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Understanding Parentification - A role reversal in childhood

What is parentification?

Parentification is a term that is used for children that have been regularly expected to take care of the emotional needs of their parents or their guardians. This means there is some sort of role reversal that is happening for many children that grow up with mentally instable parents, mentally ill parents or one parent that was mentally ill. If there's substance abuse or any kind of emotional or physical abuse present or there are parents that have themselves been in a parentification role reversal as a child and have never done and never experienced therapy for that, it is very easy to pass it on.

Have you experienced parentification?

If you ask yourself as an adult how come that I have great challenges with intimacy, bonding, stable relationships, and with feeling safe and grounded in relationships, you might have experienced a role reversal as a child.

Look back into your childhood: Did you have the feeling that sometimes your position somehow didn't feel like that of a proper child? Maybe you looked at your peers, other children in class or at your friends and you had the feeling they grow up differently. They grow up in a way where it feels like they have real parents.

Shame about role reversal

Many people that have experienced that as a child are not talking a lot about this role reversal because it seems to be not such a very valid and big form of abuse. However it is very valid and it is something that impacts people for many years - in their relationships and their happiness with others, with love life, with friendships and maybe also with work life.

Examples of a role reversal in childhood

  1. You were pulled into adult arguments e.g. you were pulled on either side of the adults that actually had the argument and somehow you were used and forced to choose sides. Either having to take care of one parent or having to scold one parent or having to take sides with one parent.

  2. You were used by one of your parents or both of your parents as a substitute for a partner. This is not always happening in a physical way or where you feel that there's a sexual abuse happening but there are many subcategories. An example could be that there's a fight with Mom or Dad happening and then one of your parents choose you to be the perfect partner.

  3. Have you always had the feeling that you had a great responsibility as a child? You somehow couldn’t really let go of any kind of the things that a child would be relaxed about.

  4. You grew up caring for younger siblings, caring for animals in the house or caring for a parent, including supporting a parent in a codependent way in all kinds of negative or harmful behaviors e.g. accompanying that parent to support their substance abuse or mental instability or anything like that. A lot of children report that they had to sit next to the parents while they were drinking heavily or were in any kind of shape or form that is not a supportive behavior for children. When you think back have there been many times where you felt like parts of your childhoods are missing? When you look back and you think I feel somehow I grew up too fast? Or looking back you feel maybe guilty or ashamed by things that you have not done right because a lot of this is coming with guilt and shame.

Meditation to connect with the inner child

Imagine that you’re taking all of these experiences because it made you who you are and maybe you can become a little bit more aware in this moment that the patterns that happened in your childhood are maybe in one shape or form still repeating themselves right now. Imagine that you are closing your eyes for a moment and you are returning to that child. See if you can see yourself in the age that you would feel that happens mostly whereas what age are you showing up in. Imagine how you’re standing there as your now self, in the age that you're in right now and you are beaming out love and support for your inner child. For that part of yourself that had to be responsible so early, that had to take care of others but somehow really just wanted to be held.

Imagine how you’re opening your arms and you're embracing that child and see if you can find a way in your heart where you bring up all the compassion that you can have for yourself for that inner child of yours. How hard it must have been for

you. I have so much compassion for you.

I love you so much.

Embrace that inner child.

Imagine how you’re completely enwrapping that smallest youngest part of yourself.

Holding her, holding him.

Allowing this part to be in your heart.

Imagine this beautiful light that is beaming through you and you're allowing all the

experiences, all the feelings and any releases to happen.

It's a time of forgiveness and it's a time of of wholeness.

You’re allowed to embrace all parts of your story.

There’s nothing in your story that isn't worth embracing everything that you have gone through.

It made you who you are.

Jewels, diamonds and the ashes - all of that makes you who you are.

Bring it all inside your heart and allow every part of you to become conscious to understand why in so many ways you're still trying to avoid pain.

Maybe in this moment in time you would be ready to open your heart for new experiences rather than living out the past pains.

Imagine how you're opening new doors in this moment for new experiences to flood into you for new experiences to come.

For an opening and for a complete different experience.

A new story to be written.

How would that feel like?

How would that feel like in relationships?

Imagine that this new version is just a breath away.

And then deeply inhale. Slowly come back into your body into this now.

Take a moment to just breathe and if you feel like writing some thoughts down or

drawing something or making some kind of reverence to your inner child.

A little reminder of honoring that hidden part in you that has gone through so much, and that is so worthy of love.

You can also listen to this meditation:

May the Source be with you.

Sat Nam,



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