How many of us could be more effective in the world, if only we had better skills to both take care of ourselves and interact with others?
Having to re-parent yourself can stem from all kinds of experiences, such as abuse, being raised by narcissistic parents, fighting depression growing up, or having to be the adult when your parents were not.
1 in 8 children in the US experiences a CPS-confirmed case of neglect, physical, or emotional abuse before turning 18. Add in the rest of us whom CPS missed, or who experienced less extreme but still negative childhood treatment, and it becomes clear: a lot of us might need a little re-parenting.
Do I Need To Re-Parent Myself?
If you didn’t get the proper parenting, growing up, you now have to manage all your own responsibilities, plus pick up what your parents didn’t teach you — you become a self-parent.
Regardless of childhood background or emotional state, any of us might need a tune-up on some basic skills we should’ve learned in childhood. Even good parents have an extremely difficult job in having to juggle and teach so many skills at once, and they may have missed a couple.
You might have learned to sacrifice your needs, even on very basic levels, or you might not have learned to take care of yourself in the first place.
Below, we go through tips to re-learn social and emotional regulation skills, nurture a positive inner voice, and even develop basic hygiene and self-care skills.
Those of us who need re-parenting stand in good company, and hey! You’ve already taken a step by landing here.
Relearning Social Skills
It’s tricky enough for children to learn social skills, so having to learn them as an adult seems insurmountable. It’s like we need to go back to preschool, as adults.
Individuals with social anxiety, individuals who were the only child in their household, and those who were simply taught ineffective ways of interacting all have to relearn social skills as they get older. And this can be fixed through the re-parenting process.
It’s daunting, but below is a ‘preschool primer’ for learning or rebuilding social skills as an adult:
Learn by Example
One of the easiest ways to learn, is to spend time with people who are already good at socializing. Make a mental note of what they do that seems to work, and don’t be afraid to ask them about how they approach certain situations.
You can also even watch sitcoms or TV shows with wholesome interactions — you’d be surprised by how much you’ll absorb.
Learn by Rehearsal
When you’re alone or with a trusted friend, use that time to rehearse how you want to talk to others. This can help build your confidence and help you feel more prepared for the real thing.
Ask For Feedback
Ask your friends how they thought you did in social situations, and what you could do better. Parents often give this type of feedback, so in this way, your friends can help you re-parent yourself. This can let you know the things you’re doing great at, while also helping you shore up potential weaknesses.
Our only advice is to ask a particularly trustworthy friend – asking a critical friend or someone who likes to be sarcastic might open you up for more pain than learning.
Gradually Hone Your Skills
Repetition is the key to success in most skills, and social skills are no exception to this. Make notes (mental or on paper) of what went well, what didn’t, and what you can do differently next time.
Don’t get discouraged when things don’t go how you expect, keep practicing and you’ll eventually find your own brand of ‘socially acceptable.’
Relearning Emotional Regulation
Life experiences like trauma and depression can create roadblocks in our emotional development. As such, when we experience strong emotions, we don’t know how to respond or how to manage them well at all.
But these roadblocks are only temporary. Below are a few things you can do to nurture your own emotions and cope better than most adults have ever learned to. Emotional regulation is a big part of the re-parenting process.
Accept, Rather than Repress
It’s important to let your emotions flow rather than push them away. On the one hand, repressing emotions can be catastrophic for your mental and physical well being. On the other, experiencing strong emotions can help you learn how to act when you feel them in the future.
Make a Note
If you’re experiencing something but you’re not sure what it is, make a mental or physical note of how you feel. Do you feel like your heart is beating extremely fast, or like you can feel the hairs on the back of your neck stand up? Try to assess some of your physical sensations and note what you think you may be feeling.
Effective parents teach kids to stay present to sensations, and also not to freak out about small things – figuring out your ‘normal’ is part of the re-parenting process.
If possible, try to find an outlet for your emotions. For example, art is a common and effective therapy for those with past trauma, and other methods of expression like writing or creating music can help as well.
Personal projects can help narrow down what we’re feeling and give us a healthy way to manage emotions.
Talk to Others
If you feel confused on what you may be feeling or need help managing difficult emotions, don’t be afraid to talk to a friend. Asking a friend can give you a second opinion on what you may think you’re feeling. Your friends may also have some helpful tips on how they manage their feelings. So if something you’re trying isn’t working out, let someone know and they can help!
Your Inner Voice: Shaped By Parents, Re-Parented Now
Our inner voice is the internal monologue of our consciousness. It helps us give words to our thoughts, helps us handle stressful situations, and can act as the first internal check before voicing our thoughts.
According to long-accepted attachment research, children develop their inner voice through interactions with their parents. Essentially, we internalize how our parents talk to us.
A positive or neutral inner voice can reflect an effective upbringing, while a more negative, critical inner voice can arise for two reasons:
- It can reflect how your parents spoke to you in early childhood, or
- It can arise as a defense mechanism to predict punishment in a stressful environment.
One method Dr. Lisa Firestone suggests to work around a negative inner voice is to ‘argue’ against it.
If you naturally tell yourself something unnecessarily negative, follow up with a rebuttal. Or, even better, do something to prove the inner voice wrong!
The more often you do this, the quicker you can shift a negative inner voice into a positive one — even after years of negative self-talk. The goal is to build evidence for yourself that you are worthy, and that your best is enough.
In countering self-sabotaging self-talk, work on developing your own, helpful internal voice.
Self-Compassion vs. Self-Discipline
In the re-parenting process, you’ll need to self-assess what you need from your internal voice: self-compassion or discipline. Depending on what you determine you need, re-parenting may require you to either:
- take it easier on yourself (likely if you had demanding parents), OR
- honestly reassess whether your current habits serve you well (likely if you had neglectful, permissive, or enabling parents)
For those who are too harsh on themselves or others, it’s important to learn the value of self-compassion.
A lack of self-compassion often results from parents who were too harsh or demanding. But things like self-forgiveness, expressing gratitude, and practicing mindfulness are all some of the ways we can be more compassionate to ourselves and those around us.
On the reverse side, if you feel like you need to hold yourself more accountable for plans or routines, you may choose to emphasize self-discipline.
Lack of discipline can result from neglectful or enabling parents, but discipline can be honed by setting priorities, visualizing goals, being consistent in your habits, and much more. It’s up to you to experiment and find out which techniques fit you.
A note to those struggling with both discipline and self-compassion: ‘Just do it’ doesn’t have to mean: “Do it, and do it perfectly, with the perfect timing.” One great way to start becoming more disciplined is to ‘half-ass’ things.
When depression or anxiety have you stuck before you start, tell yourself that you don’t have to do a great job, or even a good job. You just have to start.
Once you’ve started, it becomes a lot easier to keep going and finish the job. And even if you only ‘half-ass’ your routine, you still accomplished more than if you never started.
Back To The Very Basics: Self-Care
Some of our basic human needs include our needs for food and our need to maintain our health.
As children, it falls on our parents to provide these things, like cooking or making sure we get enough outside activity. But for those of us who have to re-parent ourselves, it’s now up to us to meet our own physical needs.
While basic hygiene seems like a no-brainer to many, it’s harder to keep on top of if you didn’t learn how, or had other things to manage during childhood.
It will take some effort and discipline, but you can learn to seamlessly integrate hygiene into your life.
Whether you need to learn how to take care of yourself, or you just need to get into a hygiene routine, the first step is to form solid habits. Repetition will help ingrain these tasks into your routine to the point where you don’t have to think about it anymore!
Here are the very basics of personal hygiene, to learn on your re-parenting mission:
Be sure to take your time and let the water flow over you for a couple minutes before lathering soap. Doing this and using warm water helps soften and remove dirt and other residue more easily from your body.
Remember to keep your towel washed regularly. Some families don’t prioritize this, and it can cause problems like acne and other skin infections.
A dirty towel can spread bacteria if it goes unwashed too long – and according to experts, ‘too long’ is anything more than once a week. Some sources even recommend washing your body towel once every 3 times you use it – that could be twice a week, but it will help you keep clear of any skin problems.
The Importance of Brushing Your Teeth:
When you have depression, brushing your teeth often takes the first hit – if you’re not around a lot of people, you can convince yourself it doesn’t matter so much.
But while peoples’ opinions of your bad breath may not compel you, you should know that skipping a nightly brushing can actually contribute to your depression!
We all know the experts say to brush at least twice a day and spend about 30 seconds brushing each quadrant of your mouth, two minutes in total. But if you’re struggling to just get up and do it at all, we’ll repeat the best advice: half-assing is better than no-assing. Tell yourself you only have to do a quick pass, only 30 seconds, only the front teeth.
If that helps you get up and put toothpaste on the brush, you’ve succeeded already! Once you’re up and doing it, it becomes a lot easier to just finish the job properly. Half-assing your tooth hygiene at first may help you get into a regular habit – and reducing oral inflammation may help your depression as a side effect!
Be sure to pick the right razor for you, which might take some experimentation. Some women pick up men’s razors if they prefer a smoother shave, and some men use women’s razors for less skin irritation.
But really, most of the actual difference comes down to the number of blades in the razor – conventional wisdom says that the more blades, the more hairs you catch per pass of the razor, and the fewer times you have to go over each area of skin. In theory, this reduces your chances of cuts and razor burn. Watch some videos on technique, as different areas of skin might need different methods – learn general tips, or how to shave your underarms, legs or beard, specifically.
A note on shaving: it’s never necessary. It might help before a big job interview, or if you’re going to be around judgmental people. But with your body, it’s your choice, and you don’t have to shave to be attractive or clean.
Tips on Finishing Touches:
Remember to apply deodorant before going out, as it helps manage any bacteria we naturally build through normal activity. You can pick a deodorant with aluminum ingredients for the biggest sweat reduction, or a natural deodorant that carries less risk of breast and skin cancers, but may not reduce the wetness as much. Mouthwash can also do the same to freshen our breath.
Be sure to keep an eye out on your basic physical health. If you feel like something is off in your body, note it, and ask yourself whether this is normal for you.
If it’s not normal, it’s worth checking out; and if it’s normal, but this is interfering with daily life or feels unhealthy, don’t hesitate to call your primary care doctor, anyway. You can also call an advice nurse 24/7, through almost all insurance providers. Start by checking your insurance website!
We’ve all heard it before, but for good reason – pay attention to your activity level. Physical activity is one of the best ways we can maintain both our physical health and our emotional well-being. If there ever was a magical medicine for many ailments, exercise would be it.
The American Heart Association recommends about 150 minutes of exercise a week, which translates into about 20 minutes a day. While that sounds like a lot, research shows that even something as small as a few minutes a day can have positive benefits. So, again, be sure to do whatever small amount you can!
We’ll keep this one short and sweet, with a general rule of thumb: half your plate should be vegetables. Salad, sliced sauteed squash, steamed roasted cauliflower, etc. One quarter to one third of the plate should be whole grains and healthy starches (think brown rice, sweet potato, or beans like lentils). And the rest should be some kind of protein (fish is supposedly great for your mental health).
It’s not always feasible to follow these ratios, but they’re good to keep in mind when making meal choices.
While depression (and Postmates) can tempt you to go out for food, it’s much cheaper, healthier, and tastier to learn how to cook your own. There are many resources available for aspiring home chefs, depending on what you want to learn about.
You can start learning the science of your ingredients and cooking techniques, nailing a few basic but delicious recipes, or experimenting with more ambitious dishes for fun. It may seem intimidating, but you really can learn a few kitchen basics in no time, and the rest will come more easily after that! If you’re willing to put in the time.
Besides, you owe it to yourself, to treat your inner child to some good, home cooked food – especially if your parents didn’t give you that in childhood.
To everyone trying to be their own parent: you’re already ten steps ahead.
If you would like reliable support through the process, there are people who understand the struggle, and who would love to meet someone in the same situation.
You always have someone to talk to without judgement at Supportiv.