Getting rid of internalized negative messages helps to make changes to your life
Over the years I’ve worked with many folks who, unfortunately, were raised with a damaging version of “right” and “wrong.” Their well-meaning parents (or whichever authority figure) would impose unrealistically high expectations, or simply not know that positive reinforcement works infinitely better—and creates higher self-esteem—than negative reinforcement.
A typical example is the kid who earns a great school report, but does poorly in, say, one subject. And that’s the subject that gets all the (negative) parental attention. Common refrains in this household might go something like: Let me do it, you won’t get it right. Can’t you be more like (fill in the blank). Why do you always have to be like that/say those things/make poor decisions? Can’t you do anything right??
You get the idea. With that kind of dialogue rumbling around in a person’s head, he/she will inevitably begin to live up to (or down to) those messages. Their self-fulfilling prophesy guides them to do exactly what they’ve internalized: make poor decisions, always get it “wrong,” fail and fail again.
Who is the one to say if this or that is the “right thing” to do? The right thing for whom, and under what conditions? Is what’s right for me also right for you—and vice-versa? And are the right things learned in childhood the same things that qualify as right in adulthood?
Many, of course, find their moral blueprint in religious or spiritual teachings. Some find guidance from their Higher Power in programs like AA. And we are living in the Bible Belt...need I say more? While certain religious beliefs may work for some, when it comes to a personal moral code, people have to use what works for them, what has intrinsic meaning and significance to them. Otherwise, it’s hollow; it doesn’t fit or feel right.
Most rights and wrongs are pretty much common sense, aren’t they? If someone is hurt, help out. If someone drops their bag of groceries, help out. If a friend is in crisis, help out.
I came across an interesting talk by author and motivational speaker Kimberly Alyn. It’s called “Up Time,” and offers solid, helpful reminders about personal responsibility. I want to share with you an excerpt from her talk.
No matter what your inspirational source of right and wrong might be, I think you’ll find the following contains useful wisdom and plenty of common sense. See if they ring true for you.
- If you see injustice, stand up.
- If you make a mistake, fess up.
- If you’re overstepping, back up.
- If they knock you down, get up.
- When the fight is over, make up.
- If your heart is closed, open up.
- If you make a mess, clean it up.
- If people fall down, help them up.
- If your words are vulgar, clam it up.
- If your words encourage, keep it up.
- If you made a promise, back it up.
- When life’s boring, shake it up.
- When life’s good, soak it up.
- When life’s unfair, suck it up.
- When life’s funny, yuck it up.
I suggest that finding, or creating, one’s own personal moral compass isn’t that difficult once we give ourselves permission to do it our own way. Maybe it’s not about someone else’s rules, but about our own ability to turn inward, meditate/pray/ponder on what constitutes our “highest self,” and do the best we can. Without guilt for our choices or the stumblings along the way.
Until next time, from Thich Nhat Hanh’s The Energy of Prayer: “We don’t have to go anywhere to obtain the truth. We only need to be still and things will reveal themselves in the still water of our heart.”
Dr. Rick Pimental-Habib, Ph.D., is a psychotherapist, author, minister, and educator in private practice in Chattanooga. Contact him at DrRPH.com, visit his wellness center at WellNestChattanooga.com and follow his daily inspirations on Twitter: @DrRickWellNest