We have seen clearly in my previous set of posts how an inner critic is formed from the defence mechanisms used by the wounded, criticised child and how these can be taken forward into adulthood. Part of the process of dealing with the inner critic and the chaos it causes is to re-parent our inner child, showing it that it no-longer needs those mechanisms and the protection offered by its family of critics.
Try this: Before leaving home one morning, you took an extra effort in getting your living room cleaned, but when you return in the evening, you find it in a mess. What will your response be?
Sigh and clean up again
Shrug your shoulder and leave it as it is or get upset and cry
Shut out the person responsible
Get frustrated but keep quiet
Get angry and yell at the person
Take it in your stride, let it go and maybe clean up later.
Your response to the above situation is a reflection of your inner, self-set pattern of behaviour. This behavioural pattern has been formed and reformed over the years, starting from your birth, through reinforcement and suppression, mostly by parents or other significant people, and has now become a part of your personality and self-beliefs. Sometimes, the personality type and self-beliefs of a person may hinder healthy development and lifestyle of the person. How a child is treated affects what he/she thinks and does as an adult. Faulty upbringing need not necessarily be a result of abuse, intentional neglect or wrongdoing of parents. It may be unknowingly done and might not seem of much importance. Yet, certain instances, maybe in the form of discipline, control or conduct of significant adults (especially parents), in a child’s life, greatly influence his/her personality, his/her view of the world and relationships with self and others, as an adult. However, this becomes a very prominent issue when a person has been a victim of child abuse in any form, or has been a part of a dysfunctional family. In most cases though, the way parents treat a child is largely dependent on how they were treated as children. Even in cases where the parenting techniques are wrong, the same parental pattern goes on for generations until someone realises their mistake. But just knowing the problem is never enough. A solution and remedy has to be found and used. One way of doing this is by reparenting.
What is Reparenting?
Reparenting deals with three aspects of an individual. They are: Adult,Inner Child and Parent.The Adult is the individual, the Inner Child is the childhood stage at which the individual was wronged and the Parent is a therapist (or the individual) who gives the right response the child should have received. Thus, reparenting is nothing but going back to the stage in which the adult was wronged and satisfying or making peace with the inner child hidden inside by giving the response and fulfilling the needs that were required at that time by self counselling or therapy.
Reparenting the Inner Child
The feelings and beliefs that the inner child carries have two different causes. One is the inner critic attacks in the adult’s present life and the second is the things that happened in childhood, usually criticism from parents and care-givers. The pain that the critic causes in the present is bad enough but it also aggravates the inner child and makes that pain worse, ultimately strengthening the inner critic. To start the reparenting process, it is important to access and work with the inner child and treat it with empathy and compassion, feel its pain and witness the situations that caused it pain. Your inner child has been hidden for a long time, so you have to bear in mind that your inner child may not know how to express certain feelings. They may believe that they’re not allowed to express their feelings, or that their feelings are unimportant. They believe that they are unimportant and also believe the lies that they were told. All these things you have to keep in mind, and slowly encourage them to express the way they feel/think.
According to John Bradshaw, author of “Home Coming: Reclaiming and Championing Your Inner Child,” the process of healing your wounded inner child is one of grief. And it involves these seven steps (in Bradshaw’s words):
For your wounded inner child to come out of hiding, he must be able to trust that you will be there for him. Your inner child also needs a supportive, non-shaming ally to validate his abandonment, neglect, abuse, and enmeshment. Those are the first essential elements in original pain work.
If you’re still inclined to minimise and/or rationalise the ways in which you were shamed, ignored, or used to nurture your parents, you need now to accept the fact that these things truly wounded your soul. Your parents weren’t bad, they were just wounded kids themselves.
If this is all shocking to you, that’s great, because shock is the beginning of grief. After shock comes depression and then denial.
It’s okay to be angry, even if what was done to you was unintentional. In fact, you HAVE to be angry if you want to heal your wounded inner child. I don’t mean you need to scream and holler (although you might). It’s just okay to be mad about a dirty deal. I know [my parents] did the best that two wounded adult children could do. But I’m also aware that I was deeply wounded spiritually and that it has had life-damaging consequences for me. What that means is that I hold us all responsible to stop what we’re doing to ourselves and to others. I will not tolerate the outright dysfunction and abuse that dominated my family system.
After anger comes hurt and sadness. If we were victimised, we must grieve that betrayal. We must also grieve what might have been–our dreams and aspirations. We must grieve our unfulfilled developmental needs.
When we grieve for someone who has died, remorse is sometimes more relevant; for instance, perhaps we wish we had spent more time with the deceased person. But in grieving childhood abandonment, you must help your wounded inner child see that there was nothing he could have done differently. His pain is about what happened to him; it is not about him.
The deepest core feelings of grief are toxic shame and loneliness. We were shamed by [our parents’] abandoning us. We feel we are bad, as if we’re contaminated. And that shame leads to loneliness. Since our inner child feels flawed and defective, he has to cover up his true self with his adapted false self. He then comes to identify himself by his false self. His true self remains alone and isolated. Staying with this last layer of painful feelings is the hardest part of the grief process. “The only way out is through,” we say in therapy. It’s hard to stay at that level of shame and loneliness; but as we embrace these feelings, we come out the other side. We encounter the self that’s been in hiding. You see, because we hid it from others, we hid it from ourselves. In embracing our shame and loneliness, we begin to touch our truest self.