Parentification: Healing From The Trauma Of Having To Grow Up Too Soon

parentification healing from trauma

The first step to healing is to tell your story as it is. You might have spent years trying to hide or deny the truth, in order to protect yourself and your family. Perhaps you have little memories of your childhood or find yourself hitting a wall of emotional numbness when you search within. 

When someone asks you about your parents, you are unable to speak negatively of them. You may even feel guilty for not having been a ‘happier’ person given everything on the outside seemed ‘fine’ in your childhood. 

Since the trauma you experienced was mostly invisible, you have difficulties gaining recognition for the trauma you have endured. 

But the insidious nature of your trauma does not make them any less valid. Acknowledging the reality of your lost childhood, however painful at first, is the first step to healing. You begin to grieve the childhood you deserved but never have, and can make room for healthy and justified anger. Without this step, you will continue to spend energy denying, suppressing, and rationalizing your past, which blocks the healing process. 

In this delicate and potentially precarious process, compassion is essential. Before we generate compassion for anyone else, however, we must learn to cultivate self-compassion. Self-compassion is a relatively new concept in western psychology, whereas self-contempt is a common trait in western culture. 

Having been parentified, your automatic default is to assume things are your fault. Your inner critic constantly tells you you are not doing enough, good enough, and that when bad things happen, it is your job to mop up the consequences. As you spiritually mature into your own person, however, it is time to put things right and to say no to your internalized bully. 

But we do not hate our ‘adapted self’ who is perfectionistic, highly anxious and trapped in people-pleasing ways.

Our defensive mechanism forms an honourable part of us. We can greet it, bow to it, thank it. We say: ‘Thank you for your service, my brave soldier. I now know what to do, and finally, you can relax and rest.’

Then we turn to the child in us that has been neglected. We say: ‘I am sorry about what you had to go through. I am sorry no one was there for you when you most needed someone to stand up for you.’

To the sad, lonely, wounded one in us, we say: ‘I am sorry. Please forgive me. Thank you. I love you.’ Then, we repeat in the gentlest, most compassionate whisper, again and again: ‘I am sorry. Please forgive me. Thank you. I love you.’ (Hoʻoponopono)

You may make a list of people who have ever loved and supported you, then close your eyes and imagine them forming a circle around you. Allow your body to be soaked in the feeling of being loved. 

If you have little experience of genuine support in life, contemplate what you might say to a person or a child you love. Imagine holding a vulnerable person in your heart, and experience the tenderness in your heart. Then, see if you can direct those tender feelings towards yourself.

You, too, deserved to be unconditionally loved for who you are, not what you do or how you look to the outside world. You were a completely innocent being, being birthed into this world from the universe. Even when your actual childhood and nauseatingly painful and full of holes, it is never too late to give yourself the childhood that you deserve. 

“Our parents cannot love us the way we need.” Acknowledging this truth involves us courageously processing challenging emotions such as deep grief, anger, and hurt. But these feelings are temporary unless we block them. If we know that we are on a path towards liberation, and allow these feelings to go through us, we will be liberated and rewarded with freedom on the other end. 

Related: 3 Ways To Handle Childhood Trauma

Inner peace and tranquillity might be the highest form of joy. Doing the emotional work with our childhood hurt and transcending the wounds created by our parents is an essential path to attaining that. Without transforming our wounds, triggers for anger, guilt and shame will always be lurking in the background, catching us off guard, sabotaging our relationships, and blocking our creativity. It is when we can walk the courageous path of seeing the truth and walk through it, that we can get to the other side. 

Our childhood wounds are not in the way of our path towards happiness and freedom, they are the path.  

Written By Imi Lo 
Originally Appeared In Eggshell Therapy
parentification healing from trauma pinop
Parentification: Healing From The Trauma Of Having To Grow Up Too Soon
parentification healing from trauma pin
Parentification: Healing From The Trauma Of Having To Grow Up Too Soon
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Imi Lo

Imi Lo is a consultant for emotionally intense and highly sensitive people. She is the author of Emotional Sensitivity and Intensity, available in multiple languages, and The Gift of Intensity. Imi is the founder of Eggshell Therapy and Coaching, working with intense people from around the world. Imi has practiced as a social worker and therapist in London (U.K). She has trained in mental health, psychotherapy, art therapy, philosophical counseling, and mindfulness-based modalities. She works holistically, combining psychological insights with Eastern and Western philosophies such as Buddhism. Imi’s credentials include a Master in Mental Health, Master of Buddhist Studies, Graduate Diploma in Psychology, Bachelor of Social Science in Social Work, Certificate in Logic-based Therapy, and an Advanced Diploma in Contemporary Psychotherapy. She has received multiple scholarships and awards including the Endeavour Award by the Australian Government. She has been consulted by and appeared in publications such as The Psychologies Magazine, The Telegraph, Marie Claire,and The Daily Mail.View Author posts