Every family has them, but no one ever talks about them.
Sometimes theyre positive and healthy. Other times, they are toxic.
Either way, these powerful messages from your childhood home plant themselves into the base of your brain and become an unconscious part of how you live in the adult world; perhaps even embedded in your very sense of who you are: your identity.
Read through the list below, and see if any of these unspoken family rules speak to you. Did your family adhere to one, two or even more?
As you read through the list, write down any messages that feel familiar. These are the messages that run through your head, affecting your choices, emotions, and life to this very day.
Becoming aware of these powerful unconscious rules can free you up to override them. You can take control of them and counter them instead of letting them run your life.
Dont talk about ______.
Silence is bad. Always fill it.
Dont do better than your parents.
Dont outshine others in the family.
Whoever yells the loudest wins.
Dont upset your father (or mother).
Dont trust anyone outside the family.
Certain things must be kept a secret from everyone outside of the family.
Act like you dont see ______.
Your friends will betray you. You can only rely on your family.
It doesnt hurt to twist the truth now and then.
White lies are okay.
All lies are okay.
If we don’t acknowledge it, its not real.
The family comes first.
Wanting something is selfish.
Needing something is selfish.
Emotions are a sign of weakness.
Needs are a sign of weakness.
Dont ask questions.
Dont have needs.
Negative emotion is harmful to those around you.
Dont bring any pain into the house.
Always act like everything is OK, even when its not.
Dont talk about anything meaningful.
Dont refer to anything negative.
Dont rock the boat.
No fighting (conflict) is allowed.
Dont make noise.
Keep your problems to yourself.
Handle it yourself.
Each of these powerful messages does a particular type of damage. Each sets you up to do the wrong thing in your adult life.
The messages above the line all set you up to pretend, deny, or twist reality, tiptoeing around people instead of challenging them. Keep the family secrets at all cost, or dont trust anyone who is not family.
These messages will drive you to make decisions youre not proud of, put your family before yourself even when its harmful, and have problems with excessive emotional expression.
The messages below the line set you up to sacrifice yourself for what feels like the greater goodthe good of the family. Keep your needs and feelings to yourself, dont cause problems, dont share, show or (perhaps) even feel emotions, especially when theyre negative.
These messages, in adulthood, make you feel deeply and personally invalid; like you dont stand on equal ground with everyone else.
All of the messages have the power to make you feel confused, unhappy, and bad about yourself. All of them will cause you to have problems with social and emotional skills.
All of them can be overridden by you.
Four Steps to Override an Unspoken Family Rule
1. Become aware of the rules that are in your head. Keep your list easily accessible, and review it often.
2. Pay attention: Notice when one of these rules speaks to you. Awareness is half the battle.
3. Make up an opposing, healthy rule to counteract each unhealthy one. For example,
Dont talk about _________
Talk about __________.
Negative emotion is harmful to those around you
Negative emotion is not harmful to those around you, if you express it in a healthy way.
4. Make an effort to learn the skills you missed in childhood: the purpose, value, and validity of your emotions. Your feelings will guide you if you only start to listen to them, use them and manage them. Its never too late to learn those skills.