Licensed Professional CounselorIf you treated a child the way you treat yourself, would someone need to call the authorities?

Do you abuse yourself with harsh criticism, extreme demands or emotional neglect? Do you harm your body? If it isn’t that cruel, do you feed yourself junk food every day? Do you allow yourself to spend all of your free time inside on the couch? Do you neglect medical and dental care?

Ok, maybe you’re not so unkind. But do you ever nurture yourself? Encourage yourself? Do you challenge yourself to try new things? To learn what you’re good at and not good at? Do you allow yourself to play? To be silly? To laugh? A loving parent would do those things for a child. A neglectful parent would not.

In my therapy groups, I do an exercise in which we brainstorm about what a parent should give a child. The list often includes: food, clothes, shelter, safety, discipline, love, nurturing, education, play, exercise, values, morals and many other things. We fill the white board. We talk about how a child needs to explore things like art, music and sports. We talk about how a child needs to feel safe and relaxed, encouraged and loved.

Then I ask the group, “How many of these things did you get as a child?” Usually there’s silence. Often, people say, “I got it all.” The majority will say that a few critical items were missing. A few times, I’ve had someone hold up a thumb and index finger in the shape of a zero, meaning, “I got none of that.” Frequently, there was neglect and there was abuse.

But most people don’t complain. They figure they’re grownups now and it’s time to man-up (woman-up?). The neglectful or abusive parent is no longer in charge. It’s better now.

Unfortunately for many folks, what was missing back then is still missing: the kindness, care and encouragement, the self-discovery and play, the safety and structure.

If that’s true for you, you can do something about it. You can “re-parent” yourself. You’re the parent now. Give yourself what you needed then and still need.

Maybe your childhood was fine. But now you never exercise and you have no friends. Would you allow a child to continue that way? Are you a work-aholic? Well, go outside and play! Are you harsh and self-critical? Make a list of your strengths. Find ways to nurture yourself, to encourage yourself the way a loving and thoughtful parent would take care of a sweet child.

On the other hand, if your child skipped school, didn’t do homework, left a mess and was disrespectful of others, something would have to be done about that. Am I right? A wise parent would be firm but kind. A good parent gets the discipline right.

You’re the parent now. You can take better care of you.

For survivors of childhood abuse, I recommend Laura Davis’ books: The Courage to Heal, and The Courage to Heal Workbook.