Parent and child healing can be difficult no matter the age of either. What if your mom or dad could go back in time and meet your physical and emotional needs you had as a child? What if you could go back and meet the needs of your children that you didn’t meet when they were little?
Well, we’ve yet to figure out time travel but that doesn’t mean that it’s too late to give your child what he or she needs, even if your “child” is an adult. It’s also possible to get your physical and emotional needs from childhood met as an adult.
As a child, I struggled to believe that I was lovable. My emotional needs of unconditional love, acceptance, and affection were not met. That left me searching to get those needs met for the majority of my life. Sadly, I did that in grand and unhealthy ways.
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Parent and Child Healing: Needs of Children
Can you think about the physical and/or emotional needs that weren’t met for you as a child? What are those needs? Do you still struggle to get those met? How does that affect you?
One of the ways to determine what your unmet needs were as a child is to look at what your unmet needs are as an adult. That will give you a lot of the information. What do you need now that you don’t get?
Also, take a look at what you reject from others, in terms of needs they try to meet for you. That will also point you in the direction of what your unmet needs were as a child.
I Was Never a Hugger
For many years, I rejected physical affection from every person in my life. I just told myself, “I’m just not a hugger.” That is still somewhat true today, but I can accept physical affection from my husband, my baby, and a select few others.
While it was true that I was not a hugger, I also had to explore why I vehemently rejected physical affection and struggled to give it to others. My exploration led me to realize that I didn’t get physical affection as a child.
So, when I got it as an adult, I would freeze and feel nauseated. If I could’ve teleported myself to another dimension when somebody tried to hug me, I would have.
There are two reasons that was my response. The first is that I didn’t know what to do with physical affection because it was abnormal to me since I didn’t get it as a child. My body and brain truly didn’t know how I was supposed to respond.
The second reason is that as a little girl, I subconsciously decided that I shouldn’t need physical affection. If a child has a need that is never met, he or she often decides that need shouldn’t exist. There are so many things that can result from that, and they are all damaging to our psyche. If you want to read more about that, read my post Emotionally Need? (Emotional Needs of Children Aren’t Met).
We All Have Emotional Needs
Just because I decided I didn’t need physical affection does not mean that is true. In fact, it’s quite false. We all need physical affection. It’s part of receiving love and surely you know that we all need love.
That goes for many of our needs that aren’t met when we are little. I was rarely encouraged or made to feel good enough. However, I did something different with that than I did for physical affection.
I tried to do everything possible to get attention and to be told that I was good enough. I did learn how to give that to myself. While at the same time, I still value that as an adult. I used to be ashamed of myself for needing validation from others.
Yes, focusing all of your attention on receiving validation from others is not healthy. However, it is healthy and normal to want and need some validation from others.
Hopefully, this has given you some guidance about your own needs that weren’t met as a child. If you would like to read more about this topic, read my post Struggling to Get Your Needs Met.
The rest of this post is going to focus on how to get your unmet needs met as an adult. I will also give you guidance on how to meet the needs of your adult child that you struggled to meet when he or she was little.
Recently, I received a text from a dear friend of mine. She had listened to a podcast I was on where I discussed emotionally healthy parenting. To listen to that podcast, click here.
Here is the text she sent me after listening to it.
“I just hate that I screwed my children up, especially the older one, because of my scars.”
As a psychotherapist, different versions of that are something that I hear often when working with parents. They begin looking at the ways their struggles impacted their ability to parent their children in the ways they needed.
Just like with my friend, they often sit in shame with those thoughts. If there is one thing that I want parents like this to understand is that no matter how old your children are and no matter how much you think you screwed them up, they can still heal.
The secret is that you have to be vulnerable and willing to meet the needs that you didn’t meet when they were children. This isn’t about shaming yourself or beating yourself up. It’s about loving yourself and your child to heal together.
Father and Son Healing
Recently, I did a session with a father and his adult son to help guide them in healing trauma that the son experienced from his father during childhood. Now, before I talk about anything else, I have to mention one HUGE thing.
For a parent to be willing to sit in a therapy session with his or her child to work towards healing what he or she caused for the child is one of the best gifts a parent could ever give. Very few children ever get that opportunity and it can completely change the trajectory of the lives of all participating if done well.
Now, this father has done a lot of healing work on his own childhood trauma that led him to repeat many of the things that he inflicted upon his children. He knew the pain he caused and was willing to be vulnerable with his son.
As the father was discussing some of his abuse from his childhood and how he repeated some of that with his son, I could see his son tearing up. He has a little girl and he was recognizing how he struggles to connect with her in a healthy way.
Struggling to Meet Your Child’s Needs
Earlier, I mentioned that when our needs aren’t met as children, we grow up not knowing how to get those needs met as adults. This carries into relationships we have with our children if we don’t learn how to get our needs met in healthy ways.
That is what happened for this adult son with his daughter. As a child, his need of compassion was not met by his parents. That means that he didn’t know how to give compassion to his own daughter.
So, what can be done in a tough and sad situation like this? Well, the father has a beautiful opportunity to now give his son the compassion he needed when he was a child. In turn, the son can learn to give that to his daughter.
That sounds simple, but it’s not really. It will take an intentional and conscious effort for both the father and the son. The father has to be willing to give compassion and the son has to be willing to learn how to receive it.
Meeting the Needs of You Adult Child’s Inner Child
The true needs of the son are not what he may recognize as needs from an adult perspective. His actual need is to receive compassion in the way that a child would need to receive it.
When our needs aren’t met in childhood, our brains get stunted at those ages. In order for this son to heal from those unmet needs, the father will need to think about ways a young child would be able to feel compassion from a father.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with me, my intuition is incredibly strong. When I’m in sessions with patients, ages often come to me that guide me to what age in their childhoods that we need to revisit.
Age eight is what came to me for this son. As soon as I said age eight, I saw the son look at me with a little bit of panic. I asked how old his daughter was and guess what…she was eight.
Just as a side note and maybe a post for another day, the ages of our children that are the toughest for us are typically the ages that were the toughest for us as children. So, think about that for a moment in regards to tough times and ages with your children and your own childhood.
Back to the father and son, now. I don’t know what specifically the son could’ve gotten from his father at age eight that would’ve been received as compassion. So, the father will have to try several things to see what feels like true compassion for his son.
Here are a few suggestions to try:
- Take your adult child to get ice cream.
- Go to a park and push your adult child on a swing. (Yes, I’m serious)
- Write your adult child notes about the things you love about him or her.
- Sit with your adult child and place your hand on his or heart for several minutes.
- Bake something or make something together.
- Take a walk together.
- Lie under the stars and talk about dreams and hopes.
- Ask your adult child what he or she needs or wants from you.
You will always know yourself and you child better than anybody. So, these are just suggestions but you need to figure out what works for you and your adult child. Just keep in mind that you want activities a young child would enjoy, not activities for the age of your child now.
The reason that I suggest going for ice cream with your adult child is because that is connecting to your child’s inner child, which is who actually needs the healing first. For most children, they feel special when a parent takes just them to get ice cream. A child often views time and special treats as love.
If any of you thought I was crazy for saying that you should take your adult child to a park and push him or her on a swing, there’s a reason for that. Doing it allows the adult child to feel like a child again.
That is what you want because the trauma took place when he or she was a child. In order to heal anything, we have to go back to where the pain occurred. As a bonus, pushing your adult child will also create a loving physical touch as well.
Shower Your Adult Child with Compassion
Now, go buy some fun stationary or Post-It Notes and get to writing for your adult child. You don’t have to write long letters. It can be simple messages like, “You are perfect just the way you are,” “Your mind is amazing,” “You bring me joy every time I see you,” or whatever feels right. A longer letter is also something that could be very valuable and touching if that feels good too.
Sitting with your adult child and placing your hand on his or her heart for several moments can feel awkward at first. It’s not something that most people do. However, after a few minutes the awkwardness will begin to fade, and a softness will take over. This is very powerful.
You’ll need to be a little creative for this suggestion of baking something or creating something together. First, that takes time and children view time spent together as love. Second, it will create memories while also learning how both of your minds work which can be a beautiful thing.
Take Your Adult Child Out into Nature
Another option is taking a walk together, which can do many wonderful things for both you and your adult child. It takes you away from all of the day-to-day stuff you both have going on. It leaves space for both of you to just be with one another, which is something that every child needs.
One more activity that takes you out of your day-to-day norm is pulling out a blanket and going outside to look at the stars. There’s something magical about a night sky and you can use this to your advantage.
Talk about what you both dream of and the hopes you have. This is a great time for the adult to be able to talk about his or her hopes for healing their relationship. Also, if your child doesn’t’ want to talk about anything, just lie there in the company of one another while viewing the beautiful night sky.
Ask What the Needs Are
My final suggestion should be a no-brainer, but we often forget to ask people what they need. So, ask your adult child what he or she needs. If the answer is “I don’t know,” that’s okay. You just keep trying things until you both find what feels good.
There’s really no way to screw this up unless you just refuse to do it or you don’t do it from your heart. No matter what age your child is, this will still work and being healing if you are both open to it.
I do want to give one piece of advice that came up at the end of this session with the father and son. Do not include anybody else in the activities you do.
The son was saying that he could bring his daughter with them to go get ice cream because she would love that. Yes, I’m sure she would but the goal is for the father to meet the son’s unmet needs from childhood and not the needs of the son’s daughter.
Don’t Take the Easy Route
I had a little giggle with both of them as the son was trying to convince me that his daughter should be included on their compassion activities. Yes, it would make it easier for him but that’s not the point.
Both father and son need to work through what may feel uncomfortable for them. Doing these things may feel odd at first but that’s just because it’s probably new.
The more you do them, the more comfortable they will become. Also, the love will be felt more and more each time.
Wrapping up, I want to mention what this can do for the son and his daughter. When his father is able to meet his need of compassion that he didn’t get in his childhood, it will create space and a guide for how he can give that to his daughter.
I always say, “As I heal, the world heals.” When the father and son do their healing work, that will carry over into the son’s relationship with his daughter. Not only that, but it can stop the generational trauma for every generation to come. If you want to learn more about generational trauma, read Family Generational Curses Cause Dysfunctional Relationships Full of Guilt and Shame.
This site is only intended for people who are truly willing to look at themselves with an open mind and have the ability to truly be vulnerable with themselves and others. Please understand that this site is in NO WAY THERAPEUTIC ADVICE. However, this site can be very beneficial in learning the causes of your Not Good Enough Stuff. This site is not intended to provide or replace medical or psychiatric treatment. Mary Beth HIGHLY RECOMMENDS finding a licensed therapist to help you process the information from this site and all that you learn about yourself. Visit Psychology Today to find a licensed therapist in your area.