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A Healthy Sense of Self Begins in Childhood

Grace, a 38-year-old mother of four young children, was feeling anything but calm. She came in for therapy because she was always “blowing her lid,” and her kids seemed afraid of her.

“It was bad before COVID, but now it’s even worse,” she exclaims. She yearns for a more loving connection with her children. “I don’t know what to do, I feel incredible pressure to be a good mother and a good wife,” she laments, “and when I lose it, I feel terrible. My husband is becoming more distant, and my kids are avoiding me.” She looks at me with pleading eyes. “I hate feeling this way. Is there any hope?”

In my work, we understand that a healthy sense of one’s self begins in childhood. With this in mind, I ask Grace to describe the emotional atmosphere of her childhood home. She answers, “I was the youngest of five children. My mom was overwhelmed, and my dad was angry and controlling.”

Grace remembers staying quiet and hidden as much as possible and often disappeared to her room with her siblings when things escalated between her parents. “Mom had her hands full with Dad,” she explains. “I always felt so sad for her and tried to be good and comfort her the best I could. It never felt like I could do much for her except to stay out of her way.”

It’s All About Loving Energetic Attunement

I explain to Grace that she absorbed how to love and tune into herself and others from her earliest relationships. “You learned how to parent your children from the way your parents were with you.” Grace looks at me with concern.

“Then I’m in trouble,” she says. “Not necessarily,” I assure her, “but it’s time for you to give yourself what you couldn’t get as a child. It’s all about loving, energetic attunement.” I continue, “Most parents try their very best to be good parents. You can probably list all of the ways you’ve tried to be an even better parent than your own. Each generation wishes to improve upon their own childhood experience.”

What most people aren’t consciously aware of is that loving and warmth are states of being. All emotional states are energetic. Each emotional state compels us to act in a certain way. Loving energy makes you want to draw nearer and to kiss and hug someone. On the other hand, sadness quiets you, and anger pushes you to act.

“When you grow up in a home like the one you described to me, I sense there wasn’t enough of the loving energy. Without loving energy, it is hard to feel seen, heard, and known as that tender little child.”

Tears began to stream down Grace’s face.

Good Parenting vs. Attuned Parenting

Every child needs more than good parenting. They need attuned parenting. Attuned parenting begins with a  parent who is emotionally stable and connected inside. The attuned parent experienced attunement from their own parents during childhood.  The attuned parent’s child feels safe to share their feelings with the parent. If parents do not experience attuned parenting growing up, they might not know how to tune into their children.

Become an Attuned Parent

I assure Grace, “It’s just a blind spot, and with awareness, you can learn how to attune to yourself and your kids.” Grace brightens and looks hopeful.

“The first step is for you to tune into your youthful memories and experiences,” I say as I hand her a list of ideal parenting messages. “When you become triggered with your children, it’s likely that the current situation has reminded you of something  similar to what happened to you as a child. These emotions will activate your old emotional injury, and you will feel the same discomfort or pain you felt then. You essentially revert to that younger version of yourself, even though you’re in an adult body. Do you know what I mean?” I ask.

Grace nods and answers, “Yes, sometimes, I feel like I’m acting like a three-year-old when I’m upset with my kids!”

I reply, “When you feel upset and ‘blow your lid’, you are probably feeling the emotions you felt at three years old. These are the emotions that felt too big and uncomfortable for you to understand and process. The truth is, three year olds don’t know how to soothe themselves. They go to their parents for comfort. So if at age three, your parents were not able to soothe you, you had to take matters into your own hands. This teaches the child that she’s alone when she has big feelings and she figures out a way to push her feelings down, mostly by holding her breath, making herself invisible, and isolating herself.”

Grace nods and says, “I’ve always felt alone and like I need to deal with things by myself. It was hard for me to think that anyone, even a therapist, could understand me.” I suggest that Grace take a couple of full breaths to feel a connection with herself on the inside. I watch as the breaths begin to pull her together and stabilize her.

The Importance of Attuned Parenting

Children must feel seen, heard, and known when they experience emotions. When a parent feels emotionally healthy and stable inside, they can draw upon their inner stability. A sense of stability allows you to make eye contact, connect with your child, and reflect what they are feeling inside. This response enables the child to internalize the ability to tune in to and know themselves. They become able to calm and soothe inside. This type of parenting helps develop inner resilience in the child.

Attuned parenting is not perfect parenting. Perfection is impossible and unnecessary. However, it is available to most parents if they take the time to do their inner work.

Educational Tools for Attuned Parenting

The ideal parent messages I shared with Grace in this story are energetic, feeling tones that a parent ideally gives to their child. If you did not receive these messages as a child, the adult part of you can step in and give the messages to your younger self. By doing so, you can systematically work to quiet the inner critic and rewire a healthy inner relationship that is nurturing, grounding, empowering, and inspiring.

These messages are a therapeutic tool that we use in Integrative Body Psychotherapy to aid in healing emotional childhood wounds. In an attempt to share these messages, my friend and fellow Integrative Body Psychotherapist, Beth Bardovi and I co-wrote a book, The Secret to Loving Yourself: Profound Little Messages to Change Your Life. This book shares and expands upon the feeling tones of the ideal parent messages. It is available on Amazon in both the US and Canada.

In addition to the ideal parent messages, there are many ways to learn to tune in to yourself and increase your emotional depth, which allows for lasting change. I go deeper into these transformational methods in my online course, The Core Self Transformation. The course introduces several healing exercises and is equivalent to the content I teach over several therapy sessions.

If you are curious to learn more about attunement and how to live in a state of love on an ongoing basis, I encourage you to start with my course, The Core Self Transformation. It will help you change the way you tune into yourself and the way you tune into your children. With greater attunement, you can experience a more profound, more vibrant love for yourself and others. Your essential relationships can become based on love and desire rather than longings and needs. From this place of attunement, you will be able to deepen and expand the spaciousness inside so that love can cultivate as a state of being.