Do you find it difficult to give yourself care and compassion? Do you worry that if you’re too easy on yourself, you’ll drop the ball?
This type of harsh inner critic is often linked to a childhood in which your needs went unmet. Self-parenting can help you meet those needs today while enhancing rather than hindering your success.
Keep reading to find out how.
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What Is Self-Parenting?
Self-parenting means giving yourself the care and attention you may have missed as a child. It means letting your hurt inner child feel seen, heard, and protected.
Without self-parenting, your inner child will try to protect you in ways that harm rather than help you. Why is that?
As a child, you may not have learned mature ways of dealing with your emotions. You weren’t taught how to make decisions or deal with conflict. As a result, the inner child jumps in and does their best to solve your problems. But they lack the capacity to do so effectively.
What you call procrastination, the inner child views as protection. If you complete that big project, for example, your visibility increases. This feels dangerous when survival as a child depended on you staying small and silent.
How would your life change if instead of holding yourself back you cheered yourself on? By learning the art of self-parenting, you will become your own best supporter instead of your worst critic.
Read on to learn the key steps to mastering this transformative practice.
Understanding the Unexpected Origin of the Inner Critic
You may be surprised to learn that your inner critic is the culmination of voices from your childhood. It’s the echo of your parents, caregivers, and other authority figures that you’ve internalized and made your own.
That’s why you’re hard on yourself and find it difficult to give yourself compassion. You treat yourself harshly today because, in the past, you rarely received the gentle support every child needs.
As a result, self-kindness doesn’t come naturally to you.
You may have learned about interrupting the inner critic with positive mantras. You may also have wondered why this method hasn’t worked for you, and the research explains why.
If you tell yourself one thing while believing another, that creates cognitive dissonance. This is a disconnect between what your subconscious mind knows to be true and what your conscious mind is telling it.
So, when you repeat, “I am worthy,” but your subconscious mind believes something different, you will not change how you feel about yourself deep down.
Treating yourself with compassion will help increase your level of worthiness. And this will ensure those mantras have their intended positive effects.
The antidote to the inner critic is self-compassion. This is the next stepping stone to self-parenting.
The 3 Keys to Self-Compassion
Dr. Kristin Neff, the foremost researcher on the topic, names three keys to self-compassion. She cites self-kindness vs. self-judgment, common humanity vs. isolation, and mindfulness vs. overidentification.
How do you speak to yourself when you are going through something difficult? How about when you fall short of reaching a goal?
Now, consider how you speak to a friend in the same situation. You’re probably much harder on yourself than anyone else. The first key, self-kindness, asks you to begin treating yourself as well as you would a friend or family member.
Next, when you’re going through something hard, do you tend to isolate yourself? Do you believe you’re the only one who feels this way or the sole person who makes mistakes?
The second key to self-compassion involves understanding that everyone goes through these things and you’re not alone.
Finally, do you judge certain emotions and label them negative? Do you avoid or feel ashamed when you experience these feelings as opposed to others?
The third key—mindfulness—means observing and accepting all your emotions without judgment. Emotions are neither good nor bad, and they do not define you.
Setting Boundaries (And the Surprising Reason It’s So Difficult)
When you grew up in a home where your needs went unmet, you may have trouble setting boundaries. Also called people-pleasing, poor boundaries result in you putting others’ needs ahead of your own.
If saying no got you punished or rejected as a child, you will fear the consequences of asserting your needs as an adult. Without self-parenting, your inner child views pleasing others as necessary to stay alive.
As a child, rejection or abandonment from parents felt life-threatening. Too young to care for your own needs, you survived by keeping your caretakers happy at the expense of yourself.
Now that you’re an adult, self-parenting requires that you assure your inner child that they are no longer in charge.
Remind them that you are not in danger if an adult rejects you. The proof lies in the fact that you have a job and a home and can take care of yourself.
It may still hurt if someone rejects you for saying no to them, but you will survive—and it gets easier. Boundary setting is like a muscle that gets stronger the more you use it.
Increase Self-Awareness to Set Better Boundaries
If your parents failed to give you guidance through life, you will struggle to understand who you are. If you felt ignored or like you didn’t matter, you will lack the self-awareness necessary to set healthy boundaries.
Since boundaries tell other people where you end and they begin, you need to know who you are before you can set them.
You might begin by making a list of your likes and dislikes. Use the five senses to guide you. What do you like to see, hear, smell, touch, and taste?
Now, look at your life and ask how much time you spend doing what you like. If you have poor boundaries, chances are you spend most of your time doing things that don’t bring you joy.
This is one way that self-parenting improves your life. You begin saying no to things that misalign with your tastes and values. And the trajectory of your life changes its course toward your deepest fulfillment.
The Role of Self-Parenting in Trauma Healing
You do not need to have been beaten or physically neglected to have experienced trauma in childhood. In recent years, emotional neglect has been recognized as a form of childhood trauma.
If you felt you had no one to go to for support when dealing with difficult emotions, that’s trauma.
Did you “walk on eggshells?” Or make yourself small and scarce when a parent returned home from work? It’s not the nature of the event that defines trauma but the impact it had on you that counts.
Parents may have been physically present but emotionally absent. They may have been away through no fault of their own, such as in cases of divorce or hospitalization.
Nevertheless, you experienced a lack of safety and stability in the home at a time of crucial development for your brain. Though you may not label these events as traumatic, they had a lasting impact on you.
Healing Insecure Attachment Styles
When your needs went unmet in childhood, you developed what’s known as an insecure attachment style. This is why you recreate childhood experiences in your adult relationships.
As an adult, you gravitate toward relationships and situations that feel familiar to you. That could mean over-giving in relationships or creating emotional distance and avoiding intimacy to keep yourself safe.
If love felt out of reach or difficult to get as a child, you will assume the same to be true in your adult relationships. If you got punished for expressing emotions, you will have trouble opening up to a partner.
You’ll need constant reassurance of someone’s love, which ends up pushing them away. Or, you’ll create distance when someone tries to get close to you, which prevents intimacy.
Self-parenting will help you understand your attachment style by increasing your self-awareness. When you notice yourself creating distance to feel safe in your relationship, try opening up and sharing your emotional world instead.
If vulnerability feels life-threatening, remind yourself that you’re no longer a child and can take care of your own needs.
It’s unlikely a trusted person will reject you for opening up. But if they do, you’ll live, and, most importantly, you’ll grow.
If, on the other hand, you’re more clingy in relationships, find other people to talk to besides your partner. Be honest about your needs rather than trying to satisfy them indirectly by evoking jealousy or picking fights.
Self-Parenting by Reconnecting With Your Playful Side
Self-parenting means reconnecting with your playful side. Do something you like for no other reason other than that it pleases you. Use your new list of likes as a guide.
Let go of the guilt that often accompanies downtime. You’ve been conditioned to believe that your only value lies in your accomplishments. Rather than rest when you need to, you push through until you experience burnout.
Give yourself permission to take care of your needs before exhaustion sets in.
Recall a time in your childhood when you experienced pure joy. You may have to go back to toddlerhood to remember how you felt before you started people pleasing.
What were you doing that made time fly by? How did you feel before you became consumed with other people’s wants and needs?
Give yourself the gift of incorporating playful activities into your life. If accessing such joy still feels out of reach, complete the exercise below.
Self-Parenting Strategy to Rewrite Your Story
Recall the first time you experienced a consequence for your joy that made you believe your desires were dangerous or that you’d lose love if you asked for what you wanted.
For example, your parents yelled at you for running around the house while you played.
That’s why today, you fear something bad will happen if you’re having too much fun. When things are going well, you have a sense that “the other shoe will drop.”
In a journal, write down one (or more) of these early consequences of having fun or expressing a need. Feel the pain and loss in those moments. Then, close your eyes and visualize a different scenario.
What if your parent or caregiver had responded in a loving way? What would that look like?
This would have given you a different story about your needs. You would have felt validated and reassured that you are worthy of care and love.
Use this self-parenting strategy to write a new story that will replace the one you’ve told yourself all these years.
Most of us have unmet needs from childhood that impact us as adults. Whether or not you view these as traumatic, they rewired your brain to work against you in some key ways.
Now that you’re aware of the reasons why you self-sabotage, you can stop the unconscious patterns of your past.
By using the self-parenting strategies in this article, you will bring about quick and lasting change in your life.
Featured photo credit: Laurenz Kleinheider via unsplash.com