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 impacts the way you see the world, feel about who you are, and show up in your daily life. But no matter how deeply 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.
“The inner child is the part of us who has unresolved issues, emotional wounds, or unmet needs,” says psychotherapist Nicole LePera, PhD, founder of The Holistic Psychologist. “Reparenting is how we ‘raise’ ourselves in adulthood to heal. It is based in the therapeutic model that understands our earliest attachments are the foundations for all relationships that we have in our future.” spiritual coach Candace Van Dell, who has a background in spiritual psychology, describes reparenting as observing your emotions without judgment and unconditionally loving yourself. She adds that attachment and abandonment issues, low self-esteem, codependency, and lack of self-love can all be manifestations of a wounded inner child.
But reparenting therapy isn’t a tool reserved only for those who may have experienced childhood trauma (like abuse, neglect, or assault, for example). Rather, it’s a practice from which everyone can benefit because, as Van Dell points out, “no one had perfect parents.”
“If we had parents without boundaries, who had emotional immaturity or their own unresolved trauma, we may need reparenting because some core needs have gone unmet.” —psychotherapist Nicole LePera, PhD
“As children, our desires are to be seen, heard, and fully expressed for who we are,” Dr. LePera says. “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.”
While reparenting is a form of therapy you can work through with a professional (which is the route Dr. LePera recommends, especially if you’re dealing with heavy issues), it’s also a practice you can try on your own. Here, the pros share how to get started with reparenting therapy and heal your inner child.
How to practice reparenting therapy
Step 1: Increase awareness of your needs
The reparenting process will look a little different for every person because we all have different needs based on our own past experiences. At its core, however, Dr. LePera says reparenting is “just self care,” which makes perfect sense since the concept requires learning how to take care of our own needs. “It’s making choices every day in your own best interest,” she says. “It’s becoming aware of your patterns and behaviors, especially understanding why you do what you do.” That awareness and understanding alone is powerful.
Step 2: Fill in the gaps between what you have and what you need
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.
One way Van Dell helps her clients meet their inner child is via an exercise wherein they access their pain. To do this, she asks them to close their eyes and answer questions about their pain. Where is it in their body? What is the emotion saying? “I intuitively guide them to come toward that emotion and give it what it needs,” Van Dell says. “Once they have this reference point, we start to do writing exercises with the inner child, meditations, and we also start to follow the guidance that comes forward, more and more.”
Step 3: Designate a physical embodiment of your inner child
Van Dell says 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.”
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 of learning who we are and why we are the way we are. By treating it like a journey, we understand that there is no check list and no right or wrong.”
Here’s how to raise your emotional maturity in nine steps. Also, here’s why you might want to avoid talking to your parents as if they’re children.