Our early experiences shape who we turn out to be later in life, this much has always been clear. What is emerging into the collective consciousness at this time is the practice of reconnecting with our childhood selves, recognising wounds, traumas and unmet needs and tending to them as adults. This process is called inner child healing.
Doing this helps us take responsibility for our lives and become our own parent in a sense, so we can release the limitations we picked up from our environment as children and access our full potential as human beings.
Reparenting oneself, of course, is a lifelong process and taking the help of a mental health professional comes highly recommended. However, one can always start by educating oneself on the subject. There are abundant resources available in the form of books, videos and free content on the internet for those interested. We recommend following these six Instagrammers to get you started.
Recognising generational trauma
Nisha Patel, a clinical social worker based in Chicago, takes to her Instagram page @browngirltrauma to start a conversation with people of South Asian – especially Indian – origin about the effects of growing up in dysfunction that is specific to the culture. Repressed emotions, caste and class-based oppression, patriarchy, misogyny, alcohol and drug abuse among other issues may have deeply affected the lives of the previous generations, turning the atmosphere at home into a cesspool of psychological problems, in turn affecting the way we grew up.
Neglect, abuse, trauma and repression may be part of what many of us carry as grown-ups. Through her posts, Patel invites followers to gently bring these painful patterns into awareness and recognise the roles that we have been conditioned to play in our relationships. Her kind insights can help us gain perspective, give ourselves permission to change the story and liberate ourselves. Breaking the silence and talking about the trauma that has been passed through generations is the only way to bring about change and healing, Patel says.
Healing through relationships
One of the biggest ways in which our childhood wounds come up to meet us in adulthood is through conflict in our intimate relationships. Our partners and close friends tend to mirror what went wrong with us in childhood, experts say. And the best way to deal with this is to see such conflict as an opportunity for growth and change. Kasthuri M (@heymisstherapist), a marriage and family therapist, creates content that can help one navigate day-to-day conflicts and triggers as well as figure out the answers to the big questions one may have about intimacy and love. From identifying attachment styles to breaking the cycle of situationships to recognising relationship green flags, her posts cover a wide range of topics. For those looking to invest in the process of healing their inner child, the expert offers a course in reparenting that involves deep inner reflection, breath work, meditation and other exercises.
Acknowledging complex trauma
"Being traumatised is not a choice. It's not something that happened 'back then'. It's not in the past at all. Trauma is an ongoing feeling of being deeply unsafe and terrorised over and over, in the present moment," writes California-based psychologist Ingrid Clayton in her recent memoir Believing Me: Healing from Narcissistic Abuse and Complex Trauma. The quote accurately depicts how someone who survived a traumatic childhood might experience life that may look safe and normal to an outsider. This is why being told to "leave the past in the past" might be very unhelpful for a survivor. As a survivor herself, Clayton gets it. And as a mental health professional, she shares deep insights on how to navigate life while processing such trauma. One of the nicest things about this account (@dringridclayton) is how earnest and down-to-earth Clayton's insights and confessions are. Despite being a highly trained professional and author, she doesn't claim to have gotten over it all, and that makes her relatable.
Listening to the symptoms
Hungarian-Canadian author and physician Dr Gabor Maté (@drgabormate) has become quite popular on the internet in recent times, thanks to his insights linking a range of issues like addiction, stress, autoimmune diseases and even cancer to childhood trauma. Children come into this world with a full range of emotions, Maté says, and in the first few years of their lives, they need the adults to receive and hold their emotional expressions. When this does not happen, when children are shamed and punished for being angry or sad, they learn to repress their emotions in order to belong.
This, combined with other imbalances and hurts experienced at this time, alters their physiology, eventually leading to bigger issues, he says. In his talks, interviews and writing, he dips into his own wisdom and decades of experience as a medical professional to help people understand their own bodies, symptoms and dysfunction better. His first book Scattered Minds (published 20 years ago), in which he talks about the connection between Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD) and childhood trauma, recently became a New York Times bestseller. His full interviews, podcasts and writing can be accessed through links in his bio.
Setting emotional boundaries
Establishing and maintaining emotional boundaries with one's family can be one of the biggest challenges on one's path to adulthood. Feelings of obligation, guilt and shame can keep us stuck in a painful place as we struggle to take control of our own lives and choices. As challenging as it is to assert ourselves in such situations, it's important to remember that we are not responsible for our parents, says "Kai" Tai Kevin Qiu (@hicoachkai), a first generation Chinese-Canadian doctor-turned-life coach.
If we were raised by emotionally immature people, we may believe that we owe it to our families to stay enmeshed in everyone's feelings and problems. This severely affects our self-esteem, confidence and our ability to form healthy relationships outside of our families, Kai says. His candid reels help you understand the dynamics of such familial dysfunction and reassure you that you are not a burden, you don't have to solve everybody's problems in order to belong and that you are free to expand and experience the world as yourself.
Indumathy Sukanya is an artist and independent journalist based in Bengaluru