I believe reparenting can be an extremely valuable skill in any inner-healing journey.
What is reparenting? Why is it needed? Who needs it? How do I reparent myself? All of this, and more (like the origins of the reparenting framework, & the challenges of using reparenting as a self-help modality), is explained in this article.
How Do You Begin To Reparent Yourself?
You begin by being willing to understand how you were parented in the first place. The word “understand” is important here – it means to see something from multiple perspectives, and without judgment. Once you begin to understand the way you were parented you’ll start understanding your defense mechanisms that were created back then as survival strategies. For instance, if as a child you got shouted at for stating your thoughts, you’d have probably learned that it’s best to not share your thoughts and feelings. As an adult, a part of you is a version of the parent who shouted at you back then. This parent version in your head may not let you share your thoughts or feelings in your relationships in the present day. Once you start to see this, you can begin to replace the parent version in your head, a.k.a., reparent yourself.
The Concept Of Reparenting
Reparenting can allow you to gain new perspectives on the way you were brought up as a child, and to develop a deeper understanding of why you are the way you are in relationships today.
If done in an effective way it can heal childhood wounds, and lead to healthier relationships, both with yourself, and others.
It involves looking at how your childhood experiences were as a child – not as the adult you are today who can rationalize everything – but as that young 3-year-old/6-year-old/12-year-old, who didn’t yet have the capacity to make sense of why they were being treated, or not treated a certain way.
The way that child made sense of whatever happened to them – good, bad, & ugly – formed certain lenses that shaped the way they today view themselves and the world around them.
Reparenting is a process of recognizing and healing old wounds, understanding how to meet your own needs (not necessarily all by yourself), setting healthy boundaries, and creating a new sense of nurturing and loving oneself.
The goal of reparenting is to create a secure, loving, and supportive environment for yourself, where you can grow, heal, and thrive.
Reparenting is beneficial for everyone, period. I say this because we all have a parent version within us, and all parents are humans! This means all parents are bound to make mistakes. However, we’re obliged to continue the mistakes. We have the agency to change the narrative.
While reparenting benefits everyone, it can be hugely beneficial for those who may have experienced specific adverse childhood experiences, like verbal/ mental/ physical/ sexual trauma, death, parental divorce, etc.
Through this process, you can gain insight into your parental relationships and develop new strategies for managing your emotions and behaviors. Reparenting yourself is a powerful way to reclaim your inner world, connect with yourself, and make changes in your life.
As A Psychoanalytical Framework
The origin of reparenting lies in psychoanalytical theories. It was first used as a way to help those who had suffered some form of trauma in childhood, such as physical or emotional abuse, to find relief from the negative effects of their childhood experiences.
It is believed that when children experience trauma, they often build an internalized view of themselves that is based on their traumatic experiences. This internalized view of themselves can lead to feelings of helplessness, low self-esteem, and difficulty forming healthy relationships.
Reparenting works to counter this internalized view by providing a safe and nurturing environment in which you can explore your feelings and find relief from the negative effects of your childhood trauma.
It can greatly help you repair your attachment pattern to your parents as you reconnect with your own inner child.
The term “reparenting” was first coined by psychotherapist and author Charles Whitfield in his book Healing the Child Within, which he published in 1988.
Does Reparenting Help?
L.M. Wissink conducted a study(1) to investigate the validity of transactional analysis (TA) theory and the practical application of self-reparenting to small-group participants as a means of enhancing their self-esteem.
They taught participants to use their Adult ego state to assess the needs and wants of their Child ego state, and then restructure their Parent ego state to meet these needs.
Results showed that participants in the treatment group as compared to the waiting control group increased their feelings of self-esteem as measured by three self-esteem scales. Additionally, participants significantly increased their sense of self-efficacy and self-actualization.
Another research(2), by Gloria Noriega Gayol, studied the use of self-reparenting techniques with female delinquents in a Mexico prison. Their aim was to prove the generalizability and usefulness of self-reparenting.
The results demonstrated a significant improvement in the teenager’s behavior, and as a result of this success, the program has become part of the ongoing treatment program at the female juvenile jail in Mexico City.
Apart from research studies, I have personally experienced the benefits of reparenting for both, myself, and the women I work with. The anecdotal data on the positive effects of reparenting is pretty significant.
The moment the reparenting process clicks for you, which it will with the right tools, you’ll tip over to having that non-judgmental space for yourself, within yourself! And I can tell you, it’s a beautiful, warm place!
Steps To Reparent Yourself
While Recovering from Emotionally Immature Parents is author, Lindsay Gibson’s, sequel to Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents, I think it can be read independently, and to me, it’s a better investment as it provides you with practical tools & processes to do the work.
If you’ve been struggling in your relationship with your parent(s), this would be a great read for you to build awareness, and understanding, & change the status quo!
In this process of healing and growth, you actively work to replace old, negative patterns of thinking, feeling, and behaving with healthier, positive ones. Broadly speaking, there are two key factors in the reparenting process.
One is to become aware of the ways in which you have been conditioned and programmed to think, feel, and behave. This can include your early childhood experiences, cultural influences, and the beliefs and values that have been passed down to you.
It is important to recognize the patterns of behavior and thinking that have been taught to you and to begin to question them. Once you have identified the patterns, the second factor comes into play.
This includes changing your self-talk, i.e., the way you talk to yourself in your mind. For instance, you drop something, and you say to yourself in your mind, “How sloppy am I?!” The moment you notice this, pause and change it. Ask yourself, “How would I treat a young, innocent child in this situation?”
And then replace that sentence with something like, “Ah, I missed that! Well, it’s okay, it happens.” Smile to yourself, and let it go. As you repeat this process every time you catch yourself, sooner than not you’ll see your parent self has evolved into a loving, kind, & compassionate parent!
Take the time to learn how to nurture and care for yourself in healthy ways. This means learning how to set appropriate boundaries, practicing self-care, getting enough rest, and taking non-apologetic time for yourself.
You can think of this process as a Six-Fold Plan, which is more simultaneous than sequential:
1. Observe, acknowledge, and accept your current thinking, feeling, and behavior patterns that aren’t working for you.
2. Explore, to understand, the root causes of these patterns – this exploration will usually take you to your childhood (0-7) years, and involve inner-child work.
3. Learn to cultivate self-compassion and kindness by being gentle and patient with yourself as this work can be rough on some days. (As shared in the example above.)
4. Invest in learning healthy ways of thinking, feeling, and behaving that are effective and holistic for you. This could likely involve therapy, self-help books, or other methods of healing.
5. Make a plan to practice and incorporate your new way of being into everyday life. This may include setting goals, creating routines, and developing self-care practices.
6. Reflect on your day-to-day as you make conscious choices – and, note and celebrate the smallest of shifts – as change doesn’t happen overnight, it happens in the tiny moment-to-moment shifts.
1. Overwhelm: The reparenting process can be quite overwhelming – from digging into early childhood memories that may not always be pleasant, to reparenting oneself that could lead to feelings of inadequacy, fear of failure, or even a sense of self-judgment.
2. Understanding Boundaries: It is easy to say, “Set strong boundaries.”, but it isn’t as easy to implement them. Boundary setting (or dropping) for those not used to it can be very unsettling and can lead to anxiety, stress, and feelings of not being good enough.
3. Connecting With Emotions: Many people with adverse childhood experiences learn to disconnect from their emotions. Reparenting requires connecting with emotions – many may have difficulty expressing them, or even feeling their own emotions.
4. Self-Judgment: I personally believe, more than half our troubles come from the voices in our head that are constantly judging and reprimanding us for everything we think, feel, or do! Self-Judgment is one of the biggest hurdles to inner work and healing, no matter what modality you use.
1. Grounding & Resourcing: This is a fundamental skill to learn if you want to heal – learning tools/ techniques/ practices that help you regulate your nervous system, signaling your brain that you are okay.
2. Arts-Based Therapies:
At times, the cognitive mind, that only thinks in concepts, gets overwhelmed and shuts down, unable to think & see clearly.
At such moments, arts-based therapies & creative expressions can save the day! According to Carl Jung, creative activity releases overwhelm, thereby, releasing associated symptomology.
Please note, that “art” is not limited to perfect paintings & playing the violin! Each one of us is an artist creating art all the time!
Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way is a book or rather a workbook of sorts (it doesn’t need a separate book!), that was a huge part of my healing journey in the year 2018 when I was struggling with processing my realization that I was re-enacting my past in my then present relationship.
Now I’m happily married to the same person! This is probably the biggest compliment to a book! Needless to say, I highly recommend it.
3. Needs & Feelings: Many people don’t have clarity on what they want, and/ or what they need. They’re also not clear on how they really feel about things that happen in their life (for example, when their partner shouts at them, or when their work is not recognized).
We may know the top layer of what we feel – for instance, anger is usually a top layer for helplessness, sadness, or feeling rejected. However, it is important to understand the deeper layers of our wants, needs, & emotions in order to resolve unhealed wounds.
4. Guidance & Support: This work is not complicated, but it is complex. And it needs guidance, it needs support. Whether you work with a healer, therapist, coach, or teacher, or learn from relevant programs, courses, workshops, or books – take your pick – as long as you pick!
I don’t believe anyone can do it all by themselves – everyone learns everything from someone, somewhere. Everything is a skill – so is Reparenting, so is Emotional Regulation, so is all of Inner-Work! Invest in learning the skill.
Reparenting is not about “blaming” your parents. In fact, a core part of reparenting involves the capacity to understand that your parents did the best they thought to be the best at the time.
Could their “best” have had problematic consequences? Absolutely. However, every single person does the best they know at any given moment, and parents are no exception to it. Just like every other human being, they have their own context, narrative, and unresolved baggage.
Reparenting is about owning responsibility for yourself, thereby, reparenting yourself.
- Reparenting is a psychoanalytical modality that replaces old, negative patterns of thinking, feeling, and behaving with healthier, positive ones.
- It needs one to become aware of their childhood & cultural conditioning and programming.
- It has been researched to significantly increase the sense of self-efficacy and self-actualization.
- While it has some application challenges, there are also antidotes to those challenges.
Have you ever tried reparenting? What is it like for you? Do you find it beneficial?
If this is the first time you’ve heard of reparenting, what are your thoughts on what you just read?
As always, I’m all ears (or should I say, all eyes) for what you have to say (or write)! Let me know in the comments below.
P.S. If you’re keen to learn more about engaging in deep inner work, I recommend reading The Whole View Method.
(1) Wissink, L. M. (1994). A Validation of Transactional Analysis in Increasing Self-Esteem among Participants in a Self-Reparenting Program. Transactional Analysis Journal, 24(3), 189–196. https://doi.org/10.1177/036215379402400306
(2) Gloria Noriega Gayol (1995) Self-Reparenting with Female Delinquents in Jail, Transactional Analysis Journal, 25:3, 208-210, DOI: 10.1177/036215379502500303 | https://doi.org/10.1177/036215379502500303