Reparenting: Seeking Healing for Your Inner Child

ReparentingIn our work as therapists, we often encounter the undeniable truth: We never truly outgrow our inner child.

A youthful part within us persists, sometimes surfacing to seek acknowledgment and expression.

Have you ever noticed an unexpected surge of emotion, seemingly from a place deeply rooted in your past, and been left wondering, “Why did I react that way?”

This experience represents an integral part of our psyche, shaped during our formative years and yearning for recognition and acceptance. We call this part of ourselves our “inner child.”

When nurtured and acknowledged, our inner child brings forth a wellspring of creativity, inspiration, and joy. However, when neglected or wounded, it can leave us feeling disconnected and unfulfilled, playing out in patterns that are familiar to old insecure attachment dynamics from long ago (Davis, 2020a).

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What Is Reparenting?

As therapists, we understand that the journey of healing is not a quick fix, but rather a profound process of self-discovery and growth. Reparenting can be one part of this healing process.

Reparenting, which Lucia Capacchione invented in the 1970s, offers a transformative method for healing the wounds caused by insecure attachments to our childhood caregivers (Gibson, 2015).

By nurturing and validating this vulnerable aspect of ourselves, we learn to provide it with the love and protection it may have lacked in childhood (Capacchione, 1991).

To deal with residual attachment wounds, many of us seek reassurance and comfort in external sources, hoping to find comfort through perfect friendships, romantic partners, or spiritual communities. Yet, this often proves to be a temporary fix.

While others may offer solace, their support is contingent on meeting our expectations. When they inevitably fall short, these old attachment wounds resurface, and we find ourselves once again in a state of suffering, reenacting those old painful attachment dynamics. This ultimately can lead to a painful trauma-bonded relationship (Copley, 2023).

This is where the power of reparenting and inner child work truly shine. By consciously engaging with the trauma of our past and leaning into what it was genuinely like for us as a child, we embark on a journey of self-healing and empowerment.

Through this inner work, we become our own nurturing parent by learning strategies of self-love, self-nurturing, and self-protection (Gibson, 2015).

Reparenting allows us to break free from the cycle of seeking external validation and instead cultivate a deep sense of self-trust and inner resilience, while simultaneously nurturing healthier and more intimate relationships with others (Copley, 2023). To learn more about how to give your inner child permission to heal, check out this video.

Give your inner child permission to heal

How Does Reparenting Therapy Work?

Reparenting is the process of giving yourself what you didn’t receive as a child (Copley, 2023). This inner work allows us to integrate and honor a vital part of our being, empowering us to reclaim agency over our thoughts, decisions, and relationships.

Reconnecting with our inner child through reparenting involves two distinct yet interconnected aspects:

1. Reclaiming joy and playfulness

Embracing the carefree spirit and boundless imagination of our younger selves allows us to rediscover the simple pleasures of life. Whether it’s sharing silly jokes, engaging in playful activities, or experiencing unbridled delight in the present moment, this aspect of inner child work encourages us to express ourselves authentically and embrace innocence.

2. Confronting painful or suppressed memories

For many, the journey of reparenting involves confronting suppressed memories and painful experiences from childhood. This aspect, akin to “shadow work” or working with “exile parts,” requires courage and vulnerability as we consciously process and heal deep-seated wounds (Schwartz, 2021).

While this journey may feel daunting, particularly for those whose basic needs were unmet in childhood, it offers profound opportunities for growth and healing.

Reparenting ourselves isn’t just about rediscovering our childlike innocence; it’s also about facing our inner demons with compassion and courage. By embracing both aspects of inner child work, we embark on a transformative journey of self-discovery and healing, ultimately reclaiming our sense of self-trust and resilience.

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The 4 Levels of Reparenting

Reparenting encompasses four fundamental pillars, each playing a crucial role in nurturing and healing the inner child (LePera, 2021).

Discipline

At its core, discipline in reparenting involves creating a structured and supportive framework for growth and development. It entails establishing clear boundaries, routines, and expectations to provide stability and security for the inner child.

Through self-discipline, individuals learn to set healthy limits, cultivate self-control, and take responsibility for their actions. It involves consistency, patience, and compassion in guiding the inner child toward positive behaviors and choices.

Joy

Joy is a vital aspect of reparenting, as it involves infusing life with moments of playfulness, spontaneity, and pleasure. It entails rediscovering and embracing the innate sense of wonder and curiosity that often gets buried beneath the weight of adulthood responsibilities.

Through joy, individuals learn to reconnect with their inner child’s sense of delight and enthusiasm, finding happiness in simple pleasures and experiences. It involves cultivating gratitude, embracing creativity, and nurturing a sense of lightheartedness and fun.

Emotional regulation

Emotional regulation is essential in reparenting, as it involves developing the skills to identify, understand, and manage one’s emotions effectively. It entails creating a safe and supportive space to explore and express feelings without judgment or suppression.

By learning skills for emotional regulation, individuals learn to recognize triggers, cope with stressors, and navigate challenging emotions with resilience and grace. It involves practicing mindfulness, self-awareness, and self-compassion to foster emotional balance and wellbeing.

Self-care

Self-care is a cornerstone of reparenting, as it involves prioritizing one’s physical, emotional, and mental wellbeing. It entails nurturing oneself with kindness, compassion, and nourishment, honoring one’s needs and boundaries.

Through practicing self-care, individuals learn to cultivate a sense of self-worth and value, investing in activities and practices that replenish and rejuvenate the mind, body, and spirit. It involves setting aside time for relaxation, leisure, and self-reflection, fostering a deep sense of self-love and acceptance.

5 Commonly Neglected Needs in Childhood

Neglected needs in childhoodUnderstanding early childhood attachment wounds helps us home in on the unmet needs that, as adults, we are still so desperately seeking to fill. These may be consequences of childhood emotional neglect.

According to literature (Copley, 2023; Gibson, 2015; Müller et al., 2019; Salokangas et al., 2020), commonly neglected needs in childhood that turn into attachment traumas include the following.

1. Emotional validation

Children require validation of their emotions to develop a healthy sense of self-awareness and emotional regulation. When emotional needs are neglected, children may struggle to understand and express their feelings, leading to difficulties in forming secure attachments and coping with stress.

2. Unconditional love and acceptance

Every child deserves to feel unconditionally loved and accepted for who they are. When this need is neglected, children may develop feelings of unworthiness and insecurity, impacting their self-esteem and ability to form healthy relationships throughout their lives.

3. Physical safety and security

Providing a safe and secure environment is essential for children to thrive. Neglecting this need can result in feelings of fear, anxiety, and mistrust, hindering a child’s ability to explore and engage with the world around them.

4. Stability and consistency

Children thrive on routine and predictability, as it provides them with a sense of stability and security. When this need is neglected, children may struggle with feelings of chaos and uncertainty, leading to difficulties in regulating emotions and behavior.

5. Empathy and understanding

Children need adults who can empathize with their experiences and understand their perspective. Neglecting this need can result in feelings of isolation and alienation, as children may struggle to connect with others and express themselves authentically.

Providing empathy and understanding helps children feel seen, heard, and valued, fostering healthy emotional development and resilience.

7 Benefits of Reparenting Your Inner Child

Through understanding and reconnecting with our inner child, we begin reclaiming lost parts of ourselves and fostering inner harmony and resilience. Benefits of learning how to reparent your inner child include the following.

1. Healing past wounds

Reparenting your inner child offers a profound opportunity to heal the wounds of the past. By providing the love, care, and validation that may have been lacking in childhood, you can address unresolved traumas and emotional pain, fostering a sense of wholeness and healing (Copley, 2023; LePera, 2021).

2. Self-compassion cultivation

Engaging in reparenting practices cultivates self-compassion and self-acceptance. By offering yourself the nurturing care and understanding you needed as a child, you learn to treat yourself with kindness and compassion, fostering a deeper sense of self-worth and self-love (Schwartz, 2021).

3. Improved relationships

As you learn to reparent your inner child, you develop a deeper understanding of your own needs and emotions, which can positively impact your relationships with others. By fostering self-awareness and self-compassion, you can cultivate healthier and more fulfilling connections with those around you (Copley, 2023).

4. Emotional regulation

Reparenting techniques can help improve emotional regulation skills by providing a safe and supportive space to explore and express emotions. By learning to attune to the needs of your inner child, you develop greater emotional awareness and resilience, allowing you to navigate challenging situations with greater ease (LePera, 2021).

5. Breaking self-sabotage patterns

Many self-sabotaging behaviors stem from unresolved childhood wounds. Reparenting your inner child helps you identify and address these patterns, empowering you to break free from destructive behaviors and thought patterns that no longer serve you (Copley, 2023).

6. Enhanced self-trust

Reparenting your inner child involves nurturing and validating your own experiences and emotions. This process builds self-confidence and self-trust, empowering you to step into your authentic self and pursue your goals and aspirations with courage and conviction (Copley, 2023).

7. Increased resilience

Through reparenting, you develop resilience in the face of adversity. By acknowledging and addressing past traumas, you build inner strength and resilience, allowing you to navigate life’s challenges with greater ease and adaptability (Schwartz, 2021).

9 Tips for Reparenting Yourself

Reparenting yourselfReparenting your inner child is a transformative journey. In this process, it’s essential to adopt practical strategies that provide gentle guidance and support as you navigate the complexities of your inner world.

Here are nine tips tailored to empower you on your reparenting journey (Davis, 2020b):

  1. Embrace positive affirmations, such as “I am a good person,” to cultivate self-worth and positivity.
  2. Engage in conversations with your adult self, seeking guidance and support for making grown-up decisions.
  3. Reward yourself daily for accomplishments, no matter how small, to reinforce positive behaviors and self-care.
  4. Prioritize adequate sleep to support overall wellbeing and emotional balance.
  5. Maintain a reparenting notebook to jot down daily tasks and achievements, celebrating your progress along the way.
  6. Incorporate mindfulness practices into your routine to stay grounded and present in the moment.
  7. Express self-love and acceptance, even if it feels unfamiliar or uncomfortable.
  8. Reflect on cherished childhood memories to nurture a sense of nostalgia and connection.
  9. Create new “good” memories and traditions to foster joy and fulfillment in your adult life.

3 Reparenting Exercises for Trauma Healing

Reparenting exercises serve as a therapeutic pathway to reconnect with our younger selves and extend the nurturing and protective care that was absent in those formative years. The following exercises can offer ourselves the comfort and validation that we so desperately needed but were unable to receive at the time.

1. Letter writing to your inner child

Begin a dialogue with your inner child by penning heartfelt letters to yourself. These letters serve as a private space for expression, release, and healing, offering a nurturing outlet for both the child and adult within you.

Grab a pen and paper, or envelopes if desired, and let your thoughts flow freely. Remember, these letters are solely for your eyes, providing a compassionate platform for self-reflection and growth. For more on writing activities and journaling, we recommend our writing therapy article.

2. Shadow work for inner child exploration

Exploring the shadow involves uncovering suppressed aspects of the psyche that you were taught to feel ashamed of in childhood and now wish to keep hidden. The self-exploration process includes delving into areas of deep pain, shame, or low self-worth to bring these unconscious elements into consciousness so they can be explored and healed.

As a reparenting exercise, we can evoke the feelings and thoughts associated with our shadow, such as reflecting on statements like “Children are in the way,” “Children should be seen and not heard,” and “Children are easily manipulated.” Pay attention to your body sensations and emotional responses, journaling about any thoughts, memories, or sensations that arise to deepen your understanding of your inner landscape (Johnson, 2009).

3. Mirror work for self-acceptance

Combat negative self-talk and foster self-love through the practice of mirror work. Take a moment each day to gaze deeply into your own eyes and affirm your worth with empowering self-acceptance statements.

Challenge ingrained beliefs by declaring affirmations such as “I matter,” “My needs are valid,” and “I am enough.” Or you can speak directly to your inner child by saying, “You are lovable” or “I will always take care of you.” Embrace the healing power of self-reflection as you cultivate a loving and supportive relationship with yourself.

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Useful Resources From PositivePsychology.com

Reparenting the inner child is a crucial step in healing attachment trauma and cultivating more self-acceptance and resiliency. We have plenty of resources and guides to help you along the way.

  1. Attachment Styles in Relationships: 6 Worksheets for Adults – Explore how our early connections to our parents in childhood impact how we bond with our romantic partners in adulthood.
  2. 19 Self-Acceptance Quotes to Honor and Accept Yourself Fully – Get inspired by this article that contains motivating resources on ways to embrace your full identity and true self.
  3. 23 Resilience Building Activities & Exercises for Adults – Dive deeper into new skills and strategies that will help you bounce back after adversity.
  4. 87 Self-Reflection Questions for Introspection [+Exercises] – Explore self-reflection and introspection and why they matter, plus tools and techniques to practice them.

If you’re looking for more science-based ways to help others develop self-compassion, check out this collection of 17 validated self-compassion tools for practitioners. Use them to help others create a kinder and more nurturing relationship with the self.

A Take-Home Message

We all carry the inner child we once were — a part of ourselves often overlooked or hidden beneath the surface. These inner children yearn for acknowledgment and validation of the pain they may carry.

Unresolved childhood traumas often hinder this process, manifesting as suppressed emotions and lingering wounds that play out in self-sabotaging and painful ways. These unresolved experiences wield significant influence over our adult selves. Your inner child may unconsciously seek resolution by disrupting your present experiences, urging you to confront and heal unresolved issues.

Reparenting, a transformative process, offers a path to healing by providing the nurturing and protection your inner child yearned for in childhood.

When recognized and embraced, these wounded inner children are unburdened and freed to experience life’s joys with a more carefree spirit. Whether embarking on this journey alone or with the support of a therapist, it’s crucial not to ignore your inner child’s voice. Within its vulnerability lie profound lessons and opportunities for healing and growth.

We hope you enjoyed reading this article. Don’t forget to download our three Self-Compassion Exercises for free.

  • Capacchione, L. (1991). Recovery of your inner child. Simon & Schuster.
  • Copley, L. A. (2023). Loving you is hurting me: A new approach to healing trauma bonds and creating authentic connection. Hachette Book Group.
  • Davis, S. (2020a, July 13). The wounded inner child. Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Foundation. Retrieved March 11, 2024, from https://cptsdfoundation.org/2020/07/13/the-wounded-inner-child/
  • Davis, S. (2020b, July 27). Reparenting to heal the wounded inner child. Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Foundation. Retrieved March 11, 2024, from https://cptsdfoundation.org/2020/07/27/reparenting-to-heal-the-wounded-inner-child/
  • Gibson, L. C. (2015). Adult children of emotionally immature parents: How to heal from distant, rejecting, or self-involved parents. New Harbinger.
  • Johnson, R. (2009). Owning your own shadow: Understanding the dark side of the psyche. Harper.
  • LePera, N. (2021) How to do the work. HarperCollins.
  • Müller, L. E., Bertsch, K., Bülau, K., Herpertz, S. C., & Buchheim, A. (2019). Emotional neglect in childhood shapes social dysfunctioning in adults by influencing the oxytocin and the attachment system: Results from a population-based study. International Journal of Psychophysiology, 136, 73–80.
  • Salokangas, R. K. R., Schultze-Lutter, F., Schmidt, S. J., Pesonen, H., Luutonen, S., Patterson, P., & Hietala, J. (2020). Childhood physical abuse and emotional neglect are specifically associated with adult mental disorders. Journal of Mental Health, 29(4), 376–384.
  • Schwartz, R. C. (2021). No bad parts: Healing trauma and restoring wholeness with the internal family systems model. Sounds True.

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