If you had told me 15 years ago that I would be spending a Saturday morning in a room with 35 other people talking about “Healing and Re-parenting the Wounded Child Within,” I would have mocked you. I would have mocked you mercilessly, derisively and with glee.
So, when my clients raise their eyebrows and say to me, “I don’t believe in any of that woo-woo crap,” part of me wants to nod in agreement and say, “I know; it’s the stupidest thing ever, isn’t it?”
However, there is another part of me that knows that over the last 15 years I have gotten from point A to point B by engaging in this same ‘woo-woo crap’ and that it is one of the simplest and most powerful things that changes and enriches my life. When my clients raise their brows at me, that parts thinks, “This is going to be fun.”
Here is what it means to re-parent the wounded child: It is a way to change the relationship you have with yourself.
Are you familiar with that voice inside your head that runs a never-ending commentary about you and everything you do? The voice that tells you how you are doing or looking all the time. You know, the one that is merciless and derisive?
There are many names for this voice: the inner critic, the critical parent, the self-talk tape, etc. This voice is often the internalized voice of our real-life parents.
It is not the part of our parents that was affirming or loving or nurturing. It is the part of our parents (because all parents have their own internalized critic) that was critical or judgmental or conditional in their love.
The degree to which your parents were either operating from their nurturing selves or their critical selves when they parented you is the degree to which you will struggle with your own internalized critical parent.
Because here is what is true: we parent ourselves the way we were parented. This internal voice reflects the relationship we have with ourselves and often mirrors the relationship we experienced with our parents.
The internalized critical parent is the part of us that tells us we are not doing things right, we do not look right, we are not acceptable in some way. The critical parent tells us we are too much or not enough. It uses guilt, shame and pressure to motivate, and it holds an unrealistic standard over our heads.
Re-parenting ourselves means identifying this critical voice and gently, with great care and kindness, nudging it out of the way and bringing in our nurturing parent self to replace it. The nurturing parent is the part of you that can validate your feelings, acknowledge what is happening at any given moment inside of you and respond with affirmation and attention. The nurturing parent pays attention to what you need throughout the day and makes sure you get it.
Author and speaker Pia Mellody, who developed a model for healing from childhood trauma, designed the following matrix to illustrate the differences between our critical parent selves and our nurturing parent selves.
|Critical Parent||Nurturing Parent|
One exercise I regularly give clients is to set a reminder on their phone to alert them several times throughout the day. When they hear the alarm, they are to stop what they are doing and take several slow breaths, while they come out of their busy minds and down into their bodies. They can then tune into what they are feeling and kindly ask themselves what they need in that particular moment. Once they have identified what is happening for them, they can then bring their nurturing parent into the picture to affirm their feelings and determine how best to meet their current need.
Want to know the most common thing people report first figuring out that they need? To use the bathroom. No joke. Often we are so used to living up in our minds, disconnected from our bodies, that we aren’t even attending to our most basic needs like using the bathroom, getting a drink of water, having a snack, or standing up to stretch.
This exercise can begin a process of learning how to change the relationship you have with yourself and to care for yourself in a radically new way. Life becomes much kinder, gentler, with a lot more freedom, acceptance and joy when you learn to tend yourself. And soon, true self-care–not the “I treated myself to a Pedi” variety–but emotionally satisfying care for the self becomes your new normal.
If you want to learn more about how to re-parent yourself, you can attend the upcoming workshop Healing and Re-parenting the Wounded Child Within from 9-12:30 on February 18, 2017 at the Center for Relational Recovery. To register please contact Mary Thomas at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 571-442-1898.