Why parenting yourself is important when you’ve been neglected

parenting yourself
Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Parenting yourself is important when your own parents failed to give you what you needed. You grew up feeling unheard and unseen, like you didn’t matter.

Parenting yourself means letting the hurt child feel heard and seen. Otherwise, she’ll try to get that attention in unhealthy ways that feel beyond your control and which sabotage you.

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For example, I started drinking as a teen to cope with my parents’ severe emotional neglect. It was the only time I felt comfortable in my skin and had the confidence to speak.

But when I drank, something innocuous would set me off and I’d fly into a rage. Apologizing for things I’d said the night before became a regular occurrence.

Now I know that was the hurt child in me begging to be seen and heard, and going about it the wrong way. That terrible coping mechanism held me back in every area of my life and I couldn’t live fully until I learned to parent myself (and give up the alcohol).

Why do you need to parent yourself?

We need to parent ourselves so we can receive the care and attention we lacked as children and live more satisfying, authentic lives.

Until you master parenting yourself, you’ll keep seeking surrogate parents in toxic places. This is why we end up with romantic partners that hurt us, or feel inferior to our friends and coworkers.

Until you master parenting yourself, you'll keep seeking surrogate parents in toxic places. This is why we end up with romantic partners that hurt us, or feel inferior to our friends and coworkers. Click To Tweet

We’ll keep underachieving in spite of our immense potential. Or overachieving for the sole purpose of trying to win someone’s love and validation. We’ll keep settling for less because that feels familiar to us. 

When you start parenting yourself, your tolerance for pain and abuse will lower. You’ll no longer feel comfortable in relationships where your needs are not met. You won’t be desperate to hold onto someone who treats you like you don’t matter.

How to parent yourself

1. Self Care

Learn to be kind to yourself. If you’ve been abused or neglected as a child, or had parents who weren’t “good enough”, you probably beat yourself up a lot.

It’s not realistic to say “speak nicely to yourself”. Behavior modification is short-lived at best and useless at worst in the absence of a true shift in your beliefs about yourself.

First, you must begin to treat yourself in ways that demonstrate your value. Start with something do-able like sitting with yourself for 5 minutes.

Some people call this practice of sitting alone doing nothing “mindfulness”. Mindfulness creates space in your brain to let your thoughts roam freely. Put simply, it is nothing more than paying attention to the present moment.

Start saying no to things that don’t interest you and yes to things that scare you but excite you. Find a hobby or passion and do it because you love it, not as a job.

If your parents never helped you know your strengths and weaknesses, this is the time to find them out for yourself. Pay attention to what you do well and ask trusted friends and loved ones to help you with your list.

Taking time to understand your likes and dislikes and doing more of what pleases you will help you value yourself more. You may be getting to know yourself for the first time.

All your life you’ve been surviving and defending against external threats, rather than looking within. Self care will help change your inner voice from one of criticism and loathing to loving and cherishing. Click To Tweet

All your life you’ve been surviving and defending against external threats, rather than looking within. Self care will help change your inner voice from one of criticism and loathing to loving and cherishing.

2. Self discipline

Under-parented children miss not only nurturing, but structure and discipline. In fact, loving parents can over-nurture and fail to discipline their children. (Although, I’d argue that’s not loving at all.)

As a good parent offers both soothing and structure, we need to teach ourselves the life skills of establishing routines, delaying gratification, and sticking with challenges.

Forming good habits is an important aspect of parenting yourself. If your parents never taught you the value of routines and helpful habits, it’s natural you’ll struggle to develop them.

This leaves you at a huge disadvantage in getting what you want out of life. Most things worth having come as a result of sticking to a plan, doing mundane tasks, and taking good care of ourselves.

Reaching goals requires doing the same things over and over. If you’ve never learned these basic life skills, you may not realize how important they are.

parenting yourself

3. Find joy

When self-help types tell you to remember childhood to reclaim your joy, I roll my eyes. What if your childhood really sucked?

In spite of a difficult childhood, I found solace in solitary activities like rug hooking, coloring, and paper dolls. These simple pleasures served as healthy self-soothing activities.

Though I wouldn’t describe them as joy-filled, they were close enough that I revisited them as an adult learning to parent myself.

Exploring these childhood activities brought me some pleasure and reminded me it’s okay to do things without having a big purpose or responsibility (at that moment).

4. Express emotions

Suppressing emotions leads to unhealthy self-soothing. Substance abuse, compulsive shopping and overeating are examples of unhealthy coping mechanisms.

If our parents ignored our feelings or punished us for them, it’s logical we would stop expressing them, even to ourselves. All that does is make them come out in inconvenient ways, like outbursts of rage and depression.

So, how can we acknowledge our emotions and avoid health risks that come with suppressing unpleasant feelings?

Set aside regular time to write down your thoughts and feelings. This helps you process your emotions and bring them out in the open.

Schedule time alone to process your feelings. Often busyness masks our true emotions. We distract ourselves with the minutiae of life, cater to everyone else’s endless needs, and neglect our own as an avoidance strategy. Click To Tweet

Schedule time alone to process your feelings. Often busyness masks our true emotions. We distract ourselves with the minutiae of life, cater to everyone else’s needs, and neglect our own as an avoidance strategy.

Search up “films that make you cry” if you need help bringing emotions to the surface. Sometimes sharing in someone else’s pain, even a character, can help you get in touch with your own.

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