Understanding your psychology

Rules, rules, rules

Remember Peter and Andrew? Peter reacted with catastrophising thoughts when his flight was delayed. Andrew, on the other hand, was able to think flexibly about the situation and did not cause himself unnecessary stress.

The immediate reactions that we have to events tend to be of a certain kind and repetitive. There are common patterns of negative reactions as we have seen in a previous blog. These reactions are ‘learnt’. One of the patterns that we have yet to cover is Rules for Living. So, we’ll do that now. The following are examples just to illustrate this issue.

Let’s take Peter’s child, Anabel, who comes home from school and is quizzed by her parents about her maths test. Anabel reluctantly tells them that she got 7/10. Anabel is reluctant because she knows her parents have very high standards and expect her to be top of the class in all subjects; ever since nursery she has been under pressure to ‘perform’. She feels wretched as she sees the wave of disappointment in their faces. Over time, this has led to Anabel to feel something of a failure (this is her ‘core belief’) and she begins to believe that her parents will only love her if she does well (conditional love). She begins to develop a Rule for Living: “I must never fail.”

Anabel’s brother Jim is younger than Anabel. Jim feels uneasy generally in the home because his parents seem to argue a lot. Nowhere really feels all that safe. He believes he must be the cause of their arguments, he begins to develop a Rule for Living: “I must be good and silent.”

In counselling and coaching, I see a lot of Rules for Living. The common ones are: “I must never fail”, “I must be in control”, “I should always be busy”, “I should see to others and not prioritise myself”. We create the rules so that we can protect ourselves from the horrible negative core beliefs we have created about ourselves.

Some of the rules can feel protective at the time, quite literally if I am good and silent in a home where there is a bad-tempered parent, there’s at least a bit of a chance I won’t be picked on. However, these rules become problematic because they are impossible to obey ALL of the time. Life is unpredictable and we soon find ourselves facing our negative core beliefs around not being good enough, being helpless/hopeless/inadequate/failure/flawed/ bad/abandoned/unloveable/rejected and so on.

We tend to carry these rules from childhood through to adulthood without renegotiating them. Do I still need to keep the rule “I should always be busy”? Where did that rule come from? Do I need it any more or can it be replaced with something more realistic, kind and helpful?

Listen keenly to your inner voice! Are there lots of ‘should’ ‘ought’ ‘must’ ‘have to’ ‘got to’ in your daily self-talk? If so, ask yourself if a rule is being evoked and if so is it time to change it? One of the loveliest positive core beliefs to practise is “I’m good enough!” Try it out!  Try living your life as if this is true.  This doesn’t mean you can’t excel at things or be ambitious, it just acknowledges that being good enough is all anyone’s personhood can be as ALL OF US ARE FLAWED!  There is NO such thing as a perfect person. Everyone makes mistakes sometimes, we can learn from them instead of beating ourselves up.

I challenge you to drop that rucksack of rules you have been carrying around!

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