feels like–mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually. Until that happens, it can be very difficult even to comprehend what we’ve been missing; what we’ve been searching for in all the wrong places. But once we’ve experienced of validation, we can begin to internalize it and actively seek it out in our personal relationships. (And if you don’t have this experience with a therapist, if you leave her office feeling bad and confused on a regular basis, then you should probably look for another therapist.)
Some people are fortunate enough to find reparenting experiences with friends or romantic partners. They have the experience of feeling heard and from it, are able to do a lot of healing from their past. Others instinctively seek out reparenting without really knowing this is what they’re doing by forming positive relationships with mentor figures; one of my childhood friends was already doing this when she was 14. She had a lot more figured out than I did at that age.
Once you’ve had the experience of being heard and validated by another person and you know what it feels like (and you may have to experience it several times before it really sinks in), then you can begin to hear and validate yourself. You can listen to yourself, make an effort to really understand what’s going on with you, be patient, be compassionate, be forgiving. But I think that having the experience with another person first, and knowing beyond doubt that you’ve had the experience, is paramount to the process. (And trust me, you will know when it happens.) Validation from a compassionate “other” is often the critical difference between guessing at what comes next and really understanding what it is you need to do. Without it, you may just be doing a slightly more sophisticated version of approval-seeking.
Somewhat paradoxically, though, reparenting is something you must do for yourself, and this is where the real magic of it lives. The simple acceptance of this fundamental truth opens up an entirely new world, a world of personal responsibility that no longer relies on other people to change and make you feel whole. It’s scary, but freedom generally is. It’s also exhilarating, empowering, and honest.
So in reparenting, both of these are true: you must have the experience of validation from another person in order to know what it really feels like, then you must use it to learn how to validate yourself. Such self-validation is the most basic ingredient of self-love, and it’s never, ever, ever too late to learn.
Categorised as: Healing Process