Reparenting in Therapy

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What Is Reparenting?

Reparenting is when an adult works to meet their own emotional or physical needs that went unmet in their childhood. These needs may include: affection, security, routines and structure, emotional regulation, and compassion.

A parent or caregiver may not have fulfilled all of their child's needs; when the child grows into an adult, they may need to learn how to give themselves what they lacked as a kid to improve their health and well-being.

Reparenting

Reparenting, as part of the therapy process, allows adult clients the opportunity to give themselves what they didn't have growing up. This often involves learning new, adaptive ways of being with themselves and others, as well as the unlearning of maladaptive ways of living.

Where Did the Concept of Reparenting Come From?

Originally, the term reparenting was developed within a psychoanalytic theory called transactional analysis.

A key element of transactional analysis suggests that we operate in three ego states: parent, adult, and child. Much of what we learn as children, through our parents and caregivers, shape these states and influence our thoughts and behaviors in our adult life.

Reparenting, specifically within transactional analysis, describes the process of a client unlearning harmful and unhealthy ways of being with the self and others. The goal is to learn new, healthy thoughts and behaviors. Ultimately, the clients would experience what they may have missed in childhood.

Reparenting has gone through a progression of different forms. Total regression was developed in the 1970s. This is a form of reparenting in which a person lives in a mental health center or institution and is cared for or reparented by their therapist.

Another form of reparenting called time-limited regression doesn't require the person to live with a therapist, but rather, attend regular therapy sessions. This form of treatment has been used specifically for those with schizophrenia and complex post-traumatic stress disorder (CPTSD).

Spot reparenting focuses on treating particular traumas that a person experienced. Finally, self-reparenting is the type of reparenting most commonly used today. This is when the person (instead of the therapist) does the reparenting of themselves.

Self-Reparenting

Much of the talk around reparenting today involves self-reparenting. The concept of self-reparenting was developed in the early 1970s by Dr. Muriel James, a licensed therapist and practitioner of transactional analysis.

Through her work, she advocated that clients could overcome reliance on their parent's ego state. A person enters their parent's ego state when they unconsciously adopt mindsets, opinions, or behaviors that mirror what their parent thought or how their parent behaved.

For instance, if your self-talk is negative or critical, and you say things like, "I shouldn't have made that mistake," or "I can't believe I'm so stupid," you might be entering your parent's ego state if these are the types of statements they said to themselves or to you.

Dr. James believed that people could update and restructure their parent ego state. Rather than simply continuing to carry out the responses that were impressed on a client by their parents, the client can choose new language that is helpful rather than hurtful. Instead of engaging in negative self-talk, they may choose to say, "It's OK that I messed up," or "I'm still a good person despite this mistake."

In other words, clients would be offered the opportunity (through therapy) to explore and discover a more authentic version of their own parent ego state.

How Self-Reparenting Can Be Helpful

Self-reparenting does require intentional energy and work, preferably with a therapist you trust and who is familiar with this process.

Working with a trusted professional can help with exploring and clarifying hurtful or maladaptive patterns that might benefit from reparenting, as well as address things like pacing and navigating roadblocks as they arise. Through self-reparenting, you will change unhealthy inner dialogue (that you learned from your parent or caregiver) and replace it with a healthier dialogue.

Benefits of self-reparenting include processing your emotions, setting strong boundaries, viewing yourself and others in a more positive light, creating healthier relationships, and strengthening your communication skills.

You Can Learn to Name and Express Your Emotions

Much of what we learn about the processing and sharing of emotions is influenced by our family of origin. Some families are very open with emotional language and sharing, while others do not have a culture of identifying, expressing, or sharing emotional experiences.

In the reparenting process, we can learn to find clear language for our emotional experience, as well as learn how to share this with others in a healthy way.

You Can Learn to Create Boundaries

Learning how to set boundaries is often a part of the reparenting process. It is common for children to learn how to people-please, while not gaining much awareness of their own needs. As adults, this can be problematic because without boundaries, you may find yourself feeling unhappy, unsafe, or burnt out more easily after your interactions with others.

All of us have preferences for how we are treated, and you'll cultivate a sense of self-respect by expressing your boundaries.

Reparenting can offer a corrective emotional experience in which clients can identify or clarify desired boundaries, as well as learn how to take the emotional risk of establishing and maintaining these boundaries.

You Can Change How Your View Yourself

Negative messages of self can certainly impact how we relate to others and how we navigate the world. Reparenting allows clients to not only challenge old, unhealthy messages about who they are but to help develop an honest, healthy and positive view of self.

Clients work with their therapist to explore values, strengths, traits, desires, and skills. During the reparenting process, the client can experience a true shift or transformation in their view of self.

You Can Change How Your View Others

Clients who may benefit from reparenting have, many times, experienced emotional and physical pain from close, important others. These painful experiences can dramatically influence how someone views others and can leave them to believe most people are unsafe.

Reparenting can offer corrective emotional experiences that allow clients to feel the safety of a close, trusted other.

Through the practice of sharing and emotional risk taking, clients come to gain a felt sense of safety that may be new.

You Can Learn What Healthy Relationships Look Like

Children absorb many messages about relationships growing up, primarily from their parents and other family members.

What we learn growing up often follows us into our adult relationships, influencing how we connect with family, friends, and significant others. For instance, if your relationship with a parent was one-sided and they never listened to what you had to say when you were a child, you might accept this behavior from a friend or romantic partner when you're an adult.

Reparenting can help you understand it's OK to communicate what you're feeling and what you need from your partner. Or, if you were used to being harshly criticized as a child, you might be extra sensitive to receiving any form of criticism from your partner.

Through reparenting, you can learn that there is a healthy way to receive and give criticism that is necessary in functional relationships.

Through the reparenting process, clients can learn effective ways to establish and maintain healthy relationships with others.

You Can Improve Your Communication Skills

Patterns of communication are often learned early on as well.People may have shown us, or told us, ways of interacting that resulted in disconnect rather than how to use communication to come closer.

Although it might be clear that these learned patterns and methods of communicating don't work, we may still be left without an understanding of the skills to communicate effectively. Reparenting can help clients find their voice and use their words to create and maintain connection, convey needs, and speak about their longings and desires.

Who Might Benefit From Reparenting?

Many people have learned unhealthy patterns to some degree, whether it is in regard to communication, view of self, boundaries, or relationships. It is understandable that reparenting, particularly self-reparenting, can be helpful in breaking down these old patterns to make way for new, healthy ways of thinking, feeling, and behaving.

People who may find the greatest benefit from reparenting include those who have experienced emotional, physical, and sexual abuse, as well as those who experienced emotional and physical neglect.

What to Remember in the Reparenting Process

As you begin the process of reparenting, remember that this takes time. The work of self-reparenting may feel heavy yet can also bring a sense of renewed hope and joy to your life and relationships. Keep your expectations reasonable and remember there are a few helpful things to keep in mind as you navigate this journey of reparenting.

Stay Curious

Keep in mind that self-reparenting is a process. As you work through this process you may find troubling or painful experiences coming up that have influenced old narratives or patterns in your behavior. Stay curious and open to learning during this process.

Maintain Self-Compassion

In reparenting, a client may feel a sense of resentment toward others or even feelings of guilt and shame. Maintaining a sense of self-compassion can be key in the willingness to unlearn the old and discover the new.

Practice Patience

Keeping in mind how long we may have been operating out of these old beliefs or narratives, it is important to remember that this process will not happen overnight. In fact, you may find that the process of learning to trust a safe other, such as a therapist, to help facilitate the process can take some time. It is understandable and no reason to pressure yourself to move too quickly.

Be Intentional

Old patterns are hard to break. Even when doing the work of self-reparenting, we can find it easy to fall back into old ways when we are tired, distracted, or stressed.

Allow yourself to stay consistent with the process and remind yourself of ways you have grown and what you are working toward. Doing this work takes courage and it may help to remind yourself of how courageous you are as you continue growing.

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