How to parent yourself       

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For many, the first experience of trauma is during childhood which can have lifelong effects. Gugulethu Mhlungu finds out how reparenting yourself offers a useful tool for dealing with childhood pain.

A study called Parents’ Adverse Childhood Experiences and Their Children’s Behavioural Health Problems, published in 2018 by the University of California, found that parents who had gone through severe trauma as children, were more likely to have kids with behavioural health problems. Paediatrician, researcher and the study’s lead author Dr Adam Schickedanz said of the groundbreaking work: “Previous research looked at childhood trauma as a risk factor for physical and mental health problems in adulthood. But, this is the first research to show that the long-term behavioural health harms of childhood extend across generations; from parent to child.” Thandeka Zondi struggles with low self-esteem and anxiety as a result of her parents who she says always disapproved and were critical of her, regardless of what she did. “Becoming an adult meant having to reconcile with the fact that my parents had hurt me even though they did their best raising me.” As with Thandeka’s experience, childhood trauma can have a deep, lifelong, and sometimes generational impact.

 Parenting styles and their impact  

Psychologist and life coach, Dr Tshepiso Matentjie, says our childhoods are hugely important because we learn how to treat ourselves based on how we are treated by our parents and primary caregivers. She adds that before we can speak about how to reparent ourselves, which is learning from a professional (psychologist) how to treat ourselves in nurturing, caring and constructively critical ways a parent should, we must first understand what kind of parenting we had. “Through reparenting, we can teach you how to be your own emotional coach, help you recognise positive and negative behaviours and how to create healthier ways of coping.”

The four types of parents, explained by Dr Tshepiso

Dismissive parenting: If your parent was dismissive, chances are they were also neglectful. Reparenting can help you learn how to not dismiss your feelings and engage with them whether you are sad, angry or afraid. You will also learn to figure out what triggers these feelings. You learn how to respond with kindness, and wanting to self-correct rather than avoid.

Disapproving parenting: Those raised by disapproving parents often grow to be harsh and self-critical. They struggle to celebrate themselves or others because their parents didn’t celebrate them or their achievements. They also struggle with happiness and become joy stealers. Reparenting yourself after disapproval means learning what you want, how to celebrate yourself and your achievements, and find joy.

Permissible parenting: Those raised by laissez-faire or parents that allowed anything also need reparenting because having parents that offered no boundaries or structure and didn’t seem to care about anything, can create a child that becomes dependant on approval from others. Reparenting yourself from permissible parents involves you creating boundaries for yourself and recognising that they are good and important.

Authoritarian parenting: Authoritarian upbringings can create adults that are obsessed with control and failure not being an option. These people tend to micromanage every aspect of their lives, including other people. Children of authoritarian parents often grow to become adults that are strict, unyielding and only see things in black and white. Reparenting yourself after a strict upbringing involves learning how to deal with complexity in yourself and other people, as well as coping with changes.

 How to fall in love with yourself 

 Healing your inner child

“Reparenting can help you nurture your inner child and teach you healthier ways of dealing with pain while holding yourself accountable for your actions,” adds Dr Tsephiso. While the past cannot be undone, dealing with things that hurt you as a child can give you the future and life that you imagine for yourself.