- Candace van Dell, Candace van Dell is a public speaker, author, and spiritual coach that specializes in healing emotional wounds and shadow work.
- Katie Luman, LPC, Katie Luman, LPC, is a therapist based out of Marietta, Georgia. She specializes in boundary-setting, anxiety, and codependency.
- Nicole LePera, PhD, Nicole LePera, PhD, is a holistic psychologist, author, and founder of The SelfHealers Circle, an online self-led community for trauma healing.
Reparenting is a therapeutic technique that encompasses several different methods, exercises, approaches, and schools of thought, according to Katie Luman, LPC, a therapist who specializes in boundaries and codependency. It can either be done within a client and therapist relationship or practiced individually. This therapy model involves identifying the nature of your inner child, needs that you have, emotions you may need room to feel, and the practice of recreating structure or "parenting" yourself in ways that you should have had as a child. For example, reparenting can mean making room for sadness around cleaning your room, acknowledging that your parents treated cleaning like a punishment, making new rituals that allow for learning and childlike joy around cleaning, and creating rules for yourself that you can follow. If you're looking to heal your inner child with reparenting therapy, the following steps are a great place to start.
How To Practice Reparenting Therapy
1. Identify if you're ready to engage with your childhood and how it affects you now.
A precursor to a lot of inner child and past trauma healing is identifying where you're at currently. Sometimes, especially if someone has not yet processed, healed, or confronted experiences they had at a young age, this work can be really difficult.
It's not a sign of weakness to gauge whether or not you feel ready to interrogate some of your oldest wounds. In fact, this is a really important step because it can help you identify if you feel comfortable practicing reparenting therapy on your own or if you need to seek out a clinician, according to Dr. LePera.
The reparenting can happen in multiple ways; according to Luman, a therapist can model a positive parenting role to the client that the client has never experienced before, or a person can pursue reparenting independently.
2. Start by trying to identify your inner child.
This step is one of the hardest parts for people beginning this work. "The inner child is the part of us who has unresolved issues, emotional wounds, or unmet needs," says Dr. LePera. This is because sometimes, the concept of the inner child is slightly confusing. The definition is not set in stone, but according to the Foundation for Post-Traumatic Healing and Complex Trauma Research explains that the inner child (originally coined by psychologist Carl Jung) is the collection of feelings, emotions, need, memories, and messaging that was absorbed in early childhood that continues to inform a person's behavior in the present day.
The thinking behind the inner child is that your early childhood years are extremely formative for the rest of your life, and therefore the painful experiences you had during that time where your needs may not have been met or you experienced trauma can inform how you process things in the present day.
To start to listen to your inner child, Dr. LePera explains that you can engage in a lot of different activities like taking notes about how you feel, what angers you, what upsets you, and what you do in these instances. Once you have these notes, you can then try to offer yourself room to feel or experience bigger emotions that come up for you.
3. Test out activities that make room for big emotions.
According to Luman, you can write a letter to your parents from your inner child, journal about one specific feeling, log times that you "lose your cool" or get overwhelmed and note details that led up to this. All of these things can allow you to feel your feelings that you may be suppressing. Much of the time, as a result of neglect, abuse, abandonment, or confrontation from parents, people have coping mechanisms that don't allow them to feel the extent of their feelings and process them fully.
"Many times in households where a child grows up in an abusive environment, they learn that their needs and wants do not matter and that they are never to question authority. Writing exercises allow a safe space for the individual to begin using their voice, stating boundaries, listing what was and was not okay, and how they will not allow such mistreatment again in their lives," says Luman.
Reparenting can be about meeting yourself where you're at, affirming that it's okay to have a painful feeling, and letting yourself experience it instead of shoving it down or numbing it out with things like phones, TV, or substances.
Caring for a pet is an activity that could allow for inner healing. Van Dell says that a pet can represent an external embodiment of your inner child. “Sharing unconditional love like that and having the reflection of your own love and care does something special to children and to our inner children,” Van Dell says. “If you can't get a pet, start doing something just for yourself that brings you joy and feels special. This is the energy of the inner child.”
4. Acknowledge unmet needs in your life.
Another step within reparenting therapy, according to Luman, is to take stock of needs of yours that aren't met. This can look like surveying current problem areas in your life. For instance, are you falling asleep at work or school? Then the need you have is getting more sleep. Do you get into arguments with your partner when you're angry? Then the need you may have is to eat more and plan your meals better. These can seem simple; however, lurking behind them could be the feeling that you don't deserve to eat or shouldn't eat too much because that is something you internalized from your childhood.
In order to heal, give yourself what you didn’t receive from your parents. “This might mean validating our own emotions, creating boundaries, finding play and flexibility, or cultivating more discipline,” Dr. LePera says.
Reparenting can sometimes just be about realizing what you are not getting and giving it to yourself, according to Dr. LePera. The act of meeting your own needs can teach you that you can rely on yourself to survive. This is one of the most important aspects of reparenting therapy. Cultivating safety and stability is a huge part of this work, according to Luman.
"Reparenting yourself is about making choices every day in your own best interest," LePera says. "It's becoming aware of your patterns and behaviors, especially understanding why you do what you do." That awareness and understanding alone are powerful.
5. Implement boundaries, rules, or disciplines that you can trust yourself to keep.
"Reparenting can provide clients with therapeutic emotional experiences that let them experience the security of a close, trustworthy parent," says Homan. "Clients develop a felt sense of safety that may be novel via the practice of sharing and emotional risk-taking."
"You can start exercising by getting a total of 8 hours of sleep and having a specific bedtime that you can trust, giving yourself small rewards, talking to yourself kindly, and asking for help with adult stuff. You should take the first step with your daily affirmations and trust the process," says Luman.
Who Benefits From Reparenting Therapy
Even if you can happily report having enjoyed the best-ever childhood, it's safe to assume that there's stuff—great and not-so-great stuff—that transpired in your early-on years that impact the way you see the world, feel about who you are, and show up in your daily life. But no matter how deep-seated these beliefs and understandings are, you don't have to carry them as emotional baggage forever: through reparenting therapy, it's possible to learn how to parent yourself and also heal your inner child.
"Reparenting is how we 'raise' ourselves in adulthood to heal. It is based on the therapeutic model that understands our earliest attachments are the foundations for all relationships that we have in our future," says spiritual coach Candace Van Dell, describing reparenting as observing your emotions without judgment and unconditionally loving yourself. Attachment and abandonment issues, low self-esteem, codependency, and lack of self-love can all be manifestations of a wounded inner child.
"As children, our desires are to be seen, heard, and fully expressed for who we are," says Dr. LePera. "If we had parents without boundaries, who had emotional immaturity or had their own unresolved trauma, we may need reparenting because some of our core needs have gone unmet."
As you dive into this work, remember that reparenting yourself and healing your inner child is a journey and one that, again, likely benefits from the help of a professional who can guide you. "It's not a quick fix. It's a process," Dr. LePera says. "When we begin, it can feel overwhelming or scary, but these are just the fears from our inner child. We just have to make a commitment to ourselves—not a commitment to be perfect, but a commitment to learning who we are and why we are the way we are. By treating it like a journey, we understand that there is no checklist and no right or wrong."
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