Reparenting’s Connection to Attachment TheoryIt’s hard to discuss reparenting one’s inner child (or evaluating our romantic relationships) without looking at the relationships we have with our parents. Attachment theory is the process of exploring the impact of our interactions with our early caregivers and how that shapes how we trust and interact with others throughout our lives. It doesn’t get much more “inner child” than that.
If you are anxious and find it difficult to calm down, perhaps your inner child is screaming for comfort and validation.Attachment theory was originally coined in the 1960s and is largely based on a set of observations on parent/child relationships (and later adult attachment observations). Essentially, the types of attachments stem from observed reactions to periods of disconnection from a primary caregiver. Some children reacted well (secure attachment) while others displayed anxious, ambivalent or avoidant reactions—all insecure attachment responses. So what does this have to do with our social and romantic/sexual relationships as adults? We tend to react in relationships similarly as those children did in that experiment. Securely attached folks experience sadness but rebound quickly, while insecurely or anxiously attached folks behave in avoidant, dependent, or rejecting ways. Consider this: What happened the last time you were left “on read’”via text? How did you react? Doing this kind of exploration can be helpful in understanding the needs of your inner child. If you typically react by feeling very anxious and find it difficult to calm down, then you may be insecurely attached. If you find yourself riddled with anxiety and sending text after text to catch up with the person, perhaps there’s more to the story than just the disrespect of being ignored. Perhaps your inner child is screaming for comfort and validation. We often seek that validation in the eyes of others. Sometimes validation comes in purely social contact (or “platonic” contact), and at other times we get that validation in sexual or romantic connections. Neither way is right or wrong. However, we should consider the impact on our relationships and mental health. Do we find ourselves often seeking validation in the heart or bed of another? Can we satisfy and affirm ourselves independently, as well? Either way, our reactions in those moments are emotional canaries in the coal mine, telling us that we need to speak directly to our inner child. This is a process called reparenting.
Reparenting Your Inner ChildReparenting is the process by which we offer ourselves the validation and affirmation that we may have missed out on from our primary caregivers. Contrary to popular belief, in many cases reparenting is not an indictment of our parents, but rather a call to action to respond to the gaps in need that were created by parents who were often dealing with complicated life issues related to their own relationships, work, or illness.
As we take moments to reparent our inner child, we inherently communicate, “I am worthy of this.”Due to the diversity of our experiences, reparenting can look very different depending on the person. A great deal of reparenting also takes place in the space of therapy. Reparenting can look like working with a therapist to change the negative internal voice that sounds faintly reminiscent of your mother or father. Outside of therapy, reparenting can look like showing yourself love by preparing a cup of tea or a nutritious meal when you’re feeling upset. The strategies to reparent can be quite simple, yet difficult to execute, since negative experiences often lead us to believe that we’re not worthy of care and appreciation. Investing in a process of reparenting is one of the best ways we can be accountable to ourselves and acknowledge the emotional needs we have, and our own worthiness in meeting them.