Childhood isn’t simply a stage of life that we pass through on our way to adulthood and leave behind when we become “mature.” Rather, much like how a tree trunk grows outward from its base in “rings” over the years, our childhood stays with us forever as the core of our being which all new experiences build upon.
Although our society likes to glamourize childhood as a carefree period filled with happiness, many people have difficult upbringings that act as unstable foundations for adulthood. If you grew up with a parent or guardian who was abusive, neglectful or emotionally immature, you may find these techniques for reparenting yourself to be helpful, healing, and insightful.
What is Reparenting?
In broad strokes, reparenting is a self-directed process of supplying yourself with the love, support and validation that your parents may have failed to provide. Many people with difficult upbringings find themselves lacking the critical coping skills, confidence and positive self-talk that adults need to thrive. These exercises are designed to help you consciously develop these traits over time.
1. Connect with and comfort your inner child
Picture your younger self at whichever age where you felt particularly lost and unloved. See yourself at this age standing in front of you, and imagine embracing your younger self in a loving and comforting hug. Pay attention to how you feel as you hug yourself, and try to imagine how your younger self would feel on the receiving end. What words might you say to your younger self to comfort or encourage them? What questions might you ask to show them you’re engaged with their wellbeing? How does your younger self thank you for your support? Allow this scenario to naturally unfold in your imagination. Repeat this exercise every day, and observe how your feelings toward your younger self change over time.
2. Relive and revise a bad childhood memory
For this exercise–take on the point-of-view of your younger self as you remember a negative experience that still troubles you to this day (please note, however, that extremely traumatic experiences are better revisited with expert supervision and guidance). Allow the memory to play out as you recall it. Then, replay the memory once more and, this time, revise the memory to unfold as you wish it had happened. Allow yourself to feel the positive emotions that arise when you imagine receiving the treatment that your childhood self would have appreciated. Afterwards, let the memory go. This technique–often known as revision has been known to have positive impacts on a person’s subconscious mind and overall mental health.
3. Challenge and Change Your Inner Voice
Many people listen to their inner voice without really hearing how their self-talk would sound if spoken aloud to someone else. For this exercise, pay attention to the way you address yourself internally and imagine you’re a loving parent that’s hearing their child being spoken to by another person (that person being your inner voice). What would that sound like? If you’re prone to negative self-talk, it might sound like your inner child is being addressed by a bully or unfair critic. Challenge that voice with the same protective instinct you would use to intervene in this imagined scenario. The part of you that speaks up in the child’s defense is likely a better candidate for the kind of inner voice you should begin employing full-time.
All these reparenting exercises are based on therapeutic techniques used by clinical specialists to help their clients. If you’d like to pursue the reparenting process with an expert’s assistance, check out the list of services offered by the accredited mental health professionals at Valley Oaks Health.