Because when we can begin to consciously effort towards thinking, acting, and speaking to ourselves in more adaptive, functional ways, we help rewire any maladaptive thoughts or behaviors that may have formed in our neural pathways as a result of the poor modeling we received when we were young.
But what do we do when we have no role models and struggle to think, act, and speak like a good enough mother/father/parent?
What can we do when we haven’t even the faintest idea of what this would look like?
How are we supposed to rewire our neural pathways then?
We can borrow inspiration from examples in books, TV, and movies and use these characters as resources to support our internal development.
Read on to learn more about how I specifically do this in my Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy work with my therapy clients to learn a tool (and examples!) that you can use in your own life (with or without me as your trauma therapist).
What are resources in EMDR therapy?
When I conduct EMDR therapy with my clients – whether for relational trauma recovery or for relief from phobias, single incident traumas, or any other challenging set of symptoms – I’ll develop and cultivate resources for them in the second phase of the work – the preparation stage.
But what are resources?
Resources encompass various elements, including individuals (from real life, fiction, history, or elsewhere), emotional states, animals, mastery memories, inanimate objects, and more, which you invoke in your mind to induce an internal emotional transformation, ideally a positive state.
In the context of EMDR, we combine this imaginative connection to resources with bilateral stimulation (BLS) to help your body and brain integrate the somatic and emotional response to this resource even further.
What’s so important about positive parenting role model resources?
Now, while I heavily customize resources for each and every one of my clients (developing a rich menu of tailored exercises that I believe will most support them in the memory reprocessing stage), inevitably, when working with anyone who comes from a relational trauma history, I’ll borrow from the work of Laurel Parnell, Ph.D. and resource my clients with nurturing, protective, and wise figures.
Because those of us who grew up in relational trauma environments – environments when caregivers and the early, influential institutions and systems in a young child’s life fail to respect and support their dignity, personhood, and biopsychosocial well-being due to individual or collective deficits – often lack healthy, functional models of what nurturing, protective or trust-worthy guidance might look like.
By “resourcing” my clients with these kinds of figures and models, I can help them begin to internalize positive parenting role models when they themselves have had little or none.
But what if you can’t think of any positive role models?
And yet, sometimes, even when I tell my clients that they can derive inspiration for nurturing, protective, or wise figures from people they know (or know of) in their real life or borrow inspiration from characters and figures across fiction (TV, movies, books), they may draw blanks.
Please hear me: it’s normal, natural, and common to draw blanks.
After all, many of us don’t know what we don’t know, so how are we supposed to even recognize a good, healthy, functional role model when we see it?
While I always first wait and defer to my clients to generate their own internally generated resources, if they continue to have a hard or impossible time identifying any or all of these figures, I’ll provide some prompts that are derived not only from my own consumption of pop culture but also derived from what I’ve seen hundreds of clients use across the years.
Today, I wanted to provide these lists of characters for nurturing, protective, and wise figures for you to borrow inspiration from so that you can begin to use them in your own relational trauma recovery work (whether inside EMDR therapy with me or my team at the boutique, trauma-informed therapy center I founded) or any other time to begin to act, think, and speak to yourself as a “good enough” parent figure would to a child.
So read the below list of examples of nurturing, protective, and wise figures, and see which resonates with you.
I’ll share some exercises later in the article that you can use to harness the chosen resources.
Examples of Positive Parenting Role Models:
The nurturing figure resource is an imaginary or remembered individual/figure/symbol from someone’s life who provides comfort, safety, and support. Someone or something that evokes feelings of safety, love, and care provided by that person. Note: a nurturing figure is not necessarily a mother (though it may be), and it certainly doesn’t have to be a female-identified individual. It’s simply someone who evokes feelings of being nurtured, cared for, feeling safe, and supported.
Examples of nurturing figures from TV, movies, and books to derive inspiration from:
- Molly Weasley from the “Harry Potter” series by J.K. Rowling represents nurturing, comfort, and safety as the loving matriarch of the Weasley family. She’s known for her warmth and care, providing a home filled with love and homemade meals, and fiercely protecting her children, Harry included.
- Marmee March from “Little Women” by Louisa May Alcott embodies nurturing qualities as the mother of the four March sisters. She offers comfort and guidance, teaching her daughters important life lessons and providing unwavering support during times of difficulty.
- Mrs. Gump from the movie “Forrest Gump” is a nurturing figure who demonstrates unconditional love and safety for her son Forrest. She provides emotional stability and protection, helping him navigate the challenges of life.
- Marilla Cuthbert from “Anne of Green Gables” by L.M. Montgomery is a symbol of stability, safety, and maternal care. While she may appear stern at times, Marilla offers Anne a stable and loving home, providing guidance and support throughout her adventures.
- Bluey’s Dad from the kids’ show “Bluey” represents a nurturing and caring father figure, fostering a loving and safe environment for his children to explore and learn through imaginative play.
- Mrs. Potts from “Beauty and the Beast” serves as a comforting and motherly figure, offering emotional support to Belle and the Beast, and exemplifying care and warmth in the enchanted castle.
- Caroline Ingalls from “Little House on the Prairie” by Laura Ingalls Wilder embodies the qualities of nurturing and safety as she helps her family build a life on the American frontier, providing love, security, and a sense of home in challenging circumstances.
- Mary Poppins from “Mary Poppins” by P.L. Travers is a magical and nurturing figure who brings comfort, guidance, and joy to the Banks children through her whimsical adventures and life lessons.
- Maria von Trapp from “The Sound of Music” (played by Julie Andrews) offers a comforting and maternal presence as she nurtures the von Trapp children with love and music, providing a safe haven in a time of turmoil.
- T’Challa’s mother, Queen Ramonda, from “Black Panther” (played by Angela Bassett) represents a regal nurturing figure who offers wisdom and support to her son and the people of Wakanda, embodying the qualities of leadership and protection within her royal role.
The “protective figure resource” in EMDR work serves as an imagined or recalled individual or symbol from one’s life who functions as a guardian, defender, and protector against various forms of danger. This figure or entity elicits a profound sense of security, affection, and a vigilant shield, reinforcing feelings of being shielded, cherished, secure, and fortified. It’s important to note that a protective figure is not confined to a paternal role and can encompass individuals of any gender identity who evoke sentiments of nurturance, safety, and unwavering support.
- Joel from “The Last of Us” is a resourceful and dedicated protector who guards and cares for Ellie, a young girl in a post-apocalyptic world. He’s willing to face danger and make difficult choices to ensure Ellie’s safety, forming a strong bond with her in the process.
- Charles Ingalls from “Little House on the Prairie” is a loving father who embodies the protective role by ensuring the safety and well-being of his family as they settle in challenging frontier conditions. He demonstrates resilience, resourcefulness, and a strong sense of responsibility.
- Hopper from “Stranger Things” is a protective figure who serves as the sheriff of Hawkins, Indiana. He takes on the role of a father figure to Eleven, a girl with supernatural abilities, and is committed to defending her from government experiments and other supernatural threats.
- Samwise Gamgee from “The Lord of the Rings” by J.R.R. Tolkien is Frodo’s loyal friend and protector throughout their perilous journey to destroy the One Ring. Sam embodies the qualities of unwavering loyalty, bravery, and selflessness as he defends Frodo against the corrupting influence of the Ring.
- Hagrid from the “Harry Potter” series by J.K. Rowling is a gentle giant who serves as a protector and mentor to Harry Potter and other young wizards. He introduces them to the magical world, offering guidance and safeguarding them from various dangers.
- Katniss Everdeen from “The Hunger Games” is a fiercely protective character, particularly when it comes to her younger sister, Prim. She volunteers for the Hunger Games to save Prim and goes to great lengths to ensure her safety in the harsh and deadly arena.
- Sarah Connor from the “Terminator” movie series is a resilient and protective mother who goes to great lengths to safeguard her son, John Connor, from advanced AI threats and the relentless Terminator assassins. She transforms from a waitress into a fierce defender.
- Lieutenant Ellen Ripley from the “Alien” movie series is a determined and courageous protector who faces deadly extraterrestrial creatures to keep her crew and, later, a young girl named Newt, safe from harm. She exhibits unwavering courage and resourcefulness.
- Brienne of Tarth from “Game of Thrones.” Brienne is a skilled and loyal protector who vows to serve and safeguard the Stark children, Sansa and Arya, throughout the series. She embodies qualities of honor, courage, and unwavering dedication to her duty as a knight and protector.
- Wonder Woman (Diana Prince) is a superhero known for her unwavering dedication to protecting humanity from various threats and injustices. She embodies qualities of strength, justice, and compassion, using her superhuman abilities and her lasso of truth to maintain peace and security in the world.
The “wise figure resource” in EMDR therapy is an imagined or remembered individual or symbol from one’s life who embodies sage wisdom, offering valuable counsel and providing sound advice. This figure imparts a profound sense of enlightenment, guidance, and guided support, strengthening feelings of being mentored, enlightened, secure, and empowered. It’s important to note that a wise figure transcends gender roles and can encompass individuals of any gender identity who evoke sentiments of wisdom, enlightenment, and unwavering guidance.
- Gandalf from “The Lord of the Rings” by J.R.R. Tolkien. Gandalf is a wise wizard who provides invaluable counsel and guidance to Frodo and the Fellowship, offering his knowledge and experience to aid them in their quest to save Middle-earth.
- Dumbledore from the “Harry Potter” series by J.K. Rowling. Professor Dumbledore is the wise headmaster of Hogwarts who serves as a mentor and protector to Harry Potter, offering counsel and teaching important life lessons.
- Professor McGonagall from “Harry Potter” series by J.K. Rowling. Professor McGonagall is a wise and experienced teacher at Hogwarts who offers guidance and support to students, particularly to Harry, Ron, and Hermione.
- Yoda from the “Star Wars” franchise. Yoda is a legendary Jedi Master known for his wisdom and mentorship. He imparts profound guidance and trains young Jedi in the ways of the Force.
- Obi-Wan Kenobi from “Star Wars.” Obi-Wan Kenobi is a wise and skilled Jedi Knight who mentors Anakin and later Luke Skywalker, offering sage advice and training in the Jedi arts.
- Atticus Finch. Atticus Finch is a wise and moral father in “To Kill a Mockingbird” who imparts essential life lessons about empathy, justice, and the importance of doing what is right.
- Professor Charles Xavier from the X-Men franchise (played by Patrick Stewart). Professor Xavier is the wise leader of the X-Men and serves as a mentor to young mutants, teaching them to control their powers and promoting peaceful coexistence.
- Mr. Miyagi from “Cobra Kai” (played by Pat Morita). Mr. Miyagi is a martial arts master who provides guidance and teaches important life lessons to his student, Daniel, through the art of karate.
- Miranda Bailey from “Grey’s Anatomy” (portrayed by Chandra Wilson). Dr. Bailey is a wise and experienced surgeon who mentors and guides young doctors, offering valuable advice on both medical practice and life.
- Mrs. Hughes from “Downton Abbey” (portrayed by Phyllis Logan). Mrs. Hughes is a wise and respected figure at Downton Abbey, offering guidance and support to both the staff and the Crawley family, especially in her role as head housekeeper.
Using these positive parenting role models.
If you were working with me or one of my EMDR therapists at my center, after selecting the resources that resonate with you, we would lead you through a process that helps to deeply integrate the positive emotional impact of these figures in your brain and body. It’s a powerful and wonderful exercise.
But even if you’re not doing EMDR therapy, you can still use your selected resources to help yourself on your relational trauma recovery journey by using these exercises below:
1) The Role Model Journaling Exercise:
- Activity: Set aside dedicated time for journaling.
- Instructions: Write a journal entry from the perspective of your imaginary parenting role model. Imagine how they would view your actions, thoughts, and feelings. Encourage yourself in their voice and offer guidance as they would. This exercise helps you internalize their compassionate and empathetic perspective.
2) Mirror Affirmations with Your Parenting Role Model:
- Activity: Stand in front of a mirror.
- Instructions: Look at your reflection and recite self-compassionate affirmations or positive self-talk in your parenting role model’s voice. For example, “I am deserving of love and understanding. I am capable and resilient, just as [Fill in the Blank] would say.”
3) Empathy Walk:
- Activity: Go for a walk in a quiet and peaceful setting.
- Instructions: As you walk, imagine your positive parenting role model walking beside you. Consider how they would perceive the world and the people around you. This exercise fosters empathy by allowing you to see the world through their compassionate, functional eyes.
4) Role Model Visualization Meditation:
- Activity: Find a comfortable and quiet space to meditate.
- Instructions: Close your eyes and visualize your positive parenting role model sitting with you. Imagine a conversation with them where they share their wisdom and compassion. Visualize them offering you kind words and support. This meditation helps you internalize their empathy and self-compassion.
5) Self-Talk Replacement:
- Activity: Throughout the day, pay attention to your self-talk.
- Instructions: When you catch yourself engaging in negative self-talk or self-criticism, pause and replace those thoughts with what your role model would say in that situation. Such as “What would so and so say about this?”, “What would so and so do right now?”, “How would so and so act?”, “What would so and so think about how I just talked to myself/treated myself? How would they talk to me/treat me instead?” This exercise gradually helps you reframe your self-perception with more compassion and empathy.
In identifying a resonant resource and then pivoting our internal self-talk and behaviors to be more in alignment with what they – as nurturing, protective, or wise figures (aka good enough parent figures) might say or do – we can begin to form more functional and adaptive thoughts and behaviors (rewiring our neural pathways).
But also, if this doesn’t feel like enough, if these exercises don’t feel sufficient to help shift the way you act and think about yourself, please consider working with an EMDR therapist who can guide you through internalizing these resources even further.
And if you are actually actively looking for a trained trauma therapist (specifically an EMDR therapist) and if you live in California or Florida, please reach out to me and my team at the boutique, trauma-focused therapy center I founded.
We’re taking on new clients right now and would truly love to be of support to you on your relational trauma recovery journey.
And now I’d love to hear from you if you feel so inclined:
What nurturing, protective, or wise figures from TV, books, or movies might you add to this list?
If you feel so inclined, please leave a message in the comments. This blog, this little corner of the internet, receives about 30,000 visitors each month, and our blog comments have become a kind of community where folks with similar paths and journeys find each other, learn from each other, and take hope and inspiration from each other’s shares. So if you feel so inclined, please feel free to leave a comment and share your wisdom and experiences. You never know who you’ll help when you write.
Until next time, please take care of yourself. You’re so worth it.