“As you grow older, you will discover that you have two hands, one for helping yourself, the other for helping others.” ~Maya Angelou
The act of self-care has a longstanding history starting with its origins in the 1960’s in helping clinical patients build a sense of autonomy and independence. Since then, self-care has become synonymous with creating a healthy lifestyle to include proper diet, exercise and occasional “pampering” as preventative measures.
However, preventative measures aren’t enough. We can eat sensibly, jog our asses off, take a trip to health spa, or swallow our weight in supplements everyday and may not be any closer to growth. While I’m the first to admit I love cashing in on a couple extra hours of sleep as much as the next person, self-care has continued to evolve as more than simple preventative care.
Today’s self-care has become more radical; embracing not only the preventative but also the past — by digging deeper in figuring ourselves out, while giving ourselves permission to grow. It’s more than a process, it has evolved into a practice of cultivating healthy habits, setting boundaries, creating space in our lives and, most importantly, respecting our inner child.
Finding Our Inner Child
I often refer back to our earliest conditioning and lived experiences because how we were raised influences our adult lives both consciously, and unconsciously. Bowlby’s work on development and attachment gives us a richer understanding of how our bonds to primary caregivers can set the stage for our attachments throughout our lives.
If you were among the lucky ones to have formed secure attachments with your parents growing up, you probably scored a solid foundation for building your inner child. On the flip-side are those who may have been handed an avoidant or anxious attachment style which leaves them vulnerable for push-pull relationships, emotionally unavailable partners (or self), and in reparenting themselves later in life.
Because our attachment is critical to how we view ourselves and those in our lives, it also guides us on how (or whether) our inner child needs guidance.
Equally important are humanistic theories such as Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Because our needs are critical to our development and growth, when our needs have gone unmet or were met inconsistently early in life, a needs-deficit can impact our adult lives and influence our relationships — creating relationships based on self-serving need, people-pleasing behavior or self-sabotaging agendas.
While there are many theories that talk about our “inner child”, perhaps none are as relatable as Carl Jung’s theory of a ‘child’ archetype. A common goal in Jungian psychotherapy is learning how to recognize our inner child as a part of our self that needs to be (re)taught Self-love. By learning about our inner child, we can begin purging compulsions or misbeliefs we may hold about ourselves while healing self-sabotaging habits.
In Jungian philosophy, our “inner child” is a metaphor for part of our collective unconscious that affects our conscious mind — adding shade, highlight and definition to our habits, patterns and beliefs in ourselves.
For those of us who have an underdeveloped inner child, there may be deep pain or traumatic events that unfolded early in life where our inner child stopped emotionally growing at the age of the earliest event. For those healing their inner child, growth is about peeling back the layers until we get to the age our inner child was initially hurt, and rebuilding from there.
Radical Self-Love And Reparenting Our Inner Child
Reparenting our inner child is the practice of building self-trust, self-love and self-validation. In order for us to reparent our inner child, we have to provide ourselves (and our inner child) a safe space for the process.
If core wounds were developed early in life, our inner child can be self-destructive — showing up in self-defeating behaviors, emotional outbursts, misbeliefs about our Self, or a belief that we are “broken” or undeserving of love. These behaviors are often projected outward on those we love the most.
Becoming aware of our inner child is a process in itself. Some theorists have suggested creating art or writing a letter to ourselves to get in touch with our inner child while others suggest that healing begins by examining what we were taught at a young age and how it affected us.
Regardless of the process you choose, reparenting should include several important steps.
Create Space. Space is needed to allow for quiet reflection. It can be your room, or office but it should be a safe place where you’re without any distraction and can be fully present in the process.
Prepare for Triggers. Emotional triggers are our mind and body’s way of telling us there’s more healing to be done. The fact is, triggers actually serve a healthy purpose. More often than not, how we react to a trigger mirrors the situation that caused the trigger for us as a child.
For example, if playing loud music in your room made your mother bang on the door and scream to turn it down, then hearing loud music may now be a trigger where you might panic or withdraw in its aftermath. Core wounds are often expressed as triggers, so paying attention to what triggers you can help in reparenting your inner child.
Journaling. As you become more aligned with the process, journaling can help with insights into old habits, misbeliefs or toxic conditioning that no longer serve in your growth. For example, by re-examining painful childhood experiences through adult eyes, you’re able to “rewrite” the ending so that the experience no longer causes you pain. This is also a great method for building self-awareness and empowerment.
Get Comfortable Being Uncomfortable. The process and practice of Self-love and Self-care require some discomfort. If we’re complacent, we’re comfortable — or comfortably stuck in a rut. When we opt for growth, we’re pushing ourselves out of the rut and into discomfort. By allowing ourselves to feel awkward, uncomfortable, and unsure, we’re also allowing our inner child to turn to us for comfort and strength, which can help in the reparenting process.
Grieving. One of the biggest processes in reparenting is allowing ourselves to grieve. If we were abandoned, betrayed, or victimized, we need to allow ourselves to feel those emotions, and to be present for our inner child.
If our basic needs went unmet, we need to grieve a childhood where we lacked stability or safety and to teach ourselves how to provide for it now.
If we got screwed out of having a healthy attachment towards others, we need to grieve those losses, and begin to (re)build healthier foundations.
While most of us are familiar with Kubler-Ross’ 5 Stages of Grief (denial, anger, depression, bargaining, and acceptance), prior to that is Bowlby’s Four Stages which include shock, yearning, despair and recovery.
Because our attachment style is a constant overarching theme, how we begin grieving, and how we reach acceptance (or recovery) is based on how well we can navigate through the process.
The more aligned we are with the process of radical Self-love, the easier the process of reparenting and Self-care can be.
. . .
Alan P., T. (1969). Self-care unit: Some lessons in institutional power. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 33(5), 561–570.
Bourque, E. J., & Noonan, M. J. (1964, August). An evaluative study of changes in psychosocial status related to a period of living in a self-care exit unit. Newsletter for Research in Psychology, 6(3), 37–38.
Bowlby, J., 1982. Attachment. New York: Basic Books.
Bowlby, J. (1978). Attachment theory and its therapeutic implications. Adolescent Psychiatry, 6, 5–33.
Capacchione, L. (1991). Recovery of your inner child. New York: Simon & Schuster.
James, M., & Goulding, M. (1998). Self-reparenting and redecision. Transactional Analysis Journal, 28(1), 16–19.
Jung, C. G. (1963). Memories, dreams, reflections. New York: Pantheon Books.
Maslow, A. (1943). A theory of human motivation. Psychological Review, 50, 370–396.
This post was previously published on Medium.com.
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