Having just canceled an appointment, I was surprised and disappointed to hear old messages from my dad who has not been with us for almost forty years. He reminded me in this ancient suggestion that I was lazy. Surely my life has been indicative of everything other than laziness, so I am compelled to ponder why I am still hearing his criticisms.
Before I seek out a therapist to examine old childhood issues, I consider that we all do this to one degree or another. My guess is that most of us could easily enumerate all the criticisms or compliments that we received from our upbringing. But unless we use them for some positive outcomes, what’s the point?
Here are some of the reasons why all that negative self-messaging is harmful. First, how much is true? In this case, being in the labor force for the last many years is a pretty good indication that my life is not consistent with laziness. Secondly, what constructive purpose does it serve? Hearing negative things that were said decades ago doesn’t motivate, construct or rehabilitate.
And of course, as an educator, I consider the damages and values of these messages. My parents, your parents and everyone else who has had an influence on you has no way of either retracting comments or understanding the effects that they have. Tell a child that he’s awful in math and he will continually live down to your expectations. Tell another child that her art is exceptional, and she will continue to create.
If it were that simple to lose these old habits, we would definitely be doing so. But I suggest that because we oversee the paths and destinations of our thoughts, we can do much better than allowing them to direct us. Tell Dad that his perception of your math abilities was incorrect. Be sure to tell Mom that you are grateful for her non-stop, flowery encouragement. As much as possible, disenfranchise the messengers you send to yourself that reinforce your limitations. Use that time to enhance, not detract. Shalom.