Reparenting refers to when an adult or older child learns how to become their own wise parent. Personal growth is about looking inward to correct behaviors and habits that are no longer serving us. With reparenting, we will harness personal insights and self-awareness, reflect on feedback from others, build loving discipline, and take extreme ownership of our behaviors. In this way, reparenting becomes a necessary life process that helps us achieve our goals and nurture our relationships to their fullest.

We all have bad habits and behaviors. In childhood and early adulthood, we observed others model certain ways of doing things. We experimented with these behaviors to meet our needs of emotional support, affection, security, attachment, and structure. Our autopilot selected what it thought were the best behaviors at the time. These behaviors became our habits for a variety of reasons including personal values, our own capabilities, necessity, and convenience. Over time, we developed a toolkit to get us through life. It seemed to work well.

Most of these behaviors are probably healthy and adequate for our basic needs. They may encourage us to work hard and cope in times of stress. But, if you’re anything like me, chances are there are some immature habits in there. Immature habits and behaviors yield short-term benefits at the expense of long-term happiness and health. We may not realize our behaviors are immature for years or decades, when our debts finally are called due. This can lead to a type of painful reckoning, where a person finally faces the consequences of past behavior. Finally, we feel “awakened” but only at great personal cost. Now we face the long and difficult task of picking up the pieces.

Whether your reckoning has already occurred or has yet to occur, there is no better time to learn how to be your own wise parent. For some, this will involve identifying where we went wrong. How did our own actions lead us to painful circumstances? For others, there may be time to take corrective action before the painful psychosocial debts are called due.

Reparenting is not about blaming one’s own parents or past. Instead, it is about making an honest, nonjudgmental assessment of one’s value toolkit. Through curiosity and self-care, we identify the value tools that we use everyday. Which tools need to be sharpened? Which tools are being used inappropriately? What is missing in our toolkit?

In this article, we will separate out immature and mature tools. We will see how immature tools are a type of shortcut that provide immediate gains but incur hidden costs. Mature tools are the sharpened versions that effectively balance costs and benefits. We will explore some simple steps for sharpening our tools and acquiring new ones. Ultimately, we want to retrain our autopilot so that these mature tools become automatic. As using them becomes second nature, we can apply our energies fully towards our goals and relationships.

Reparenting is a core aspect of Identity-Values-Reflection self-therapy. In reparenting, we focus on our value toolkit.

I can credit many sources for the tips found in this article, but particular credit goes to Dr. Nicole LePera’s How to Do the Work.

This Article Contains:

Remaining nonjudgmental when confronting our habits and choices
How to act in dual roles as parent and child
Values are tools
6 Steps of Reparenting
Immature tools vs mature tools
Separating out mature vs immature values
Cynicism: the common thread of immature values
List of common immature values
In-between values
Mature values naturally lead to positive cycling when balanced and kept in moderation
Mature values
Overusing any value leads to cynicism

Remaining nonjudgmental when confronting our habits and choices

Reparenting is about identifying and correcting habits that are no longer serving us. Whenever we are acting out a familiar habit, this is our subconscious autopilot at work. Because 95% of the time, we are following daily routines, our autopilot controls the majority of our behavior. It uses the methods it has learned to meet our needs of emotional support, affection, security, attachment, and structure. Most of the time, these methods serve us. Sometimes they do not. Sometimes we find ourselves caught in unhealthy habits that make us feel stuck and helpless. Luckily for us, we are capable of retraining our autopilot.

All habits, even the unhealthy ones, are powered by choice. At one point in time, we chose those habits. Even though our autopilot is now running these routines on our behalf, our consciousness still bears responsibility. Our consciousness still monitors them from afar like the captain of a ship monitoring a crew hard at work. Recognizing this responsibility is a key part of taking back control. Our consciousness has leverage over our autopilot just as the captain has the ability to instruct the crew. The captain may not be able to micromanage every crewmate all the time, but the captain can support crewmates who are struggling. Identifying this point of leverage is an important step in moving from a helplessness mindset to empowerment.

The captain, our consciousness, has the unique power of choice. Every choice we make is powered by a moral value. Moral values are the instruments we use to try to meet our needs. For instance, we may feel hungry and then, using self-care, we order a pizza. Self-care is a simple moral value.

Psychologists commonly make the mistake of saying that we should put aside moral principles when it comes to healing and mental health. Except that the tools we use in healing–listening, self-care, empathy, goal setting, getting in touch with our bodies, etc.–these are all moral tools (aka moral values). We are making moral choices when exercising these tools. Instead, what psychologists probably mean when they say that healing isn’t about morality is that we should strive to be nonjudgmental. This I can agree with because judging someone usually gets in the way of understanding and helping them.

Judgment, as it is known in today’s culture, typically means blaming, shaming, and self-flagellation. I agree that these instruments of judgment are almost always inappropriately used in today’s culture. They all at the cost of eroding someone’s self-worth. Because of this, they are rarely helpful in everyday conversations let as tools of healing. They should be set aside.

Even as we strive to be nonjudgmental, we still need to recognize the moral component of behavior and habits. Every choice is a moral choice. To correct unhealthy habits, we need a safe way of examining our choices and our habits. We need to identify those habits and choices that are no longer serving us. We need to do so in a way that does not erode our self-worth. We need to be a neutral, non-judgmental observer of ourselves.

How to act in dual roles as parent and child

Reparenting requires that we act out dual roles. We must be both teacher and learner at the same time. We all have experience being children, and some of us have experience as parents. Now we get to act in both roles at the same time.

Human beings learn through experience. The most effective teaching is not lecturing, ordering around, blaming and punishing for mistakes. Instead, teaching is about empowering children to learn and grow. Teachers empower students by creating a loving environment for children to explore and grow. Children do not absorb lessons with their eyes and ears. They must be free to be children, to do and to act. Even when absorbing a lecture, a child is recreating the lesson in their minds as if they were doing. The imagination is hard at work here modeling the lesson. Even then, it is only an abstract model. To incorporate the lesson, it must be integrated into the child’s subconscious through lived experience. Otherwise, it is likely to be discarded in favor of lessons resulting from other experiences.

Likewise, being an effective parent involves setting safe, healthy boundaries. Inside those boundaries, effective parents allow their children the freedom to make choices and learn from those choices. Children learn best, not by following strict rules, but instead by making choices and experiencing the consequences of those choices. Effective parents never attempt to shield their children from these consequences, no matter how painful.

In reparenting, we must become effective teachers and parents of ourselves. We learn to empower our inner child with fair choices. We should give ourselves permission and grace to make mistakes so that we can learn from them. We should experience the consequences of our choices instead of trying to shield ourselves from those consequences. This is what is meant by taking extreme responsibility for our actions and the world we create around us.

We must also accept where we are right now. We all have different skills and capabilities. We each have a different moral toolkit to work with. As teachers, we are not teaching ideal children in some perfect world. We are teaching the children in front of us. These children come with abilities, past experiences, learned habits, and struggles. We must lovingly meet our children where they are. This is what is meant by radical acceptance.

In reparenting, we strive to act as both teacher and learner, parent and child. We must be both observer and person being observed. This is what is meant by duality. Duality is a challenging concept. It is paradoxical. Here we need to be two things at once. As children, we need to experience the consequences of our choices. As loving adults, we need to separate from those consequences so that we can observe them. We retain our empathic connection to our inner children. But we no longer feel the force of their experience. Only through separation can we act as a neutral, nonjudgmental observer. Only from that observation tower is it possible to turn inward and shine a spotlight on our choices. So, we must feel and simultaneously not feel.

How does duality work from a practical standpoint? Luckily, we have the benefit of time. When we experience a consequence of our choices, it is natural to immediately feel the impact of that consequence. Assuming it is safe to do so, we should avoid shielding ourselves from our feelings. We can remain sincere in the moment. Later on, our job is to reflect on the experience. This is when we occupy our observation tower. We switch over to the parenting role. We look back. If we experienced success, are we really as terrific as we assumed we were, or is there still room to grow? How much of our success was due to luck, and how much was the result of effective choices? If we experienced failure, are we really as awful as we thought we were? Why were our choices ineffective? Would they have been more effective in different circumstances? This type of curious questioning is what is meant by mature observation.

Values are tools

As loving parents and teachers of ourselves, we need to recognize the tools that our children have to work with. When it comes to making choices, these tools are moral values. And yet, moral values are simply a type of personal tool. They are skills that we learned through lived experiences. Seeing moral choices as tools is one way of putting aside guilt, shame, and judgment. We can finally see ourselves as life learners, students in the laboratory of life. Adopting this vantage, we can be nonjudgmental towards the learners using those moral tools.

Tools are simply that. They are instruments designed for a particular purpose. Tools are neither good nor bad. We never judge them in that way. We never judge the tool itself. The tool has an essence that is tied to its purpose. We honor all our tools, even the ones that aren’t working for us anymore, the ones that need to be put aside.

Our tools come with a purpose. They are designed to help us in specific situations. Understanding that purpose can be key to knowing if we are using them correctly or not. Certain tools can be effective or ineffective for certain situations. Even a tool like lying may be appropriate at Christmas time. Or a tool like killing might be appropriate when a soldier defends their country in time of war. When used in a situation that lies outside of their purpose, these tools suddenly become both dangerous and self-destructive.

Here we realize that tools can be used inappropriately. This is a different type of judgement than blaming or shaming. We are not blaming the tool. Neither are we blaming the person using the tool. We are scrutinizing the way the tool is being used. We are looking at the behavior. We examine impact that includes benefits and costs. We don’t try to sweep some costs under a rug. We ask, is this the most effective tool for this situation? Would other tools serve us better?

With this type of scrutiny, we realize that our children learners are not their tools. Much of the problems of this world could be solved simply by realizing this small point that our children learners are not their tools. We are all children learners. Society doesn’t gift each of us a hammer at age 7 and a power drill at age 11. We acquire our tools at different times in life. Sometimes we get attached to one tool because it was the only one we had. It becomes a security blanket. Later in life, we struggle to let that one go when other, better tools become available.

In reparenting, we thoughtfully scrutinize our behaviors. We separate out the effective from the ineffective. Allow ourselves to make mistakes and learn from them. However, when ineffective behaviors become habit, we see our habits for what they are. They are moral choices that we have willingly adopted into our being. Now we face the music and take responsibility for those choices.

6 Steps of Reparenting

There are six steps to reparenting. Credit for this framework goes to Dr. Nicole LePera in How to do the Work: Recognize Your Patterns, Heal from your Past, + Create your Self.

First, we clearly state that our goal is to achieve better understanding of ourselves. We are reparenting ourselves. This is a project of self-care and personal growth. We let go of our conditioned judgement and commit to our own betterment. We are doing this for ourselves.

Second, we must commit to conscious self-awareness. To see our behaviors clearly, we will need to unpack the different layers of our inner selves. We must examine our feelings, behaviors, habits, suffering, and our past. This is difficult work that is beyond the scope of this article. See How to build self-awareness.

Third, we recognize immature behaviors and habits. Instead of blaming, we use curiosity to ask how we got here. When did we start using that behavior? What was its original purpose? When did we start over-using the behavior? What other tools do we have available?

The fourth step is experimentation. We now get to try out new ways of dealing with our problems. It will feel clunky at first. Failure is expected. We can’t get it right immediately. We let go of the fear of what others might think. We give ourselves grace. We reconnect with our childlike wonder, imagination, curiosity, joy and playfulness. This project of self-discovery can be fun. If others are dragging us down, we may need to separate from them for a while. We can seek out new role models who can show us how to use different tools.

The fifth step is loving discipline. Once we’ve found something new that works, we continue to show ourselves this this can work. We need to build internal. Dr. Nicole LePera suggest that we make small daily promises to ourselves. Over time, these small daily promises become our new routine. The key aspect here is to make these promises small. Keep them doable. With time, our autopilot adopts them into a routine. They become easier. We no longer have to think about them.

The sixth, final step is reflection. We will begin to switch out certain value tools for others. We may still need to go back to those old tools in certain situations. They still have a purpose. But for other situations, we developed newer tools to use. We expanded our toolkit. Over time, we will need to reflect back on how things are working. This is where self-awareness and active listening become critical. We listen to ourselves and listen to others to see how things are working.

  1. Our goal: Understanding and self-care.
  2. Conscious awareness – see feelings, behavior, impact, cycle, needs, suffering, abuse
  3. Recognize immature behavior and its purpose.
  4. Experimentation. Try out new ways of dealing with problems.
  5. Loving discipline. small daily promises.
  6. Reflection

Immature tools vs mature tools

For reparenting to occur, we must be able to differentiate effective from ineffective behaviors. Life is complex. We don’t want to have to experiment with everything to figure that out. We want to avoid a lifetime of pain and misery if we can. Life throws enough at us for us to be bumbling around making endless mistakes. We need to be able to predict which behaviors are likely to effective.

There are many different types of value tools. Her we will break up our tools into two different types: mature and immature tools. I don’t want you to just take my word for it on which tools belong in which category. Let’s take some time understanding why certain tools can be predicted to be mature vs immature.

There is one major difference between mature and immature tools. When used properly, mature tools lead to healthy habits. This is not true in every case. It is still possible to misuse a mature tool and create unhealthy habits. However, it is much harder to do so. We would have to really overuse a mature tool to create a problem.

We use the term positive cycling to describe a group of healthy habits that group together to become a healthy relationship. See my Guide to Positive Cycling to learn more. Just like crafting a chair takes several tools used correctly, a healthy relationship requires several mature tools to be used correctly. It only takes a small number of mature tools to create a healthy relationship. For instance, we can create a healthy relationship out of honesty, shared interests, and hard work.

The same cannot be said about immature tools. Immature tools, in general, lead to unhealthy habits. Again, this is not true in every case. It’s possible, in rare and select circumstances, that an immature tool is the correct tool for the job. However, for the most part, it’s best to stay away from these instruments.

Immature tools cause problems in relationships. They are blunt instruments designed to do damage. Often the damage is irreparable. It’s like trying to build a chair using a wooden club. We could beat at our nails all day with the club and never get one to hold right. We need something more precise, something designed for construction.

Immature tools lead to co-dependency, which is the stagnation of a relationship’s growth. One immature behavior creates a problem, and many more coping behaviors are required to keep the relationship afloat. With so much energy poured into preventing the relationship from sinking, there isn’t enough energy left for growth.

Immature tools can also cause negative cycling, which is the fast-paced deterioration of a relationship, like a house caught on fire. Here one individual has chosen an immature tool. The second person, rather than coping and trying to put out the fire, chooses another immature tool in retaliation. Next thing you know, the house is on fire and everyone’s holding a gasoline can.

No tool by itself can be effective in all circumstances. Mature tools, when combined with other mature tools in a balanced way, lead to healthy habits. Immature tools, when combined with other immature tools, always lead to unhealthy relationships (co-dependency or negative cycling). For instance, a relationship can be built upon mutual listening, mutual respect, or mutual honesty (all mature tools). However, a relationship can’t be built with mutual aggression, mutual dishonesty, or mutual defensiveness (all immature tools).

There are reasons why immature tools don’t work. These tools share features in common that destroy relationships. Immature tools are a quick-fix. They lack the thoughtfulness and grace that comes with using a mature tool. Immature tools are a type of short-cut to a solution. The bottom line here is when we take a short-cut, we are cheating. Seizing a short-cut is a type of theft. Imagine a race where someone cheats to win. Imagine the hurt feelings of the person who should have won. What about all the other contestants, who would not have won, but still feel betrayed because they followed the rules.

Unbeknownst to the person who cheated, but they, too, feel betrayed. They have cheated themselves just as they cheated everyone else. Part of them is left believing, “I am not capable.” “I could not win without cheating.” “I will need to cheat again.” “This is who I am.” “I am a cheater.” “Everyone else is better than me. They can follow the rules and have a good time. I need to cheat just to keep up.” The perpetrator is left feeling disconnected from the rest. Not only do they feel like an imposter, but their behavior actualized those feelings. This is the paradoxical nature of cheating. It hurts the perpetrator as much as it hurts everyone else.

There is a hidden cost to taking a short-cut. Even if no one discovers the cheating, all parties involved bear the pain of the hidden cost. In fact, if the perpetrator gets away with their cheating, this is far worse than getting caught. They never face the consequences, at least not right away. The hidden costs of cheating remain hidden. The perpetrator is allowed to remain insincere. They must fight every day to keep those hidden costs hidden. That is how the hidden costs become a type of debt that accumulates interest. Every day that passes, the perpetrator watches helplessly as this moral debt adds up. Every time they are reminded of their cheating, they are flooded with negative feelings like guilt, helplessness, or victimization. These reminders are not unlike PTSD. Over time, immature habits become a type of traumatic abuse of the Self. The subconscious reminds us of the hidden costs of these habits and the mounting debt that is yet to be paid. The subconscious knows, even if the perpetrator isn’t consciously aware, that one day the debt will come due in a type of reckoning.

Immature toolsMature tools
Typically leads to co-dependency or negative cyclingTypically leads to positive cycling
Effective only in rare, specific casesEffective more broadly
Incurs hidden costsCosts are usually out in the open
Often insincereGenuine
Quick-fixRequires more time, energy, and thoughtfulness to achieve desired results
Contains short-cutsAvoids short-cuts
Incurs a moral debt that must be paid one dayAvoids moral debt
Often leads to a type of theft that may be moral, emotional, spiritual, or materialAvoids causing a theft
A type of traumatic abuse of the Self that is destructive of self-esteemBuilds self-esteem over time
Motivation contains a hidden cynical componentAvoids cynicism

Separating out mature vs immature values

Why are immature tools a type of short-cut?

We could do an exercise where we list out dozens of common behaviors. Then we might ask a group of people to sort these behaviors into categories of mature and immature. We might be surprised to find a considerable amount of consistency in peoples’ answers. We all know, intuitively, which tools belong to which categories. Sure, our lists wouldn’t be exactly the same. But they would be far closer than they are apart. We have all had experiences using these tools or seeing others use them. We’ve seen the outcomes.

Feel free to try the exercise. Take the following tools and sort them. Later we’ll see if you and I agree.

Repression of feelingsequitytraditionblaming
listeningdistraction (numbing of pain)redirectingtaking on too many responsibilities
comparing oneself to othersassertivenessfinding joy at another person’s expensepleasing
attunement to others’ feelingsRigidityhold others accountable for their commitmentsself-criticism
insinceritybeing genuinesplitting people into allies and adversariesintegrity
adventurehumorcompartmenting feelingsavoidance
modelingpatienceseeking aweacceptance

There might be some disagreement. We might argue over some common ones like admiration, equity, lecturing, loyalty, redirecting, splitting, pressuring. Even when we agree, we still use immature tools in our daily lives. We then go on to make excuses for using them. We justify their appropriateness.

The goal here isn’t to memorize the lists. The goal is to understand why some tools are mature and some are immature. Why do some lead to unhealthy habits and unhealthy relationships?

It turns out that mature and immature tools really aren’t that different from each other. An immature tool is really just a more extreme version of a mature tool. Compared with an immature tool, a mature tool has balance and moderation. It is polished and fits the situation it’s being used in. For example, we might choose to pause a difficult conversation when things start to become overwhelming; we can promise to resume the conversation at a later date. Pausing the conversation is a healthy way of enforcing healthy boundaries. If our natural reaction to pause becomes more extreme to where we are now avoiding all discomfort altogether, this avoidance is quite unhealthy. The same ca be said for assertiveness. We should learn how to assert our position. However, if we become forceful in our assertions, this can become threatening.

When does one mature value then cross the line and become too extreme?

This is a difficult question. There is some subjectivity in the placement of a line that should not be crossed. Remember that the line will be situational. A value may be mature in one situation and immature in another. Humor may be appropriate way of dealing with stress, but it becomes highly inappropriate during a discussion about someone’s cancer treatment. Maturity also will depend on the skill of the user. Without skill, we can very easily hurt someone with a mature value just like a person could get hurt using a hammer unskillfully.

If this is starting to sound difficult, hang in there. There is another way to differentiate mature vs immature values.

Cynicism: the common thread of immature values

There is a common thread that links together immature values. There is a reason why they have hidden costs. Immature values also contain a hidden motivation. This hidden motivation is what leads to the shortcutting, the hidden costs, the insincerity, the traumatic abuse of Self, and the accumulation of moral debt. This underlying factor drives relationship deterioration.

Remember that our primary goal in reparenting is to build understanding. Understanding is what gives us the skills and abilities we need. As long as we keep understanding in mind, it doesn’t matter how skilled (or unskilled) we are. If we’re not good at a particular task, but we continue to work at it and we keep understanding as our primary goal, we will get there eventually. The only difference between having skill or lacking it is the amount of time required to reach our goal.

For immature tools, there is an underlying motivation that undermines understanding. That motivation is cynicism. Cynicism is the belief that other people (or other parts of our inner selves) mean to do us harm. Others cannot be trusted.

Cynicism is a short-cut that bypasses understanding. It eliminates our ability to understand others. Without understanding, genuine connection isn’t possible. And so, cynicism introduces an element of insincerity. At the same time that we bypass understanding, we convince ourselves that we already know. We stop curiously searching for answers, because we believe we’ve already got them.

Consider a time when my boss denied a vacation request. My immediate, knee-jerk reaction was to assume that my boss doesn’t care about me, that I’m not important. This is cynicism at work. I could go with that thought and adopt it into my core Self as if it were true, as if I know why my boss denied my request. This would be insincere because truthfully, I don’t know my boss’ motivations. There would be a hidden cost of a deterioration in my relationship going forward with my boss. To adopt the belief, I may be using any number of immature tools such as: conflict avoidance, repression of personal feelings, splitting my boss into a type of enemy, and/or judging my boss as someone who is less than good. There is also a theft here. I rob my boss the opportunity to explain why they denied my request. The theft goes both ways. I also rob myself the opportunity to explain to my boss how important the request was to me. And so, there is a traumatic abuse of the Self. I convince myself that I’m not capable of asserting myself in a fair manner to my boss, and I am also not capable of achieving a place of genuine understanding through meaningful dialogue.

Instead of cynicism, I could use a mature tool. I could exercise curiosity and ask my boss why they denied my vacation request. Curiosity removes cynicism from the equation. I might be surprised to find out how short-handed they are during that week, but that the following week works out just fine for me to take off. This removal of cynicism preserves and possibly even strengthens the relationship. Going forward, I now know how early I need to get my requests in so that they can get approved.

List of common immature values

Immature values are generally short-sighted at the expense of greater long-term costs. Here is a list of common immature values. Each one has a purpose that is important to recognize. Often the person using the immature value isn’t even aware of why. They may be on autopilot and just doing the thing that feels most natural.

By getting to the underlying purpose of the value, we can start to be more thoughtful. We can exercise some imagination to find more constructive ways of achieving our purpose. I have included some mature values that the immature value could mature into.

If many of these immature values will seem quite similar, that’s because they are. Often, we are using several of them at the same time. The goal here isn’t to memorize the list. Our goal is to identify those immature behaviors that we use and take thoughtful steps towards finding more mature solutions.

AggressionCreate safe spaces by attacking others and forcing their withdrawalverbal insults, threatened or actualized physical aggressionPause a confrontation, create safe spaces; enforce healthy boundaries
DefensivenessSelf-preservation“I didn’t do that. That’s not me.”
“He was lying to me also.”
Active listening (reframing), hearing what the other person is “really” saying, accountability, humor, pausing a confrontation
StonewallingPause communication / interaction to avoid additional deterioration“I’m never going to talk about that.”Pause a difficult conversation to take time to find a safe place for calm and thoughtfulness before reengaging
InsincerityDeflect blamepassive-aggressivePause to think so you can find a more genuine way of engaging with the situation
CynicismDeflect blame, alleviate suffering, avoid pain“She doesn’t like me”Enforce healthy boundaries, find constructive ways of alleviating suffering
ProjectionDeflect blame and guiltSaying “she doesn’t like me,” when in fact I’m the one who doesn’t like her.Self-awareness
RepressionAvoid discomfort, protect self and othersRepress anger to avoid hurting othersSelf-awareness, see purpose behind feelings, find constructive ways of managing feelings
Self-flagellationkeep one’s self esteem small, avoid riskinner critic constantly says, “You are not good enough”Relieve inner critic of their burdens from past traumatic injury
Rationalizationself-preservation“I know I screwed up but here are the seven reasons why I actually did the right thing…”take accountability of one’s actions
Intellectualizationneutralize disturbing feelingsMaking an objective case for a political candidate while ignoring the underlying emotional connectionSelf-awareness, make a genuine case in your arguments that doesn’t ignore the emotional drivers for decision-making
Distraction (numbing)neutralize disturbing feelingsany obsession or habitual behaviorself-awareness, address problems and uncomfortable feelings
Passive restneutralize disturbing feelings“I’m tired. I’m going to take break.”be intentional about resting parts of the body that require it.
Find joy at another person’s expenseNeed for connection and meaning“Look at that guy making a fool of himself!”Seek out genuine meaning, beauty and awe in life.
Zero-sum game (finite) mentalityalleviate suffering by filling one’s needs“My way or the highway.”Self-awareness. Be more imaginative and thoughtful about filling our needs. Adopt an infinite game mentality.
Conflict avoidanceself-preservation; protect othersRather than talk face-to-face, fire off an angry email. Work on listening and being assertive when having difficult conversations.
Pressuring / manipulationSatisfying urgent needs “We need to get this done right now!” “You’re not listening to me!”Recognize urgency. Learn to be more patient and less reactive.
Fixed (casted) hierarchyMaintain order, protect boundaries“This is the way things need to be.”Learn to enforce healthy boundaries in a fair, thoughtful manner. Recognize the need to lift others up who are at the bottom.
RigiditySatisfy urgent needs
Self-preservation (protect our habits)
“This is the only way it can be done.”Recognize when we are stuck in habits on autopilot. Recognize there are always more than one way to get something done. See our behavior as an experiment. Be willing to try different ways and then make fair assessments of effectiveness.
LecturingSatisfy urgent needs to fix someone else’s problem“Let me give you a piece of advice…”Active listening. Only give advice when solicited. Otherwise, modeling is preferred. Empower others to solve their own problems.
BlamingDeflects responsibility“Look at all the things you did wrong.”Active listening, self-awareness. Take accountability for one’s own contributions. Be assertive when others violate boundaries or don’t live up to their commitments.
JudgingSatisfy urgent needs“He is not a good person.”Active Listening, self-awareness. Separate individuals from their behavior. Find patience.
ComparingCreate fair expectations“You’re not doing this as well as he is.” “I don’t have as much as my neighbor.”Radical acceptance. Fairly discuss expectations with others.
Hearing Self-preservation Superficial listening while remaining on autopilotActive listening. Being fully present and genuine during a conversation
PleasingSelf-preservationGoing through motions while remaining on autopilotBe genuine. Self-awareness of one’s own feelings.
Doing too muchBuild connection with others“Sure, I can help you with that (again).”Pruning of priorities. Build genuine connection with others that doesn’t require self-sacrifice.
VictimizationSatisfy need for compassion“Look at all the bad things that he did to me during our divorce.”Self-awareness of one’s own feelings. Be aware of one’s contributions to a pattern of group behavior.
SplittingBuild connection while simultaneously enforcing boundaries.“He’s just not one of us.”Build genuine connection. Enforce healthy boundaries in a way that doesn’t coopt the service of others.
FixingSatisfy urgent needs to fix someone else’s problem“Here’s what you need to do…”Empowering others to solve their own problems. Act as a consultant rather than a fixer.
InterrogationDesire to deflect blame onto others“Was that your cigarette that I found? Yes or no?”Acting listening, patience, calm, take accountability for one’s own actions.
Capitulation (being used by others)Maintain connection at the expense of one’s own boundaries“Sure, I can come in and work on the weekend again.” “I felt like such a doormat in that relationship.”Enforce healthy boundaries.
Self-sacrificeMaintain connection while habitually putting other’s needs ahead of one’s own“My whole summer is packed with kids activities.”Balance personal needs together with the needs of others.
OversharingNeed to be heard and understood“He dumped his whole medical history on me. It was our first date.”Tell your story only after being invited to do so. Monitor the listener for signs of overwhelm.
Self-righteousnessNeed to be heard and understood“I have a problem of believing that I’m always correct.”Work on flexibility and empowering others through listening.
Using other peopleSatisfying one’s needs“Looking back, I can see that I got into that relationship way too soon after my divorce long before I was truly ready.”Fair negotiation around commitments. Find genuine healthy ways of satisfying one’s needs that doesn’t come at the expense of others.
AbuseSatisfying one’s needs“He is quick to level insults and accusations whenever he’s angry.”Recognize and respect the boundaries of others

In-between values

A few of our immature values have important, often critical uses. Whether they are immature or mature depends upon how they are used and in what context. To be used in a mature fashion, they must be exercised in a thoughtful, intentional manner. They must be used at the correct time and in the correct way. Self-awareness and social awareness are critical. Make sure to not be on autopilot while using these values. Otherwise, if we are using them while on autopilot, chances are we will get tripped up. We will invite cynicism into our behavior.

ValuePurposeExampleMature if…
CompartmentalizationSelf-preservationPut aside certain feelings while accomplishing a taskdone in a thoughtful, intentional manner
LecturingGive advice, fix problem“You should go do…”the listener asks for your advice directly
DissociationSelf-preservation, self-observation (a more powerful version of compartmentalization)Stepping outside of one’s own Self. used in a thoughtful manner for reflection and self-observation
Admiration / appreciationBuild connection“You are the best.”we appreciate and accept the person for who they are, not just appreciating what they can do for us.

Mature values naturally lead to positive cycling when balanced and kept in moderation

Mature values naturally lead us towards good habits. Using them allows us to engage in healthier relationships. They should become our go-to’s when engaging with others. In reparenting, we train our autopilot to use these mature behaviors. We practice this enough until they become instinctual. We reparent our autopilot to substitute immature values for mature ones.

In comparison with the ease and convenience of immature values, mature values take far more practice and skill. They are harder to use. Some of them are extremely difficult. It may take a lifetime to master them. There are three ways to misuse a mature value:

  • Use the mature value at the wrong time (in the wrong context)
  • Become over-reliant upon one mature value
  • Use the mature value unskillfully

As we engage in mature values, we need to remain cognizant that these will become our habits. However, we should still exercise caution. Mature values can be used incorrectly. For instance, we can use humor at the wrong time and our joke will fall flat or will be downright offensive. Recognizing the correct context for each value is essential.

We can become over-reliant upon a few values while neglecting other important ones. Any value, no matter how mature, if used too much, will lead to cynicism. For instance, we could trust someone too much. We could give them too many chances, too much benefit-of-the-doubt to the point where they make a habit out of violating our boundaries. Instead, we should balance trust with accountability. All values must be kept in moderation.

Finally, we could use our mature value unskillfully. For instance, consider two partners who are arguing over a scheduled date-night. One partner may assert that every Tuesday night is their scheduled date night, while the other partner may argue that she never agreed to commit every Tuesday night to their relationship. The first partner may assert his claim on Tuesdays as though he were only protecting the boundaries of their relationship. The second partner then correctly argues that what they do on Tuesday nights is a commitment that they negotiate together. Changing up the Tuesday routine is not a violation of anyone’s boundaries.

Even as we establish new, healthier habits, we can never fully turn off our consciousness. We must remain self-aware. We must constantly be scanning our outer environment and our inner feelings for signs that we’re not using these mature values correctly. Recognize there is always room to grow. But also give people grace to try out these values and not always get it correct.

Mature values

These are the values that are useful in healthy relationships. They should be our go-to’s in any sticky situation.

*Self-awarenessBecome aware of one’s feelings, values, behaviors, habits, motivations, beliefs, identities, etc.“I’ve been quite reactive and angry while driving to work lately.”
*Social awarenessbecome aware of the mood in the local social environment“The group was not feeling down for humor today.”
*Active ListeningA set of conversational techniques designed to help the listener feel and understand another person’s perspective“I put all my energy and presence in trying to understand why my son was so upset after coming home from school.”
Pause to thinkPausing during moments of discomfort or confusion to reflect“This conversation is making me uncomfortable. Can we table these issues for now and bring them up again tomorrow?”
*EmpathySee and feel things through another person’s perspective. Validate their perspective.“That must’ve been really hard for you.”
*Self-careMake time to care of one’s own needsSchedule time for workouts
*Be genuineAcknowledge discomfort, mixed feelings, value differences, suffering, violated boundaries, distrust and disconnection with the goal of achieving understanding“I’m getting a little uncomfortable. I don’t know why, but something here doesn’t feel right.”
*Attunement (to others)Seek to match the rhythms of others, especially the rhythms of their needsRecognizing a “hangry” child and feeding them
*Create safe spacesA physical and/or psychological place where people can coexist together“Let’s create a time and place where the family can talk that is free of shame, blame and judgement.” “I created a reading nook where my willful three-year-old can go when she becomes upset.”
ReframeA technique of taking someone’s genuine words and presenting them from an alternative perspective (or context) so as to gain new understanding.Seeing a problem as a challenge that presents new opportunities and possibilities.
GraceAllow other people to make mistakes and experiment in their behaviors. I know my children struggle with bad behavior at school, and I also know they are doing their best.
Benefit-of-the-doubtTrusting that people have good intentions“What you did had a negative impact on me, and I also recognize that you were only doing what you thought was best for the family.”
*Radical acceptanceAllow people to be who they are without trying to change their core Self. Honoring all of one’s unique parts. “I will accept that my daughter’s marriage isn’t the best and I won’t try to change it.”
*Radical responsibilityRecognize one’s own contributions to unhealthy cycles“We’ve got a lot of struggles. I’m going to focus my energy on making sure I am showing up as my best self in this marriage.”
Assert with powerMake one’s own needs, feelings, values, and boundaries plainly known to others without pressuring others to conform. “These are my needs and my boundaries.”
Hold accountableHold other people accountable for the commitments that they have made.“I expect you to honor the date we set.”
ModelingDemonstrate appropriate behavior through one’s own actionsRather than lecture my children about not texting while driving, I’ll make sure that they see me put my phone away while I’m driving.
*HumilityAccept that there may be more than one path forward“I think this is the way to get it done, but I’m open to other suggestions.”
(Equity) Promote social mobilityEmpower those at the bottom to climb up the social ladder over time. People at the top will need to relinquish power in favor of a consulting role. “We need to set term limits on our leaders and get some new voices in here.”
Empower those belowTo the extent possible, give decision-making authority to people lower down on the social ladder rather than allowing power to concentrate at the top. We should empower our children with fair choices rather than leaving them to feel powerless.
*Paradoxical (imaginative) thinkingAllow for multiple perspectives to coexist. “I am feeling happy in my new relationship, and I am also feeling some confusion.”
*Seek beauty and aweSeek out humor, spontaneity, joy, inspiration, and awe in all of life’s small spaces and difficult moments.“I find a lot of joy in just taking a walk through the park.”
*CuriosityAsk open-ended questions in a desire to achieve understanding“Can you tell me more about why you become so upset?”
Patience and calmActing from a place of thoughtfulness and intention, rather than a place of urgency“After taking a break from my screaming child, I was able to go back and assess which of her needs weren’t being met.”
ReconnectionReconnect to one’s environment, body, and spirit.“I need to take a walk in the woods.” “Whenever I’m upset, I feel the weight of my body in my feet to ground myself.”
*IntegrityHonoring one’s commitments and having a fair discussion when we are no longer able to keep honoring them“I would love to go to the concert, but I already committed to attend my sister’s birthday.”
NegotiationNegotiate fair expectations that all parties agree to absent coercionAfter a discussion with my children, we agreed to a fair bedtime based upon how much sleep their bodies seem to need
Active restIntentionally resting one part of our bodies or minds“After workouts I will stretch and roll out my sore muscles to keep them loose while replenishing them with protein and electrolyte rehydration.”
Attunement to selfConnecting to the rhythms of one’s own needs that will come and go in a cyclical fashion“My body craves regular aerobic exercise with one long run, two medium runs, two short runs, and two days of rest.”
Infinite game mentalityHaving a mindset that balances risks and rewards over time, allowing for continued success over the long run. “Our company was willing to take a short-term loss to help rebuild customer loyalty over the long term.”
*Seek understandingA mindset of setting mutual understanding as the primary goal ahead of other agendas“I went into that discussion not trying to prove my point but rather attempting to understand my partner’s point of view.”
Discipline (small daily promises)Setting small daily promises of working towards a goal and changing habits. Keep those promises small enough that they can be accomplished without creating resentment.“It took me years to gain this weight. Rather than try to shed it in 3 months, I made a commitment to change one easy habit. I will cut out soda and replace it with cucumber water.”
Hard workConstantly watching for areas of complacency“I recognized that as our careers ramped up, we lost touch in our marriage. We started weekly counseling as a way of reconnecting.”
PruningWhen feeling overwhelmed, pruning involves cutting down on unnecessary commitments that we have put on ourselves. “After my divorce, I cut my hours at work to refocus on self-care.”
Reflection / observation (mature dissociation)Using intention to step outside of one’s feelings and look back upon oneself as a means of gaining better self-awarenessI am able to recognize now when I’m becoming “manic” and out-of-control.
HumorA technique of building connection and emotional flexibility through joy“Whenever I’m stressed at work I get together with my girlfriends and just have a good laugh.”
RespectRecognizing and actively avoiding violating the boundaries of others“I made sure my children know that their bedrooms are their personal spaces. They can
Building toleranceAccepting discomfort as a means of expanding one’s “window of tolerance”“I was always uncomfortable with public speaking, so I took a class on this to practice getting better.”
Enforcing healthy boundariesCreating and enforcing physical, emotional, spiritual boundaries“I told my boss that I would not be answering emails while on vacation.”
Engage / disengageBeing intentional and honest in relationships about one’s level of commitment. Allowing for commitments to naturally change over time as identities change. “I told him this relationship was no longer working for me and that we would need to part ways.”
*These are core mature values that are almost never wrong to use.

Overusing any value leads to cynicism

All values can be misused. Even the best values, like listening and empathy, can be turned into weapons. Weaponized values are a regression of our values into an immature form.

We want our best values to become our habits. But we also need to periodically check on how we are using them. We must reflect. Our feelings are key. Negative feelings like guilt, resentment, shame, and disconnection will let us know if we’re using our values incorrectly.

When we ignore our negative feelings and persist with our behaviors, we give rise to cynicism. We observe other people around us having negative reactions. We begin to distrust them and their motives. Internally, we also start to distrust ourselves. We know there’s a problem. The negative emotion is telling us that is the case. But we start feeling helpless to solve it. We don’t know the next step. So, we dig in our heels. We bury that negative emotion deep inside. Or, alternatively, we project the negative emotion onto someone else. The distrust grows.

I attached an asterisk to a few of the mature values that are essential for reflection. These go-to values can help us find a way out once we’ve become stuck:

  • self-awareness
  • social awareness
  • active listening
  • empathy
  • self-care
  • be genuine
  • attunement (to others)
  • create safe spaces
  • radical acceptance
  • radical responsibility
  • humility
  • paradoxical (imaginative) thinking
  • seek beauty and awe
  • curiosity
  • integrity
  • seek understanding

Using these reflective values, we can start to determine where the problem is.