It’s Never Too Late to Have a Happy Childhood!
In the previous article, “What Happened to Me When I Was Little?”, we looked at the research of Dr. Allan Schore regarding just how impressionable infants are: rather than babies being unaware of what’s going on around them, they are soaking up everything! The first 1000 days of a baby’s life are crucial for development. This is a sobering reality. On the other hand, as we grow out of infancy we are helped by our developing left brain and prefrontal cortex which may empower us to make choices that can heal trauma from our childhood and even change the neurobiology of those early days. One way to think about capitalizing on the plasticity of our brains and making necessary changes is to imagine that we may choose to re-parent ourselves!
The notion of re-parenting is not a novel idea; many clinicians and theologians have considered if and how this may be possible. If we are to do this, we will require a re-parenting team. We can choose who may join this team and we may function as the team leader. This does not mean that we exclude or dispose of our biological parents at all. They may, in fact, be especially important to the process and just might appreciate a do-over or at least an opportunity to tweak some missteps. Sometimes, however, they may be unwilling or unavailable to participate in such a venture. So we may need others. What might this look like?
Who Makes You Feel Safe?
First, it is important that we find secure attachments. Who might you know to be stable, accepting, honest, and available? In the beginning, finding such individuals may seem like a daunting task. Allow me to suggest that helpful therapy and psychoanalysis are ways in which new right-brain to right-brain connections may help to establish new ways of being from within. Having a relationship with a helpful therapist or analyst is often profoundly healing and life-changing. Further, new friendships or a reconfigured connection with a family member may also provide you with a sense of security and stability. Maybe you feel such support from your spouse or from a dating relationship.
You Can Pick Your Family!
Secondly, in addition to secure attachments with individuals in your life, healthy communities where we feel loved and accepted also help to reconfigure these earlier messages. These communities will often feel like families in many ways, so make sure you find those who are as healthy as possible. You do not want to repeat the same dynamic that wounded you in the first place. If you were never acknowledged, it will be important to find a community where you feel recognized and “seen.” If you never found approval in your family growing up, it will be important that you FEEL accepted as you are, even delighted in. In other words, it will be important to be aware of how your early dynamics skewed your sense of what it feels like to be in community and seek, with wisdom and help from secure individuals, the types of groups that will help you thrive. Many find their spiritual communities to be a great help here. Some find their professional groups able to provide a “holding” environment where they can feel known and accepted. These groups will be imperfect, however, and you may occasionally find yourself “stung,” so be forewarned. The idea is that the healthy must far outweigh the unhealthy.
Let Them Go
Thirdly, you must choose to detach if you can from destructive relationships and situations, also known as insecure attachments: connections that are anxious, avoidant, and/or chaotic. You will likely need the support from healthy others before you can say goodbye to the destructive ones. Often, when we have chosen spouses, friends, and jobs, we unfortunately have recreated circumstances that mimic the pain from our childhoods. We may be so embedded in these relationships that we cannot imagine if or how to extricate ourselves from them. I find myself working with people who often find themselves re-wounded by those who surround them, and who cannot envision any way that they may possibly escape such bondage. They find themselves regularly re-traumatized by those who are closest to them. At times, relationship therapy or couples therapy may help to shift the dynamics. At other times, more drastic steps are required.
Expand Your Team to Include Medical Professionals
Further, you may want to add to your re-parenting team healthcare providers (and other professionals) as well. Do not tolerate a medical provider who does not seem interested in you; there are MANY who will be! And medical providers might suggest dietary changes, exercise regimens, and lifestyle changes to strengthen your body’s natural defenses which will improve psychological and relational functioning. They may also suggest the use of an antidepressant or an anti-anxiety medication to enhance neurotransmitters that will help you re-parent your brain. Please do not write this off. Some antidepressants have been found to be neuro-protective: that is a good thing! We know that cognitive decline is often tied to inflammation in the brain. (For example, some refer to Alzheimer’s disease as Type 3 Diabetes.) Make sure, as you re-parent yourself, that you take care of your body and brain, as well as your mind and soul.
The Great Healer
Finally, for people of faith, we take great comfort in experiencing One who accepts us as we are and loves us without condition. A renewed relationship with God is often the most important consideration in someone’s re-parenting project. When I first began my work as a therapist, I was struck by how often it seemed to me that people would begin to experience God as the Father or Mother that they so sorely needed (see Psalm 68:5, for example). Many who had felt abandoned or rejected by God or who found themselves angry with God and had even doubted His existence, would often re-discover God. They talked about their relationship with God as “new,” that the God they were taught to know, was not at all like the God they currently experienced.
Many find that regular investments in times of worship, prayer, and meditation shift their perspectives of themselves, others, and the future in a healthier direction. I am speaking here not about merely adopting a set of doctrinal beliefs (however important that may be), but about experiencing a relationship with God. Many of you who have had painful experiences with your parents may initially view God in that same way. I would encourage you to push beyond that initial psychological transference onto God and find God to be … well, not your father or mother, but as the unique and sole Creator of the universe and Lover of your soul.
So, while we can do nothing about our histories, about when we were little, we have hopeful ways of reshaping the very neurobiology of our brains … starting now!
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