Unconditional love is received unconsciously. It is either there or it isn’t. When most people try to dismantle why they never received it throughout their childhood, it is only in its absence that you, as an adult, become aware of its existence.
When a child grows up in an abusive household, their parents become the validators for everything the child does. It is at the core of that rejection that we as children seek that safety, by trying to “prove them wrong” and make them proud. However, this often leads to you parenting yourself.
But with one failed try after the other, we often realize no attention was being paid to our deeds, making all our efforts feel as though they were unworthy. After some time, we undervalue ourselves more and more as we’ve rebranded, repainted, and renovated ourselves to the point of losing all attachment to who we once, and truly were.
After we move out and become our own people, many “parentless” children will then as adults, gravitate towards emotionally distant partners and friends to try and undo the damage that was once done. We try to rewrite history but often fail to see that we are only bound to repeat it.
Going Back to Yourself Through Self-Parenting
When dealing with intense and negative thoughts and feelings in your early adult life, it’s very important to understand that is only because you are viewing yourself from someone else’s perspective. If your parents, the once most important people in your life, never validated your sheer existence through unconditional love, safety, and advice, you end up having a terrible self-image.
You go around life thinking thoughts from another man’s mind, believing horror stories that have no attachment to reality, and carrying someone else’s insecurities and needs.
Have you ever thought about your own?
This is how to reparent yourself:
Becoming your own parent is one hell of a job, especially if your own parents weren’t exactly employees of the month. But it’s a necessary job if you ever want to truly be free of these limiting beliefs. So, how do we know what’s ours to feel and what is a sheer magician’s illusion?
Let’s start with this little exercise I’ve created for myself. I call it the wheel of identifying true feelings, and why they’re here. I want you to play two roles here: Your inner child, and a parental figure, both of which will be you. Below, you’ll see a wheel of emotions.
As you can see, the main or primary emotions are the following 7:
- I Feel Bad;
- I feel Fearful;
- I feel Angry;
- I feel Disgusted;
- I feel Sad;
- I feel Happy;
- I feel Surprised;
Everything else that stems from these 7 is a secondary, more depictive description of what you are feeling or going through. Now in this exercise, I want you to pick one of the main 7. As the parent, I want you to ask questions to your inner child. And don’t spare the details. What do you as the parent look like? What’s your tone of voice? How many wrinkles do you have, if any? Be very imaginative.
How are you feeling right now? Which one of these 7 is the most prominent in your life right now? Here’s an example.
I feel Fearful right now. I think that’s the most prominent one currently. In the second wheel, I’d pick anxious, insecure, and threatened. Then comes the description, because many people completely skip emotions when asked how they feel, and go right into the why.
I’m fearful because I feel like it is very easy for someone to replace me. At work, at home, in my relationship, and so on. That’s why I feel insecure and anxious and consistently feel the need to one-up myself and not get lazy so I won’t get left behind.
In other words, I feel that who I am right now is not worthy enough of love. Time for wheel three, what do you feel? I’d pick worried, inadequate, insignificant, and nervous. It affects my nervous system to a great extent, and I can’t help but overthink. Okay, now that we have the what and the why, let’s trace it back to the very beginning.
The Parent: What has caused you to develop such a damaging way of thinking?
- Is it my proven incompetence in life? No, I wouldn’t say so. I’m pretty successful for my age and have been shown much appreciation for the person and friend I am.
Okay, we’re scratching that off the table then.
- Did someone leave me behind and make me feel replaceable? Hmm, maybe. I never felt like I was good enough for my parents, my middle school teacher, or ever really when I was a kid. So I always feel like I have to go through glow-ups and transformations in order to keep the people and things that I have.
The parent: Hmm, sounds to me like you can’t be in one place for too long, or you fear you’ll eventually be replaced, or thrown off. What do you think you have to change in order to sustain your “place”?
Inner child: I feel like I’ll be better if I lose some weight, mom, and Dad never liked chubby kids, and I was one. Also, one time when I was 18, I got fired for being too immature for my newspaper job, so I always feared I’d get fired if I didn’t overwork myself to oblivion. And the first time I got heartbroken, I thought it was all my fault, so I take a lot of shit from my boyfriend just so he won’t leave me. I don’t fully love who I really am, so I don’t show her off too much, in case I get left behind.
Imagine if a 10-year-old came up to you and told you something in a similar fashion. Would you respond to them the way you respond to yourself? Absolutely not. So what would you say?
The parent: Okay, I want you to take some deep breaths, as many as you can. And make sure you’re breathing into your stomach, and not your chest. Exhale longer than when you inhale too.
From what I gather, you are pretty valued at your current company. I mean, you and I know how good you are with words and communication, so sales are the best pick you could have chosen. Secondly, I don’t think you fear losing the man you’re currently with, but rather the feeling of being alone, with no validator to make you feel pretty, cherished, and loved. In all reality, all of those validations should come from within, not from a man, woman, or parent.
Let me put it this way since you obviously have very high standards for yourself, a part of you is conscious of the fact that you are capable of doing and obtaining 100% of what you fear losing. Sounds to me like you don’t need any external validation to let you know…You already know. But your mind is just too used to drifting away into the endless negatives that corrupt your genuinely skilled sense of self.
It’s just time to work on reparenting by receiving love from the one person you need it from the most…Yourself.
So let’s begin that wheel of emotions too:
Be your own validator
Validation comes with trust, true validation that is. You’ll never ask for valuable advice from someone you don’t respect or whose values do not align with your own. It wouldn’t make that change worthwhile.
So ask yourself, all of these people you seek it from, do they have your validation and respect, to begin with? Are they offering you more than just a shot of dopamine and rent money? Dissect that source of validation and you’ll have your answer. Ask yourself why, why that person, why that job or source. The more objective you are, the less harmful emotional attachment you’ll have toward the subject.
I would even suggest doing a quick EQ (Emotional Intelligence) test, in order to see where you stand when it comes to trusting your own emotions and controlling them. Next, I want you to write down all the things you respect yourself for. And trust me, the list will be longer than you think.
Affirm those words and turn them into thoughts. Fall in love with yourself first by being the parent you never had. Split your mind in two if needed, and have conversations with your inner child to get some answers. Buy them presets, give them advice, and make sure to tell them good morning and good night every day.
Self-mothering and self-fathering
Now on the more complex side of things, let’s dive into the topics of self-mothering and fathering. For the people who grew up without a stable father figure in their lives, have you ever felt unprotected and unsafe? Maybe a little too much? Have figures with great authority been overwhelming and perhaps distant?
As for the folks who never had a firm mother figure, do you feel out of touch with your emotions? Are you always seeking validation from others? Obsessed with things too easily perhaps?
Amongst other things, a healthy child needs a firm masculine and feminine influence (preferably from their parents) all throughout their childhood. The masculine provides us with a sense of protection, and safety and teaches us how to respond to authority, and after a while, how to obtain it. On the other hand, the more feminine, motherly figure is there to show us compassion, and emotional stability and give us comfort, without which we’d grow up to be very insecure and, quite frankly, in desperate need of love and validation.
Both of these roles are not specific to any gender, but rather a parental figure that every child needs. In light of this, self-mothering is an act of kindness to our own selves. Acceptance, softness, unconditional love, and comfort we never received from our mothers. On the flip side, self-fathering would mean providing for and making ourselves feel safe. Build confidence and practice it, without needing an external force or figure.
Just like you would with a child in need, you do for yourself. As unconditionally as possible.
Journaling and therapy are possibly the best ways to start practicing self-mothering and fathering.
Complex PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving
As Pete Walker, the writer of the above-mentioned book writes about loveless families and the more often than you’d think complex PTSD that stems from it, I can’t help but include it in this article, as it is more than relevant.
It’s likely most of you are already familiar with PTSD (Post-traumatic stress disorder), but what would Complex PTSD be then? It is very similar but includes a variety of additional symptoms such as lack of emotional regulation, difficulty in relationships, and many more negative things that stem from it.
The worst part is that we often aren’t even aware of the negatives until they start to overwhelm us in our day-to-day lives. Walker writes how “decisions are based on the fear of getting in trouble or getting abandoned, rather than on the principles of having meaningful and equitable interactions with the world.” In other words, we never genuinely react to the world, but rather overreact and try to pick up the pieces. That’s what we call life. Just piles and piles of debris instead of a firm construction.
He continues by saying that the people who’ve wronged us often continue shaming or intimidating us whenever we have a natural impulse to have sympathy for ourselves or stand up for ourselves. The instinct to care for ourselves and to protect ourselves against unfairness is then forced to become dormant.
It’s important to recognize the damage that has been done in order to start your treatment. We have to realize that our way of coping, and even living, is sometimes extremely limiting to who we are and what we can become. In other words, we are living in a cage.
Seeking Help & Therapy
Sometimes, our feelings end up controlling us more than we do them. It is never a bad idea to seek professional help when you feel stuck and without a clear plan ahead. Being honest with your therapist, hence hearing your honest feelings aloud, maybe even for the first time ever, will initiate the healing of processing trauma that was never internally discussed.
Investing in yourself is the best investment you can make, especially if you feel like your past experiences are limiting your current potential. You can’t build a steady home on shaky grounds, as it is bound to crash down and leave you on the streets. So best to invest in the grounds, and leave the rest for another day. There is always time.
Letting go of limiting beliefs
Lastly, you have to let go of what your parents should and could have been. You have to let go of that anger towards people and situations whose lack of awareness of the severity of your pain is directly causing harm. Vengeful thoughts and actions will only pull you back, and will always leave you hungry for more. The most painful thing isn’t forgiving them for letting you go but letting them go in order to shift your focus back to yourself.
Once you let them go, their seemingly hereditary beliefs will be gone as well, leaving you with a fresh and blank piece of paper you can fill with your own words and values. Just as Pete Walker wrote, we cannot allow our wounds to heal from the same people who created them.
People always ask the wrong questions when it comes to their needs. “How do I find a partner who will fulfill my needs”? Well, how do you become a partner who can do the same thing? If you don’t have a good support system, become one. Simply, be a person your child self would feel safe with, and half of your worries will slowly start to drift away.
You’ll never need another soul to make your day or life worth living, as it is all, as it always has been all right within you.
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