Self Improvement — 25 April 2004
Re-parent yourself to heal childhood hurts

If you have been raised by less than ideal parents, the loss is there, but it does not have to be forever. You can mend it by re-parenting yourself.

Your parents may have been young, unprepared for parenthood, overwhelmed, insecure, stressed, depressed, anxious, unhappy, angry, unloved, or too burdened. They may have been too strict, too permissive, too indulgent, overprotective, or dysfunctional. They may have repeated their parents’ ineffectual style and may have even been disadvantaged as children as well. Whatever their issues may have been, as their child you were the product of their misguided parenting.

The more mature and healthy parents are, the better able they are to undertake positive child-rearing practices. However, even the best parents are likely to make some mistakes in the upbringing of their children.

Children’s self-esteem is profoundly impacted by the attitudes, behaviors and treatments they receive from their parents. Children, who are discounted, unsupported, shamed, ignored, rebuffed, ridiculed, belittled or accused, may end up feeling shamed and unloved. These young people may also fail to attain an appropriate sense of self-worth, which is initially provided by parental inputs.

Each generation’s parenting norms also determine the treatments children receive. Some old beliefs labeled too much affection and love as risks in “spoiling” a child. Infants in some generations were fed only by schedule, not by hunger needs. Spanking was seen as a positive method of discipline and praise was considered harmful to children. Due to these

attitudes many people, who are now adults, were deprived of the more solid, research-based practices of parenting that are now the standards for childcare.

If you are an adult who for these or other reasons received less than ideal parenting, you can restore yourself to a healthier level of esteem and functioning by giving yourself that which was absent for you in your childhood.

These are three areas of common childhood deprivations that cause recurring difficulties throughout life: destructive messages, lack of parental support and absence of certain positive experiences.

Destructive messages about worth and performance are ways by which some parents knowingly or unknowingly inflict pain upon their children. Here is a sample of these comments. “You are worthless like your father”. “You will never amount to anything”. “How can you be so stupid?” “Nobody can love a person like you”. “You can’t even do the simplest thing well”. “With your talents, you’ll be lucky if anyone ever hires you”. “You are a liar and can not be trusted”.

These and other horrific messages may haunt children into their adulthood. They may interfere with the adult children’s ability to live up to their potential unless they heal themselves from these recurring toxic hurdles.

If you suffer from these or similar pre-programmed defeating messages that interfere with your effective adult life:

  • Imagine what you would say to a child who told you that he was exposed to these messages and asked your opinion about him.
  • Visualize the abuser’s head placed on your shoulder whispering these toxic words. Lower the volume of this torturous chatter until you can no longer hear it.
  • Add to your other shoulder a loving, affirming voice of someone who has been supportive to you. Increase the volume of these encouraging words.
  • Recognize your abilities and recite them to yourself with pride.
  • Encourage your spouse to highlight your positive characteristics and behaviors.
  • If you are a parent, tell your children the opposite of what was said to you and also hear it about yourself.
  • Adults who recall the following experiences remember lacking parental support: “My parents never attended any of my games, award ceremonies, or even my graduation”. “I got straight A’s and my father never said a word of praise.” “I felt that no matter how hard I tried, I never seemed to please them.” “I was a star athlete and was reprimanded for not doing well enough, or making errors.”

If you experienced this as a child, it is imperative that you:

  • Invite people to share with you your current milestones. Throw a party for yourself, have others celebrate with you.
  • Marry a supportive, positive and admiring spouse.
  • Surround yourself with good friends who value you.
  • Ask for positive feedback when you accomplish a noteworthy task.
  • Affirm yourself by saying; “I am very pleased with my efforts and success”.

Some people’s childhood lacked certain experiences about which they feel a loss. It may be about small issues like having been deprived of sweets in childhood, or toys, or the desired birthday gifts, or a party with a clown, or nice clothes. It may be about greater issues such as not having been read to, the absence of family vacations or not having a peaceful loving environment at home.

Whatever you may have lacked in childhood, recreate for yourself today:

  • Read to yourself aloud or have your partner indulge you with this intimate activity.
  • Buy and eat (in moderation) what you yearned for and missed in childhood.
  • Throw yourself a birthday party with a clown.
  • Treat yourself to fine items that make you feel nurtured.
  • Take yourself and your family on a vacation to places you may have enjoyed as a child, frolic and have fun.
  • Create the loving environment in your home that eluded you in your family of origin.

Though you can not recoup the losses of childhood fully, a close approximation of self-nurturing, self-respect, self-appreciation, fun and loving contact with your family today- can go a long way in re-parenting yourself and becoming a happier adult.

April 25, 2004

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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