Reparenting Ourselves

Gwen Randall-Young

“The way we were treated as small children is the way we treat ourselves the rest of our lives: with cruelty or with tenderness and protection.”
                                                                                               ~ Alice Miller
Sometimes people who are outwardly successful in most areas of their lives, still do not feel good about themselves. No amount of external success can change that. Often the roots of this problem go back to the way that person was treated as a child. Obviously, childhood abuse leaves scars.
Even if the child was not abused, other subtle forms of devaluing may continue to haunt an individual throughout life. Being ignored, rejected, or left out in the early years creates a deep sense of not being good or important enough.
Even more subtle are the negative effects that occur when parents project their feelings, ideas, and dreams upon their children. In order to survive and be loved, the child learns to obey: to try to be the person the parents want him or her to be. This requires that the child repress his or her own feelings, and stifle attempts to be himself or herself.
The result, too often, is depression, reduced vitality, and loss of self. This is particularly noticeable during adolescence, when the child’s biological imperative is to explore and experience his or her individuality and uniqueness. This begins with a need to differentiate from one’s parents. What appears as teen conformity is the group effort to distinguish itself from the previous generation. Having done that, individuals will then make an effort to express their uniqueness within their group.
Rather than honoring the child’s right to be oneself, and in their well-meaning attempts to “train” children, parents often instill humiliation, shame fear and guilt. They inadvertently reduce the child’s ability to make crucial perceptions later in life. Ironically, the adult ends up either feeling guilty for expressing true feelings or lives a life trying to please others.
The way to heal built-in patterns, is to recognize the doubts or self-criticisms are messages formed when we were children, based on our experiences.
Then, working to become the all-loving, nurturing and supportive mother/father to our own inner child. We only counteract the old beliefs by forming new ones.
If we do not do this, our inner voice is not really ours, but rather we are parroting negative ideas we picked up along the way. Another complication comes when we project those negative beliefs on to another: “You think I am dumb!” “My friends don’t really like me.” “No one really cares about me.”
If, try as you might, you cannot stop the negative self-talk, it would be wise to consider doing some work with a good therapist.
As adults who were not honored as children, we need to begin the process of learning to honor our true selves. As parents raising children, we need to be very conscious—and may need to revise some of our methods of child rearing, and our traditional views about it.

Gwen Randall-Young is an author and award-winning psychologist. For permission to reprint this article, or to obtain books, CDs or MP3s, visit Follow Gwen on Facebook for inspiration.