ACA Reparenting: Finding Healing and Wholeness from Childhood Trauma

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I’ve learned through ACA (Adult Children of an Alcoholic) recovery that growing up in a dysfunctional home actually gave me a form of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). However, thanks to recent research into this phenomenon there are many resources available to adults who experienced what is now called developmental trauma or complex PTSD. The ACA program is one of those resources and, though it’s often challenging and sometimes feels strange, I’ve found that working this program has given me the confidence and serenity that no other resource has.

In order to really work the ACA program, I had to accept the idea of having separate internal parts of myself. In other words, each person has different subconscious parts of their personality, some of which may have developed because of traumatic childhood experiences. The goal of ACA recovery is to integrate the disparate parts of our personality to become an emotionally healthy adult—one who is no longer controlled by childhood reactions. 

Below are three ACA personality parts, which are taken from A New Hope: ACA Beginners Meeting Handbook.

Inner Child

This part is also referred to as the True Self. This is “the original person, which we truly are (theologians might call it the soul) . . . Many in ACA believe that our True Self was forced into hiding, buried deeply under our painful childhood wounding … A False Self or ego emerged instead that protected our traumatized, hidden True Self from harm.”

Critical Parent

“The inner Critical Parent is the childhood voice that arose and was strengthened in the absence of unconditional love. It is the inner voice or feeling that tells us we are not good enough, smart enough, or worthy enough . . . that we are inherently and fundamentally broken, and that no one else understands us.”

Loving Parent

This is a part that we develop as we heal in ACA. “We awaken the Loving Parent by learning to listen to our own inner self-talk and recognize when it is harsh. We can then confront those inner Critical Parent messages. The Loving Parent’s role is to challenge our critical, inner voice and to care for, nurture and protect the child within.”

All of this sounded new and strange to me as a Catholic, but there is a particular verse from Scripture that I believe supports the existence of the Inner Child within me and the belief that God wants me to make contact with and nurture that child.

“Unless you change and become like little children, you will never see the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:2-5).

Accepting concepts that aren’t specifically mentioned in Scripture or Catholic tradition is not a new thing for Catholics. St. Augustine wrote in his book On Christian Doctrine, “if those who are called philosophers, and especially the Platonists, have said [anything] that is true and in harmony with our faith, we are not only not to shrink from it, but to claim it for our own use from those who have unlawful possession of it.” 

Similarly, Peter Molanoski, Ph.D., a faithful Catholic Psychologist states on his podcast, Integration for Catholics, that many of the concepts that we use today in modern psychology that have been helpful in healing the mental health issues people struggle with today have been given to us by non-Christians doing research in the field of psychology.

In other words, as Catholics, we have the freedom to integrate all truth—no matter its source—into our spiritual and recovery lives since all truth has its source in God.

It took some time, but once I accepted these ACA concepts of the inner personality parts for myself I began to wonder how to make contact with that hidden traumatized part of myself—my Inner Child. I also wondered how I could nurture and care for her so that I could become truly whole and integrated. I discovered that reparenting is the way to do this, and the path to healing and wholeness.

Still, the first step was to recognize that I have a wounded Inner Child and invite her to show herself through exercises, such as non-dominant handwriting and artwork. I also created a prayerful meditation to help her share and express some of the fear and shame that I had kept inside for so many years. Lately, I’ve found that the key to letting this part of myself be vulnerable and express herself is to have a nurturing, loving, parent voice that affirms and welcomes her.

The process is not easy and can even be confusing at times. But I’ve found that through prayer and meditation, going to ACA meetings, reading relevant literature on the topic, and connecting with fellow travelers in recovery, I am slowly and gently healing from my traumatic past and becoming the person God is calling me to be.

Born and raised Catholic, Chloe is an adult child of alcoholics who recently rediscovered the beauty of 12-step recovery through attending Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACA) and Catholic in Recovery meetings. For many years, Chloe was an Evangelical Christian before the Blessed Mother, the saints, and the witness of a dear friend eventually drew her back to the Catholic faith.