Step 4: Self-Parenting in the Age of COVID-19 Accepting How We Learned to Protect Ourselves and Build on This

Photo by Adrian Pelletier on Unsplash


Patricia A O’Gorman, PhD

Step 4: Made an honest assessment of our strengths and weaknesses

 and accepted the impact our childhood has had on us as adults.

The 12 Steps to Self-Parenting for Adult Children

Survivorship is important to consider during times of crisis, particularly a crisis like the one in which we find ourselves today, which is fraught with challenges on so many levels. This type of crisis not only stirs up past wounds but also intensifies unresolved childhood and adult issues.

Protecting Ourselves

Overcoming the feeling of powerlessness, encouraging ourselves to reach out, and challenging our belief that we must do this alone are all part of this process of self-parenting. Today your task is to use this crisis to make peace with the old ways you have used to protect yourself and to move on—to learn new ways to care for yourself, and by example share them with those who surround you. I invite you to expand your understanding of your self-care by considering with compassion your strengths and weakness—not only for the person you are today, but also for the child you were. 

Our need to protect ourselves is normal. We all need to defend ourselves against what we see as threats. As you think back over your life, I’m sure you realize that not all the ways you protected yourself worked equally well. When you were a child, you made sense of the world as a child does. As you have grown, some of those familiar ways of protecting yourself have developed, and some haven’t aged particularly well. In contrast, other ways of taking care of yourself are sources of light and joy you can still feel even in this somber time. These you’ll want to consider building upon.

Dark Side and Light Side Defenses

To help you reflect on this, consider calling these two types of defenses dark side and light side. 

Our dark side defenses keep us stuck in the pain of the past. These are thoughts and behaviors that are familiar because they define our best past efforts to keep ourselves safe, even if they were not particularly effective. They’re frequently expensive—emotionally, physically, and financially—because they use our resources in less than efficient ways, consuming and misdirecting our energies. We may be tempted to use them when we anticipate an old pain of childhood about to rear its wounding head, or when we’re facing uncertainty with its accompanying terror. We may even invite them in to create a familiar type of perceived attack because we know how to fight this battle, and we do these things in an effort to keep us safe from confronting something new. 

One example is that many couples are having familiar arguments about one party taking advantage of another by not doing routine household tasks, or avoiding a discussion of how to prepare their finances in the event that one of them becomes very ill and dies. We know these are dark side defenses because after using them we feel depleted, alone, and more frightened.

Our light side defenses help us grow, explore possibilities in the midst of chaos, and to be curious, open. We recognize these behaviors as positive because we feel good and positive after we deploy them. One example is our healthcare workers who push themselves to go to work, trying not to pay attention to their fear and their long hours, missing their children and focusing instead on how they are fulfilling their life’s purpose. Another may be a parent sitting down with their child on Zoom, laughing together as they try to figure out how it works so their child can participate in school. By enjoying the challenge together instead of feeling pulled to vacuum or finish a work report, they avoid becoming angry with their child who needs help.

Exercise for Today

On a piece of paper or in your journal, create three columns and label them 

  • My Defense, 
  • How It Protects Me, and 
  • What It Costs Me   

Fill each column using an example of your dark side defense and one of your light side defense. Your page will look something like this:

Dark Side DefenseHow It Protects MeWhat It Costs Me

Blaming myself for being alone because I’m fat

Gives me the illusion of control

It costs me my power and motivation by overwhelming me, making me feel responsible for things beyond my control like the safety precautions for COVID-19 
Light Side DefenseHow It Protects MeWhat It Costs Me

Telling myself I’m worth the trouble to keep physically separate as I figure out how to stay socially connected

Keeps me safe from COVID-19

A little loneliness, but I know I’m safe; I’m not taking everything personally

Make a daily commitment to list a dark side and a light side defense in your journal. Use this time of major disruption in your life to consider the messages you are sending yourself that you can change.  

Welcoming the Real You

Challenge yourself to crack the door open to your light side defenses to reveal the real you—a combination of your past challenges and what they have taught you, your current beliefs, struggles, and solutions, and your future hopes and plans. Your real self is not static. Be curious about what you are doing right—your light side defense; add the ways you keep yourself safe to your gratitude list. Be prepared to have a fuller inner life even with all of the restrictions COVID-19 is creating. 

Make a note in your journal about how this works for you, and feel free to share it on my new Facebook Group, Self-Parenting in the Age of COVID, which I invite you to join by clicking on the link. There you can post your struggles and solutions as we create community. I invite you to share the blogs and posts you find on the Facebook Group by tagging those you know and care about, whether they are in recovery or just loved by you. 

This is the fourth of a twelve-part series based on The 12 Steps to Self-Parenting. More tips are available on my blog, The Powerful, and in my books: Healing Trauma Through Self-Parenting, The 12 Steps to Self-Parenting for Adult Children, and The Resilient Woman. Learn more about my work as a consulting psychologist and speaker at

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