Becoming Your Own Parent

A lot of what has many people coming to therapy in the first place – the root of much of their distress – stems from a variety of unmet needs in the more formative years of childhood. It is these unmet needs that can so subtly yet concretely solidify aspects of our personalities that even we can be blind to simply because we’re so used to them that they easily blend into the background. It is these character traits that can be guarding us from our biggest fears and simultaneously cause us such inner turmoil. While identifying and processing how these unmet needs are affecting one’s current life situation is certainly a part of the therapeutic process, the real challenge – where change actually happens – is in learning how to take it one step further by developing a stronger sense of autonomy.

While there are many books, articles, and even entire philosophies dedicated to this topic, the idea of autonomy can more or less be summed up in something a friend of mine said in reflecting on her own decade or two in therapy. “What you’re really doing as a therapist,” she said, “is teaching someone how to be their own parent.” If this sounds a little odd to you, it’s because it should. There are certainly no replacements for the care and support of two loving parents, and this concept is not designed to undermine that in any way. But being a parent is by far one of the most challenging responsibilities, and no one in the history of human civilization has done it perfectly. In fact, part of being a parent requires an aspect of acceptance that you will some day let your child down simply because you’re a flawed human being. So to put this idea of becoming your own parent in more manageable terms, it can more or less be the equivalent concept of being the ‘master of your domain’ – essentially learning how to become your own inner creator and means of support as an adult, rather than your own biggest critic and greatest enemy. And who can honestly say they have never struggled with that?

When I talk to clients about the idea of them learning to become their own parent I’m frequently met with confusion over what that could possibly mean let alone look like. I then encourage them to think of themselves as the parents they needed or wished they’d had by learning how to nurture their own wounded child within. I can list a number of different ways as to how to go about doing that, but this article beat me to it. While it is written specifically with the parent-child relationship in mind, I believe the same points can be applied to how one learns to nurture their own inner child.

“Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself. They come through you but not from you, And though they are with you yet they belong not to you. You may give them your love but not your thoughts, For they have their own thoughts. You may house their bodies but not their souls, For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams. You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you. For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.”

~ Kahlil Gibran

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