Have you ever found yourself going about your day, only to be struck with a thought or experience that propels you back years in time to your childhood? You find yourself suddenly young again, feeling the joys and pains of years gone by and are left wondering how your childhood self turned into the person that you are today. While happy childhood memories may feed into feelings of nostalgia and help shape a person’s priorities as an adult, the truth is that childhood trauma and our most difficult experiences in our early years are just as, if not more, formative of our character later in life.
In psychotherapy, “reparenting” is an approach that sees a person’s personality as being made up of both an adult and a wounded child. While our adult selves define much of how we rationally approach our daily lives, the wounded child is the part of us that is made up of the emotional wounds and traumas experienced during childhood, which still impact and shape us years later. During reparenting in therapy, a person will be guided into identifying the moments in time that caused such severe, long-lasting wounds and learn how to show love, protection, and nurture to his or her wounded child. This means stepping back in time to those painful moments and speaking love and truth to ourselves when we needed it most, yet most likely never received it. In essence, your adult self takes on a parental role with your child self in order to bring healing and love to wounds that may have been hurting for decades.
The idea of reparenting can be found in small moments of film and television, where the beauty of reconnecting with the inner self is represented in characters arcs in film such as Elf, Hook, and Regarding Henry. However, these films can often overlook the steps necessary to truly reparent and heal old wounds.
What may surprise you is that the most poignant and thoughtful depiction of reparenting can be found in 2014’s The LEGO Movie.
Based on the children’s building blocks playsets, The LEGO Movie throws audiences headlong into a colorful world made of bricks, where conformity and rule joyfully suppress the potential of everyone’s creativity. In this world lives Emmet Brickowski (Chris Pratt), a simple construction worker who soon finds himself at the center of a prophecy to stop the evil Lord Business (Wil Ferrell) from ending all creativity in the world for good. If you were to distill 2014’s The Lego Movie into its most defining characteristics, you might come up with terms like frenetic, inventive, and gleeful. While those most certainly define a large portion of the film’s style and immediate impact, they forego the themes of The Lego Movie to focus on the experience.
At its core, The Lego Movie is actually a sweetly touching and understated look at what it means to move past the hurtful things that others have said about you and what you’ve said about yourself. In order to do so and become a better person, you must reconnect with your inner child and rewrite the wrongs committed during childhood in order to move forward.
The idea of reparenting works on two levels within the narrative of The Lego Movie. The first is that hero Emmet (Chris Pratt) has lived a life of little imagination and is surrounded by people who either don’t care about him or find there to be nothing special about him. However, his sudden inclusion in a quest to save the world begins to open up his eyes to his own unique talents and his own path toward being special due to believing in himself. It’s a simple but inspiring story of finding the talent inside you that was always there once you let it come to the surface in the ways it needed. By having this adventure take place in the childlike setting of the LEGO world, Emmet’s growth as a character is directly tied to the wonders of childhood.
But the major, moving ideas of reparenting come in the form of a late-in-the-film twist that takes the ideas of a LEGO world and pushes them to the extreme. After Emmet plunges into an abyss, we find that his entire world is made up of LEGO playsets in the real world. Here, they’re brought to life by a young boy named Finn (played by Jadon Sand) who has snuck into his father’s restricted basement collection of LEGO and given them new life. But when the father (also played by Will Ferrell) comes home, it’s readily apparent that dad doesn’t want anyone touching his stuff.
The characters of The Lego Movie are suddenly given new context and meaning. The Evil Lord Business is a representation of the father, who seeks to throw out creativity in order to instill permanent order through the use of Krazy Glue. The simple yet heroic Emmett is the son, who is finally giving life to his own imagination in order to save the world. And in the moment where Emmett must confront Lord Business, the son and father are finally able to have a heart to heart.
Playing with LEGO is, in essence, a way of reconnecting with childhood. It’s pure creativity and an outlet for children of all walks of life. While it’s never stated outright, it’s clear that the character of the father has long struggled with his inner wounded child, as evidenced by the massive amount of LEGO sets in the basement, which he deems as serious, adult creations in order to cover up his childlike desires. Over the years, his wounded child has gone unloved, resulting in something harsh and difficult, as represented by Lord Business.
However, when the father sees the sheer amount of creativity exhibited by his son’s unauthorized rearranging of his finely tuned LEGO sets, he opens himself up to the opportunity to be reparented and also confirm his own child’s worth. In this moment, the relationship between father and son as well as the battle between Emmett and Business is healed through love express through word of affirmation, not fighting.
In a prompt very similar to what would be used in a reparenting session during therapy, the father asks Finn, “If the construction guy said something to President Business, what would he say?” He recognizes what a crucial moment this is in the life of his son and allows some truth to be spoken to his own inner child.
“You don’t have to be the bad guy,” Emmet/Finn responds. “You are the most talented, most interesting, and most extraordinary person in the universe. And you are capable of amazing things. Because you are The Special. And so am I. And so is everyone. The prophecy is made up, but it’s also true. It’s about all of us. Right now, it’s about you. And you … still … can change everything.”
As both son speaks this to father and Emmett speaks this to Lord Business, we see both characters reconnect to their inner childlike self and make the decision to be better people who value creativity and show love that is needed by both son and former enemy. It’s an intimate and powerful moment that subverts much of the loud and insane story that has come before it, recontextualizing the raw creativity and childlike wonder of The LEGO Movie into one of the best mainstream meditations on the need for connecting with the inner wounded child.
Through reparenting, people can create healthier inner lives and learn how to more successfully and cohesively balance their childlike self with their adult self. It’s a process that take time and continued effort, but one that can yield life-changing results. And it all starts with caring for your own inner wounded child in ways only you know how. The result can be something beautiful and truly life affirming.