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Reparenting in the Wild

Reparenting is the theme of my life as I’m leaving for a week-long camping trip in Montana where I hope some reparent in the wild will occur. I’ve had a low-grade migraine for the past 4 days, making it hard to do all that I’d hoped to accomplish before being off the grid. Migraines happen for me when I overthink, try to make decisions from my head rather than use my bodily intuition, from hormonal shifts around my period, and when I need to cry and haven’t registered or made time for the emotion to surface.

This was the perfect trifecta of all three. I was surprised in therapy today by the layers of body memory that surfaced, a core freeze from my stomach to throat, and a band of pressure around my eyes from chronic vigilance that contributed to the migraine. At the same time, it all makes sense that my body was processing a lot. 

My intention for this trip is to reground in my body, remind me of who I am, and face a particular fear. I am going alone to work on reparenting myself. The only father figure who took me camping as a kid also molested me. I wish I’d been taught to identify plants instead of forced to play strip poker. I wanted to learn how to build a fire instead of being touched while my mom lay on the other side of him asleep. This solo trip is me reclaiming the peace and safety available in the wilderness. My hope is this is the first of many.

Over this past week, I felt bursts of excitement about hiking for two of the six days with two Black Feet women (, who will guide and orient me on tribal land through hiking, prayer, history, storytelling, and ceremony. 

Right now, with camping gear spread out around me on the floor, I feel like I have no skin; the sun is too hot and the wind too strong. It’s as if I’m standing on a bridge, about to bungee jump, questioning what was I thinking with this whole trip and reparenting in the wild. Why would I choose to do this? I trust my strength, yet part of me is a freshly hatched, featherless, baby bird.

My own therapy hour interrupted my packing. I say therapy, though it’s more like a mutual meditation, where my guide holds space for me to be with what is. It wasn’t safe to express the grief, rage, and fear as a fourteen-year-old, so my emotions and sensations were contained in a silent freeze which I dissociated from. By putting my attention on present time, and physical sensation, and being with them rather than trying to change them, I cycle through the layers of frozen emotion. They shift like clouds in the sky, slowly dispersing and taking new shapes in the form of the next emotion in a different part of my body.

Most of us struggle with a degree of impatience, often wanting to feel something other than what we are feeling. Even if we have cultivated presence by meditating for decades and are skillfully present with other’s emotions, we may still fall short with ourselves. I know how quickly emotional and physical pain can release and transmute when held with spacious presence, yet that doesn’t mean angry and scared inner parts aren’t intimidated into submission or silenced by parts that want to be productive or say, “After 35 years of healing, haven’t I felt enough?”

I track themes with clients that are usually mirroring what I am processing in a more hyperbolic way. This week the theme of self-love and self-acceptance kept surfacing as I prepare for my reparenting, and I guided clients through visualizations I generated in the moment, as much for myself as for them. Often when we do our own work we are doing work for our parents, ancestors, and humanity at large.

Today in my personal therapy, I experienced myself as a pulpy lump of cells at conception, already feeling unloved, unrecognized, and not chosen. Before I took human shape, these feelings belonged to my mom in regard to her relationship with both her father and my father. Internal Family Systems calls this a legacy wound and we are often born into them. (If you haven’t read No Bad Parts by Dick Schwartz, I encourage you to).

As humans, we are all learning to be present with what is and accept ourselves. First, we take our parents and then our lovers’ limitations personally. On a purely human level, there are moments I’ve envisioned punching my ex in the face, while on a spirit level, I see how his lack of reliability and consistency served to weed out childhood experiences of not feeling loved. 

He mirrored moments when my parents didn’t prioritize or protect me, and I, in turn, learned to do the same thing to myself. Hence, the reparenting need in my life. While his limited capacity was not personal, it was perfect and brought incomplete emotionally charged past experiences to the surface. This present-day occurrence gave me the chance to choose myself and maintain a standard of self-respect and care that I developed in adulthood.

As an angry teenager, I saw things clearly and vowed to never be dominated and abused by men the way my mom had been. Until my mid-twenties, I boiled inside, which caused a series of physical ailments. I learned to express and feel anger, but didn’t realize I banished this vengeful teen part. Well, we can thank my ex and his betrayal for uncorking that bottle and giving me the opportunity to give her air time, reintegrate and work on some reparenting. 

I truly see Asshole Angels as functioning for us. Their unevolved behavior reactivates what was missing for us in our care as children. They step out of the way, leaving us to provide nurturing and protection we never learned to direct towards ourselves. If they were there to do it for us, we wouldn’t reconstitute, develop the skill, and comprehend we are worthy of this kindness. Consider it a twisted form of service.

Most of us have parents who can’t manage to protect or care for us in the ways that we need them to, and we are left with young parts that feel overwhelmed, fearful, unsafe, and disappointed. The good news is that time is a construct and our bodies don’t know the difference between the present, past, and future and it is never too late to go back and meet those needs. 

But it is our job to learn what need was unmet and to then provide it for ourselves. We are lucky when we have skillful practitioners, friends, or spiritual parents to offer new imprints of what gentle love feels like. And again, it is on us to continually practice and reparent our youngest, vulnerable parts.

I worked at Good Vibrations (a worker owned sex-toy store) for years, and it was daily boundary boot camp with customers crossing boundaries. But after growing up in a household without boundaries, I needed that amount of regular practice to develop embodied ones. The same can be true for consistent acceptance and love. We all need this. We all have parts of us that we find unacceptable. It could be you are gay, you are too emotional, you have too many needs, you are too sensitive, or disorganized.

A present-day betrayal from someone who said they loved me felt dissonant and familiar because this is what occurred in my childhood. It functioned perfectly to unleash an exiled angry teenage part of me that didn’t trust men and felt quite vengeful. As a teen, I wanted men who committed child sexual abuse to be castrated.

In my twenties, I saw the bigger system and understood that banishing them or literally cutting part of them off was not going to protect all the children in the world. Educating bystanders and providing rehabilitation and counseling for offenders was an essential part. The process of integration rather than turning away from people or feelings is how healing happens and less harm is created.

This does not mean you need to have your abuser or asshole angel in your life actively. But you can make peace with their soul and the learning that came from your encounter with them. But really look at the parts of yourself you have been cut off from that you don’t think are loveable. Maybe you didn’t develop a consistent practice of caring for yourself, because you were always caring for others, or perhaps you learned that you were not worth caring for based on how you were parented. It’s time to rewire that.

A Self-love practice for Reparenting

This is a visualization. Not everyone sees things in their mind’s eye and that is ok. You can still follow along. The principle here is energy follows attention and intention. You are training your ability to focus, conduct, and direct your attention. Start by coming into present time by calling all of your energy back to you from wherever you have left it or from whomever you’ve left it with. 

If you find your thoughts compulsively being pulled into the past or future this can be done more frequently. Repetition helps you build the muscle memory or rather the focus and neural pathways to do this automatically.

Remember how many times you repeated something to form a habit. Now let all that energy you called back form a semi-permeable Bubble of protection around you, an arm’s length out, side to side, front to back below your feet, and above your head. It allows in whatever is nourishing and you release and let go of anything that no longer serves you or doesn’t belong to you,

Recall a moment in time when you felt abandoned or needed more presence and care from another than you were offered. Maybe it is a parent or a partner. As you recall it, what does it feel like in your body? Does it get tight? Hard to breathe? Does the bottom part of your body disappear or can you still feel your low belly and legs?

What is the opposite of abandonment? What would be the antidote? Is it acceptance and love? What color is that feeling? Trust whatever arises.

Let this color water fall in through the top of your head and saturate any parts of you that feel unaccepted or unloved. See your cells absorbing as much of it as you need. Use deep breaths to breathe it in. Take as long as you need.

Picture someone you feel cared for or protected by sitting next to you, as close or as far away as you need them to be. If no one comes to mind imagine I am there with you or it could even be a beloved pet or a tree. Whoever that being is, you are not alone. How does that feel? How much of that can you allow yourself to feel and stay present with?

The Color of Mothering

When you think and feel what it would be like to be mothered well what color comes to mind? What shade of that color is it? Imagine a timeline that flows backward and forwards from this moment. The way if someone poured gas in a line and lit a match it would ignite, Imagine the color of being mothered well begins in utero and flows forward and into the future. 

Notice if there are certain moments in time that need extra marination in that color. Imagine you are saturated in it. What does this feel like in your body? What are the sensations? Is there more or less space? Do you feel certain parts of your body more? How does the space around you feel?

You can repeat this same process with your father.

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© 2022 By Charna Cassell, LMFT. Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. MFC 51238.

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