By: Marilyn L. Davis
“Whatever negative things people think and say about you are enough to bring you down, provided you believe that it carries a weight that can push you hard. Don’t agree to accept what critics say; be prepared to silence them by doing what they think you can’t do!” ―Israelmore Ayivor, The Great Hand Book of Quotes
Do Negative Messages Still Influence You?
Negative messages, either spoken or acted out, take place in families, society, school playgrounds, and socially. These messages can still hurt you as an adult. When you still believe these old messages, you give them power over you.
If you grew up in a family or had bullies in school who shamed or picked on you, sometimes for aspects about yourself that were beyond your control, you may have low self-esteem, which can have devastating consequences like :
- Increased likelihood of depression
- Problems with friendships and romantic relationships
- Impaired academic and job performance
- Increased vulnerability to drug and alcohol abuse
Just because someone told you that you would never amount to anything denies your ability to choose what you are or will become.
Are You Selective about Which Messages You Remember?
I often hear people talk about not being able to get over the negative messages that eroded or harmed their self-esteem. With over 31 years in recovery, and working with the addicted population, these messages are sometimes an excuse to continue the use.
For instance, I’ll ask them if their family actively promoted addiction, not just by their use, but told them to grow up and be an alcoholic or drug addict. Or did they say to the person, “Don’t use.”
Typically, the message was, “Don’t use.”
When I point out that in their addiction, they got over certain messages, this demonstrates that they can refute or get over other family messages if the motive is to get over or work through them. Click To Tweet
I Still Remember the Negative Messages
As a child, with red hair and freckles, I heard from my older cousins and classmates on the playground: “I’d rather be dead than red on the head,” or “Don’t those spots wash off your face?” I distinctly heard negative messages about coloring that I could not change.
Being picked on for hair color and freckles was painful, more so because I could not change either one and didn’t know how to accept them. Only when my father gave me an old Irish poem about a face without freckles being like a sky without stars did I learn to accept my coloring.
Granted, not everyone is going to have a father that finds a poem to refute a negative message. However, you can make an effort to change your mindset if you see that negative words are holding you back. How would you do that? Test the negative messages.
- Does it apply to you today?
- You can decide if they have merit or truth.
- Stop your belief in them if they are no longer valid.
Negative Messages come in many forms, but most, if not all, are going to erode your self-esteem, make you doubtful of your abilities, or highlight liabilities. However, the messages that you give to your inner child today can help overcome some of the hurt.
From Parent to Child: Handing Down the Hurt
Often parents are unaware of how the words impact their children. For instance, expecting a child to outperform in all areas of their lives is unrealistic, yet parents will compare what grade a child got on a test with their performance on the soccer field.
“If you put the same effort into practicing your ball skills and drills as you put into studying for your A + math test, you’d be on the Varsity rather than the JV team. Your brother and I were both double letter men in school.”
That unkind comment came from a young alcoholic’s father when I worked with him as a recovery coach. John never thought that his father valued his academic interests and efforts as much as he did the sports accomplishments of his brother. He became tearful, talking about his father’s negative messages.
In further exploring this belief, his dad was able to discuss his grades and sports achievements. He was a mediocre student but found success in sports. Ironically, his father was critical of his own lack of academic achievement and felt some jealousy that his son excelled in academics.
He was able to remember what his father said to him about his grades. When I asked the father how he had felt, there was that moment of clarity as he understood that he was also affected and influenced by a negative message.
Both the father and the son agreed that one son was better at sports, and one son was better at academics and that each had a value.
To admit that he had done damage to his son, in much the same way that his father’s words had created a belief that he wasn’t very smart lead to a discovery.
Finding out that there were parallel situations in messages helped this family come to terms with compliments, and how words are harmful.
Multi-generational negative or distorted messages are not uncommon, and many just get handed down from one generation to another.
A young woman was getting married and discussing her “wish list” with her future husband. On the list were two ham pans. Her fiancé asked her what size was a ham pan. She told him the size, and he registered it at a local store.
At their wedding, he asked her mother if she had ham pans, and she replied that yes, she had her two ham pans.
He then asked the grandmother if she had ham pans. She started laughing and said, “When I got married, I only had two small loaf pans and had to cut up any large ham to cook them. So, yes, I had two ham pans, but now I just use a large roasting pan for the hams, turkeys, and roasts.”
Not forwarding the corrected information to either her child or her grandchild meant that the latest generation still believed something that was born of necessity, but no longer applicable.
While it is a seemingly silly example of messages handed down, it accurately describes the process of incorrect words, meanings, and messages through the generations. The types of negative messages vary from family to family.
What Messages Do You Remember?
What is important is that you look at all the underlying messages from childhood to see if they are valid for you today. Ask yourself about whether they were ever correct or were they merely the words that your parents handed down to you just like someone handed the messages down to them.
When you look at yourself, it might surprise you to realize that the negative messages do not apply to you today. This is especially true if we’re talking about behaviors in addiction versus recovery.
Examining them may help you develop more realistic, correct, and authentic beliefs in yourself. Take the time to consider these old negative messages. You can see if these still influence you.
Examining Negative Messages to Help Your Self-Esteem
For many people, until they take the time to remember and look at these negative messages, they do not realize that their “belief” in some aspects of themselves is actually based on something said to them when they were a child. And that may just be an opinion that may or may not have anything to do with the person that they are today.
Develop an Internal Scale about Negative Messages
We tend to give more weight to certain people’s assessments of us. Parents, siblings, teachers, grandparents, and other relatives were the primary authority figures in our childhood. Just given the size differences, they did seem larger than life, and that can cause us to give weight or credence to what they said.
However, we are not children today, we are the same size as those authorities, and learning to check ourselves as adults from an adult perspective can go a long way towards changing those negative messages.
Do I really care today what a child said to me on the playground 60 years ago? Heck, I can’t even remember their names! So, no, that message carries no credibility for me today.
When You Get a Compliment, Say, “Thank You”
Another thing that people, who still believe in the negative messages, tend to do is negate or cancel out positive comments or even their feelings of pride in an accomplishment.
These people are judging you and your actions today, and that is what matters.
“Thank You” is the right response to a compliment. Don’t reject it with:
“Oh, that was nothing.”
“Anyone could have done that.”
“I think it could have been better.”
For another perspective on self-esteem, here’s a link to You Can Not Buy Self-esteem
Writing, and recovery heals the heart.