All children need to feel “seen, safe, soothed and secure,” says neuropsychiatrist, Dr. Dan Siegel. Although it sounds simple, if we grew up lacking these basic assurances of being loved, we may be living with an emotional wound called attachment trauma. As we mature, it’s important to confront and deal with that pain in a way that removes its negative power over us
Surviving Improper Parenting
Because parents are usually the first influence in our lives, what we learn or do not learn from them can have lasting repercussions. Unfortunately, this can translate into many people suffering from the effects of improper parenting.
If not addressed, those effects can be felt for a lifetime, and they include low self-esteem, being drawn into abusive relationships, unhealthy habits or inhibitions and feelings of worthlessness.
Improper parenting can be reflected in physical, sexual and verbal abuse, physical and emotional neglect, rejection, favoritism of one sibling over another, lack of discipline, forcing choices on children and being overly protective or indulgent.
Because we often parent as we were parented, it’s important to heal our own wounds and learn proper parenting techniques so that we don’t perpetuate the cycle. As P. D. James wrote in Time to Be in Earnest, “What a child doesn’t receive, he can seldom later give.”
How, then, can we heal from improper parenting, making ourselves whole, happier members of society as well as better parents to the next generation?
First, it is important to understand that, even as an adult, there is still a part of us that thinks, feels and reacts like a child because, unfortunately, time alone does not heal childhood wounds. Many of these wounds are deep, and need professional help to address. However here are some first steps you can take to toward learning how to nurture and heal the child within:
Embrace the recovery process. Whether you decide to seek professional therapy or learn coping techniques on your own, realize that the process will take time and effort on your part. Be patient with yourself and don’t expect perfection.
- Don’t blame others. We cannot thrive in the present if we are living in the past or blaming others for our problems and conflicts. Even though we could not control the first years of our life, we should not blame others for the choices we make now. We have to learn how to take responsibility and work through the traumatic feelings from the past that continue to haunt us in the present.
- Identify and remove mental and emotional blocks. Through therapy, journaling or other techniques, it’s important to probe the unprocessed issues from childhood that continue to negatively impact you and block you from leading the life you want.
- Learn new strategies. Realize that the process consists not only of learning the right behaviors, but about being a whole person. That means taking reasonable risks to build your emotional confidence, self-esteem and self-worth.
- Growing up all over again. Essentially, it’s almost like going through the growing up process again, but this time, doing it the right way for you. Learn to rely upon yourself to give yourself what you need or what you feel you have been lacking.
- Forgive. Forgiveness can be a controversial issue. Some regard it as necessary for healing; others say it is not. At heart, forgiveness is a process that frees you. It’s not about condoning the way you were parented, but about understanding the roots of your parents’ behavior, letting go of the past and moving on. Whether or not you decide to forgive your parents, do try to forgive yourself for any choices or behaviors you may regret. You might even reframe regrets as opportunities for growth and learning.
- Share your story. Support groups are an excellent opportunity for you to share your story with others in a safe environment. It can be helpful to reach out to others who are suffering or who can understand what you’re going through or have gone through.
It is very difficult to be a good parent and set up an effective model for our children until we go through the recovery process ourselves. However, when we begin to heal and let go of the mistakes our parents made, we can break the negative parenting cycles and become healthy, functioning human beings. It is only by learning how to love and accept ourselves that we can love and accept others.
Author’s content used under license, © Claire Communications
While some childhood traumas are severe, attachment trauma can be insidious, built up over a long childhood of disregard. Whatever the cause, when childhood woundedness affects a person’s ability to develop healthy relationships, especially with their own children, it’s important to get help.
Every day we work with people of all ages who are confronting their childhood issues and dealing with the pain of attachment trauma. In our practice, we’ve seen positive results from using EMDR therapy to help release people from the power those childhood experiences wield on their lives. If you’d like to talk to us about how we can help you process attachment trauma or any other issue, please call our office at 818-681-6627 for a free 15 minute phone consultation.