Blog 39. What Kind of Parent Are You to Yourself?
How Reparenting can Heal Your Inner Child to Create More Calm in Your Life
Dear blog friends,
As promised, here’s the second instalment in my Reparenting series. (I hope you weren’t holding your breath.
It’s just been published in a Medium publication called ‘Know Thyself, Heal Thyself’. That link is below, or the whole article below that.
The top of the liquid makeup tube must have been loose so when something landed on it, a gooey tan-coloured fountain had splurted out. The impressive splatter pattern went up the wall and onto the floor, the curtains and the bed spread.
What a mess!
I was on a group tour holiday in Italy and sharing a room with another solo traveller – a young Canadian woman. Ellie was confident, interesting and lots of fun. But when her makeup accident happened, she suddenly became super agitated, flustered and inconsolable.
Her face had changed; a lot like a deer caught in the headlights. It seemed to me that she’d gone into a REACTION that had triggered something deeper.
She was berating herself over and over. She was practising over and over how much she’d have to apologize to the cleaning staff. As I helped her clean up the worst of it, no matter how much I reassured her, she had gone into deep distress and anxiety.
She kept repeating, “I’m such a Clumsy Klutz! I always was and I still am. Clumsy Klutz!”
I know it’s a mess but why the label?
Now I wasn’t familiar with this Canadian slang, and I was surprised at the vehemence with which she delivered the words!
It seemed to me that in that moment she became a very judgmental, unforgiving ‘parent’ to herself.
At the same time, she became very young; a panicky little girl close to tears. This incident had triggered or activated what we could call her ‘inner child’.
All of us as children are prone to moments of tipping things over, dropping plates of food, spilling paint or art supplies and generally causing messes.
It can be a frustration for a harried parent already busy with a multitude of multi-tasking.
What if there’d been no label?
It got me wondering why I don’t go into this distressed state whenever I drop or spill things. It’s usually a case of, “Damn!” (or a stronger expletive depending on how busy I am, or the extent of the mess) then a getting on with the business of cleaning it up.
I wondered why I would be able to RESPOND to that accident on our Italian holiday by apologizing to the cleaning staff and perhaps buying them a little treat and a thank you card for causing them more work, without all the self-berating.
I wondered why I wouldn’t immediately jump to the label of being a Clumsy Klutz.
I wondered if a messy accident happened just once or ten times, would I be able to deal with each incident without applying the CK label? It got me recalling that my Mum had usually simply said, “Damn!” then got on with the job of cleaning it up, probably with annoyance but without resorting to labelling me and running me down.
Keeping the story going?
I wondered whose voice it was in Ellie’s head that had created some kind of a story around making messes, had put her into a box and set her CK identity in stone. I wondered if maybe she hadn’t even heard it from someone else but decided to run herself down and label herself in this way.
She was now either using the same words on herself as had been used on her, or was continuing to cement some story she had made up about herself.
She was still parenting her activated inner child in the same way.
I wondered if she was interested in changing this pattern.
To make a change, noticing comes first
Perhaps if Ellie was tired enough of being stuck in this old patten, she could begin to notice how she’s parenting herself. If she couldn’t step out and examine her words for herself, perhaps she would be able to hear me if I gently said to her, “Can you hear how you’re speaking to yourself?”.
Noticing her inner dialogue would be the first step.
Making a choice
Even if she notices this, Ellie could still be unwilling or unable to make a change.
She may say, “Oh that’s just who I am. I always talk to myself like that. I can’t change it.”
Ellie can keep doing what she’s doing. All good.
However, she may finally be fed up with the distress and anxiety that arises when she calls herself names and runs herself down for making a mistake. She may be tired of the drop in energy when she hears that old nasty label “Clumsy Klutz”.
In that moment, she may choose to replace the derogatory self-talk with something more helpful.
To do this, she would need to imagine a new kind of parent within. She would probably need to sit quietly, close her eyes and imagine what a more loving and accepting parent would say.
It would probably be something like what I would say to her, as
Replacing the self-talk
If I were Ellie’s new internal parent, I might I put my arms around her and comfort her.
“Dear Ellie. It’s OK. It was an accident. You didn’t deliberately leave the top off your makeup. These things happen to all of us. It’s fixable. It can be cleaned up as good as new. Mistakes and accidents will continue to happen. You can apologize, and help deal with the cleaning if you like. Would you do anything differently next time? You’re perfect just as you are. I love you.”
Gently reparenting the activated inner child.
Gently releasing the old stories.
Reparenting not just for Ellie
Of course, seeing Ellie’s REACTION was a beautiful way for me to see this triggering phenomenon in someone else. If I’m still unconscious myself, I might leave it at that, and feel just a tiny bit condescending: “Poor Ellie. Thank goodness I don’t react like that!”
But if I’m on the ball, I’ll know that this is an invitation to look at my own inner parenting put-downs.
When do I say judgmental, unforgiving, mean things to myself?
Am I ready to ask myself, “Can you hear how you’re speaking to yourself?”
Stay tuned for the next episode in this little series. More about put-down lists and asking the question, “What’s the pay-off?”
With love to you and your inner child and parent,