“Reparenting” — ever heard of this word in the context of psychotherapy? One of my therapy supervisors once told me that she didn’t like that word. At first I didn’t really understand why, but as time went on, I realized what she meant.
All of us have made it to this point in our lives because our parents (or early childhood figures) did something right. Whether it was just the basics, like food/clothing/shelter, or something more advanced, like providing the right type or amount of emotional support for each of us, we received enough support to reach this point. However, some of us got too much of a bad thing (ie. abuse) or too little of a good thing (ie. nurturing). As a result, there are certain parts of us that don’t work as well as they could. Certain parts of us may need to be “reparented” in a way, so that we can receive what we need. But that doesn’t necessarily mean our parents completely failed us, either.
It’s common for patients to worry that their problems aren’t “big enough” for therapy. Let’s say you are struggling with this question yourself.
The fact of the matter is, if your problems are causing you distress on a daily basis and/or there is some kind of internal conflict that you just can’t resolve, that’s reason enough to seek out therapy. Your issues might be external, but the argument could be made that you at least partially ended up in your current situation by making choices. (For example: Reacting to events in certain ways, talking to yourself in certain ways, choosing to be with certain people). You made these particular choices because of events that shaped you in your childhood. And these events include things that were done, and weren’t done, by your parents or early childhood figures…despite the fact that they love you dearly.
Hypothetical Scenario to Illustrate My Point
Imagine that you have terrible anger issues. You feel like you can’t help but become extremely irritable or even angry at what you consider “minor” situations, where another person might just shrug the event off. This is because your domineering mother used to criticize you daily, but you were never allowed to say anything because you would get a harsh punishment for talking back. This was out of misguided love — your mother wanted you to grow up to be a respectful, polite person, but didn’t realize how damaging the effects of her approach might be.
Now, flashing back to present day. Let’s say that someone cuts you off while you’re driving. Instead of shaking your head at their rudeness, you begin cursing loudly and tailing their car at 100 mph. Your rage blinds you to the police car behind you, which pulls you over and gives you a $500 fine. You have $30 in the bank and your credit cards are maxed out. Panic suddenly mixes with your anger. Days later, you find that you haven’t eaten or slept well enough to go to work. All because you automatically responded to your brain telling you, “That a-hole in the other car is just like your mother!”
I could go on, but you get the picture. In the above scenario, extreme irritability and anger drains you of your energy, resources, ability to get things done that you need or want to get done, and then gets you into trouble that only worsens your mood more. I’d compare this to a bucket with a small hole in it, or a computer that lags because of outdated software. Sure, they still work. Maybe you don’t have the ability to patch up the hole or upgrade the software right now. Maybe there are more important things, like keeping your head above water, simply surviving. But in the long run, wouldn’t it be great if those issues could be repaired? So that you could live your purpose, just like the bucket would function to carry water or sand, or like the computer runs to pull up information quickly?
The Bottom Line
If the hole isn’t fixed or the software isn’t updated, a lot of times you are so drained that you can’t go after hopes and dreams. You can only focus on survival. Maybe that’s what’s stopping you from seeking out therapy, too. It’s difficult to delve into areas that cause us discomfort when we just think about them. It’s even more difficult to change parts of who we are. But if those parts are no longer serving us and even chipping away at our energy every single day, I argue that the time and resources we invest into the process are entirely worth it. Whether this is watching YouTube videos, listening to podcasts, reading blogs, attending a support group…I believe it’s all worth it. Sometimes, you try a couple of these things and you patch yourself up well enough. Other times, many things don’t work out for you. But keep on trying, because you’re growing towards success every step of the way.
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