Its not what happened to us that continues to bring us pain, but rather the message or the meaning that we took away. That is what needs to be challenged.
Neutral and Poisonous Messages
Neutral messages are usually factual. They tell about something that happened. At the time, it might have been very painful. But a neutral message taken away will heal. Poisonous messages or meanings you might give are personal perceptions. They are core beliefs that distort your self-perception. They are like bacteria in the wound. They prevent it from healing completely and can even make it worse and eventually infect our entire system if they are not taken care of. A poisonous message needs an antidote- a new, positive message without distortion.
Below are some examples of neutral verses poisonous messages. The first message is the neutral or original message. The following are about the meanings we give and therefore take away a poisonous message.
- What they did to me was wrong …….. I was stupid and deserved what I got. I shouldn’t have been in that place. I provoked them. I am bad. I cause people to do bad things.
- They were not good parents…… My parents would have been happier without me. I was a brat. I deserved some of what I got. I provoked them. I am no good. Nobody loves me.
- Her death was unexpected….. I should have seen it coming. I never told her I loved her and now she is gone. I am all alone now. I better not get close to anyone again because they could die too. Life is cruel.
- He treats me with disrespect….. I must not be worthy of respect. He sees how stupid I am. I need to earn his respect. He is better than me. I am worthless.
- She is so condescending…. I irritate her. I must have an irritating personality. I am disgusting. I am not lovable. I have no value.
- I was not invited …. Nobody likes me. I must be boring. I am different than everyone else. I have no personality.
Steps to Healing
- Take something that causes you pain whenever it comes to mind- that hurts as much or even more than when it took place.
- Write down the incident in a paraphrase, just enough to evoke the hurtful emotions. Then write down why it hurts. Write the messages and meanings you took away from it.
- Rewrite the incident and bring in a new ending, message and meaning. Create one from a healthy adult perspective.
- Finally, take the new messages and put them on post-its to read everyday for a week or more. This will water and feed the new seed so it can flourish in your life.
Here is an example:
When I was around eight, my older sister and I were decorating for a birthday party. I was arguing with her about the colors of the streamers and how we were putting them up. Suddenly, from seemingly out of nowhere, I was slapped full-force across the face and went spinning. When I peered up, I saw the angry red face of my dad, as he spewed out at me, “You better just shut your mouth missy before you get worse than that. Just do what your sister says. You are lucky you are even getting a birthday party you ungrateful brat!”
For years, and I mean YEARS, whenever that memory came I would cringe inside. Not about being slapped, but because of the messages I took away- my opinion doesn’t matter, my voice is worthless and I better keep quiet. I am such an ungrateful brat. My very presence evokes extreme anger and hate.
Now, this message was poisonous. It leaked through my entire system and touched every aspect of my life. Whenever someone in my life was angry or irritated the poison seeped out. I blamed myself- my presence evokes anger and hate. If I tried to speak my perspective and it was not well received, the venom went deeper- your opinion and voice are worthless. You better keep your mouth shut! If I did not like something, I was an ungrateful brat. These messages, and more from other painful experiences, snuffed out the true essence of my spirit and left me a shell of a human being.
One day, while doing some inner child work, I dealt with this account. I went in as a healthy adult would. I imagined my adult self walking in and seeing the whole thing. I imagined my adult self yelling at my dad, “What the hell are you doing? Who do you think YOU are slapping a little helpless child a fraction of your size like that?
I then took my child-self up into my arms and out of that situation. I consoled her. I told her that she should have never been slapped like that. I let her know how wrong what her dad did to her was. I let her know that everybody argues sometimes and that does not make us ungrateful and bad- and it does NOT warrant being slapped by anybody. I gave her space to cry and to tell me why she felt frustrated with her sister. I validated her as a person with emotions and personal preferences and these are what make her unique and beautiful. Most importantly, I gave her back her voice!
This exercise dealt with a core message that was poisoning my present day experiences. Bringing this into awareness has worked like an antidote, changing for the better the way I perceive and ingest the happenings in my life today.
The next time a dark memory comes up and haunts you, take time to meet it head on. Apply the exercises above. Share with us how they changed your self-perception!
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