It's a Choice: Reject or Reinforce the Negative Messages
Old Messages Still Influence You
Negative messages are spoken or acted out in families, society, school playgrounds and socially. These messages can have a detrimental or harmful effect on you as an adult.
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.
When you continue to believe these old messages, you give them validity. If you take the time to examine them, they may not be true about you today.
Negative Messages as an Excuse to Stay the Same
Just because someone told you that you would never amount to anything denies your ability to choose what you are or will become.
I’ve worked with the addicted population for over 25 years and been in recovery myself for almost 27 years. I often hear people talk about, not being able to get over the negative messages that eroded or harmed their self-esteem.
I’ll ask them if their family actively promoted addiction, not just by their use, but told them it was okay to be an alcoholic or drug addict. Or did they tell the individual, “Don’t use.”
Typically, the message was, "Don’t use".
When I point out that they got over that message, this demonstrates that they can refute or get over other family messages if the motive is to get over or work through them.
Messages Come and Messages Go
As a child, with red hair and freckles, I heard from my older cousins and classmates on the playground:
- “I would rather be dead than red on the head.”
- “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 got me an old Irish poem about a face without freckles being like a sky without stars did I learn to accept my coloring. Natasha Bedingfield captures so much of what happens to us in her “Freckles” song.
But I Don’t Have Anyone to Refute the Messages
Granted, not everyone is going to have a father that finds a poem to refute a negative message. However, you can make the effort for yourself to change your mindset if you find that there are negative words holding you back.
You can evaluate the negative messages, determine if they have merit or truth, and discontinue your belief in them if they are invalid or no longer true.
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 and Parent to Child
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 parent of a young alcoholic I was working with as a recovery coach. The young man had 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 lack of academic achievement.
When They Understand the Influence of Negative Messages
When I asked the father how he had felt, there was that moment of clarity as he understood that he was also impacted and influenced by a negative message.
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 breakthrough. Finding out that there were parallel situations in messages helped this family come to terms with compliments, and how words can be harmful.
Both agreed that one son was better at sports, and one son was better at academics and that each had a value.
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 was applicable.
While it is a light example of messages handed down, it accurately describes the process of incorrect messages through the generations. Other messages are multi-generational but harmful, hurtful and also incorrect.
Media Messages Influence Self-esteem
Negative Messages and the Influence on Self-esteem
The types of negative messages vary from family to family, and this list is only a partial example. What is important is that you examine all of the underlying messages from childhood to see if they are valid for you today. Question whether they were ever accurate or were they merely the words that your parents handed down to you just as they had been handed down to them from their parents.
Low self-esteem can have devastating consequences. It can:
- Create anxiety
- Increased likelihood of depression
- Cause problems with friendships and romantic relationships
- Seriously impair academic and job performance
- Lead to increased vulnerability to drug and alcohol abuse
When you examine yourself and who said something, you may be surprised to find that the negative messages do not apply to you today. Examining them may help you develop more realistic, accurate and authentic beliefs in yourself. Taking the time to consider these old negative messages can help you see exactly how much influence they have had on you.
Until you take the time to examine these negative messages, you may not realize that your “belief” in some aspects of yourself is actually based on something that was said to you when you were a child.
These beliefs may or may not have anything to do with the person you are today.
Are there Negative Messages from your childhood that you can reject today because they don't describe who you are today?
Examining the Beliefs and Negative Messages to Help Your Self-Esteem
Continuing to believe in the correctness of negative messages from your past will keep you stuck.
Examining them may help you develop more realistic, accurate and authentic beliefs in yourself. Taking the time to examine these old negative messages can help you see exactly how much influence they have had on you.
For many people, until they take the time to remember and examine these negative messages, they do not realize that their “belief” in some aspects of themselves is actually based on something that was said to them when they were a child; an opinion that may or may not have anything to do with the person that they are today.
Long forgotten places and messages
Develop an Internal Scale
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 factor in how much weight or credence we gave to their opinions.
Or the popular kids made comments.
However, we are not children today, we are the same size as those authorities, and learning to evaluate ourselves as adults from an adult perspective can go a long way towards changing those negative messages.
When You Get the Praise, Take It In And Say, “Thank You”
The other 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.
For one week, if you are complimented, praised, acknowledged, or given positive reinforcement in any manner for who you are or what you have done, take it in. "Thank You" is the appropriate 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.”
Instead, say, “Thank you” and let this affirmation chip away at the negative messages and beliefs. These people are assessing you today, and that is what matters.
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