We are the best guides and mentors for our kids. At least this is how we see the situation. Our kids get unconditional support, friendly advice, love, and tenderness. Our own parents are either far away or old and need our support. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could simply parent ourselves? This can actually be done! More reading here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.
Self-parenting use cases
When and how will we actually parent ourselves?
- Dealing with our own childhood traumas. Here we will need a strong parent figure with the knowledge that was not available to our own parents.
- Confronting pain and loneliness. Especially if our most effective parent figure is gone. For me, this figure was my grandmother. Occasionally I visualize her.
- When not sure what to do, looking for good advice. Quite often the figure visualized is a figure of a trusted mentor, like a beloved teacher, a coach, or a thesis advisor.
- Learning to teach others, for example being a good parent to our own children. Anything goes here, but nothing is promised to work.
- Looking for grounding. Quite often nothing feels real in our crazy world. We may literally need a visualized entity to make sure what is real.
- Pushing ourselves. While this is not the best use of self-parenting, it definitely happens. People often imagine some authority figure encouraging them to push through and try harder. A sort of “No pain no gain character”.
Notice that the parent figure is not always the actual parent. It can be anyone, real or fictionary. For example, a visualize religious figure can be very effective.
Start with diffusion
To parent ourselves we need to split the mind. I teach the relevant techniques in the masterclasses. There are several options:
- Diffusion. A standard mindfulness technique. There is an ego experiencing all sorts of spontaneous thoughts and emotions, and something more mature noticing and observing.
- Thinking hats. There are several different “positions”. An emotional position, a fact-oriented position, optimistic and pessimistic positions. And then there is this “blue” hat that conducts the entire discussion and oversees the methodology.
- Future self. When in trouble, we can try to visualize ourselves in the future, stronger and wiser. Brainstorm with the future self about the current issues and get perspective from a different point in time.
- Transactional analysis. In each communication, there is a part of a child, a part of an adult, and a part of a parent. The parent is typically a protective and caring entity.
- Fourth perspective. In every argument, there are two sides. There is also a third perspective of the observer in the room. The fourth perspective is above all those, detached but helpful.
In all of these situations, there is a sort of ‘super-ego’. This ‘super-ego’ can probably be transformed into a ‘parent’ if needed, only we do not usually take this step.
An issue with authority
Not everyone needs a parent figure. Many of us have issues with real parents and with authority figures. Parents make mistakes. They either push too hard or do not push strong enough. Some parents are too distant. Other parents are too emotional. Authority figures are often corrupt or misinformed.
There is no reason to take any of this into our visualizations. We can have a pretty good life without giving our ‘super-ego’ the qualities of a parent. Moreover, we can choose the methodology we use to generate this ‘super-ego’. The methodology used will have a very strong effect on the entities involved – real and visualized.
Improving the inner parent
Our inner parent is by no means ideal. We collect good and bad patterns of the authority figures we know. Then we add some things that are our own and tend to work. Does this mean the parent figure is any good? What are the basic qualities we need?
Protective. Before anything else parents offer protection. Not always physical one, but some sort of safety. This safety often comes from confidence and experience. Is your inner parent neurotic? If so, try to understand why.
Nurturing. Parents put the food on the table. Quite literally. Also, they provide emotional nourishment, often in the form of unconditional love. If your inner parent shows no emotions, try to explore why. Probably you will need to practice self-compassion and gratitude in some sort of mindfulness or CBT setup.
Wise. Possibly not an immediate parent, but a coach or a teacher has all the answers we need. Did we internalize those answers? Can we provide the answers ourselves? Helping others might be the best way to help ourselves and develop the right skills.
Disciplined. Parents provide boundaries and a moral compass. They teach us the good and the bad. Quite often the message is mixed. Mother and father, teachers and coaches, grandparents and mentors… They rarely agree with each other. Rely on your character strengths to build a clear moral compass and boundaries. Some boundaries will be ethical or others esthetic. Other boundaries with deal with risks and safety.
Motivating. Some parents motivate. Only they tend to be pushy. They ruin our internal motivation and generate stress. And then when they are not around there is a motivation to do nothing. If we internalize the motivating presence we can push ourselves forward. Just do not push too hard and try to build internal motivation.
Replaying the past
Most of us have childhood traumas of various sorts. I spent my elementary school with antisemitic children that humiliated me in a country that was a lie in my own eyes and in the eyes of my family. Others have different issues.
Maybe one of the parents was unreliable or violent. Or maybe there was a terrible accident. Possibly there was an inescapable depression. Each person and his story.
Quite probably the childhood traumas were not treated properly by parents and professionals. A scarred personality can lead to inappropriate actions. It is best to revisit and fix the issues. The process is long, typically around 100 sessions 1 hour each. Some pay a lot of money to do that with a psychiatrist. Others meditate or visualize, or use lucid dreaming.
An inner parent may provide new perspectives on the past events, intellectually and emotionally. In my case I had to understand that there was nothing wrong with me, simply the kids in my class were mean. Others need different insights. As grown-ups we often have more tools to help our inner child than anybody else. Just replay the past layer by layer and offer unconditional support to the child you used to be…
You may need professional guidance to deal with some specific issues. Only then go to the very specific professional, for example, someone who has a license to hypnotherapyy.
Dealing with your inner child
Even as grown-ups we still have our inner child, and this inner child has feelings. The inner child is the source of awe and creativity, fun and rebellion. And just as a real child it has needs.
It is quite strange to understand that our own personality is built layers upon layers. These are the patterns we acquired during different stages of our lives. Our inner child is not significantly more developed than the children we used to be. Only now it is paired with the much stronger inner parent and inner adult.
Inner adult deals with facts, statistics, reasoning. It is a critical being, If a missile is flying towards your home, the inner adult can calculate the chances of your specific home being hit. But does it calm you when you hear a siren? Not really. You need your inner parent, calm and confident.
The inner parent is an emotional creature. Its power comes from processed emotions, confidence, and experience. This is the last part of our personality to mature. Quite often it matures together with our own children.
What to do with immature parents
This is an interesting dilemma. We try to use a parental presence in our visualizations probably from the age of 3. What will the mother say? How will the father react? Would the teacher allow it?
Yet the initial internalized parent matures slowly. A child cannot effectively project a parental figure. He can rely on some superficial messages, but the underlying experience might be too complex for him.
As teenagers, we rebel against these superficial parent figures. What do they actually know? Was their world similar to our own? Did the same rules apply to their experience? How is their perspective still valid? We try to create our own parental figure, often based on our coaches or peers. This figure is incomplete since we lack information.
Only when we become actual parents we understand the complexity of the required presence. We rely upon our own experiences as parents, the stuff we internalized previously, and counseling. As parents, we need more counseling than ever before because our kids find all the cracks in our armor.
Also, we rely on each other. Mother and father are very different people with complementary strengths and weaknesses. We can internalize the approaches of our spouses or counselors and improve our strategies.
Getting experience or confidence is hard. Improving the strategies is relatively easy. If something is not working, try different strategies until you find the right one.
Inner parent and resilience
You probably noticed that the main role of the inner parent is resilience. It provides positive self-talk, compassionate emotional support, disciplined approach to emotionally charged subjects. If you feel that you want to rely on your inner parent, please do. If your inner parent makes you uncomfortable, there are plenty of other resilience techniques. Different approaches complement each other. Eventually we are likely to become better parents not just for ourselves, but also for our kids.