How to Positively Change Damaging Self-Perceptions into Empowering Ones

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.
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 verses 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 indicates healing took place. Poisonous  messages come from personal perceptions and opinions. They stem from distorted core beliefs about ourselves and the world we live in. They are like bacteria in the emotional wound. They prevent it from healing, cause us additional pain and can eventually infect our entire system if they are not taken care of. A poisonous message needs an antidote- a new, positive message without distortion.

The following examples demonstrate the difference between an original neutral message and a distorted poisonous message. On the left we have factual statements about what happened or is happening. On the right are examples of the kind of messages many emotionally wounded people take away.

  • 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.

The original poisonous message usually has its origin in our formative years when we were still very impressionable and forming our self-perception.

The following is a personal example of a poisonous message I took away from an incident in my childhood.

When I was around eight-years-old, my older sister and I were decorating for a birthday party. I don’t even remember whose it was. Perhaps it was my party. She was older than me and bossy and I wanted to do things differently. I saw some ideas and I wanted her to hear them but she wouldn’t have it, and so I was getting a bit saucy in my attitude when out of the blue- WHAM! I was slapped so hard across the face by a hand as big as my head, that I went reeling. Stunned into silence I looked around and froze beneath the looming angry red face of my dad, as he spewed words of disgust out at me;

“You better just shut your mouth missy before you get worse than that. I’m sick of listening to you being an ungrateful little brat. Just do what your sister says and I better not hear another word out of you or you’ll get a lot worse than that.” 

For years, and I mean YEARS, whenever that memory came to mind, I would cringe inside- not about being slapped, but because of the messages I took away from it: 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 disgust.

Because there was no one there to defend or help me, the poisonous message remained and my entire life was infected by it.  Whenever someone was angry or irritated the poison seeped out. I blamed myself- my presence evokes anger and hate. Whenever my perspective on something was not well received, the venom went deeper- your opinion and voice are worthless. You better keep your mouth shut! It even affected my ability to have personal preferences. If I did not like something, I was an “ungrateful brat.”

One day, while doing some inner child work, I dealt with this particular memory. I went back to that memory with an adults perspective. In my imagination, I went to that child that I remembered. I imagined my adult self being there, witnessing the whole thing. My adult-self became enraged at watching my dad violently slap an eight year old little girl and threaten her like an over-sized bully.

“What the hell are you doing?” I shouted. “Who do you think YOU are, slapping a little helpless child a fraction of your size like that?”

I then went to that child of mine, and took her up into my arms and out of that situation and did my best to console 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 explained to her that everybody argues sometimes- 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. In giving her a voice to tell me her side, I found out that she just wanted to have a part in the fun of getting everything read too. I validated her as a person- her emotions, personal preferences, her frustrations and desires, and I helped her to understand that these are what make her unique and beautiful- not bad.

That afternoon, I left that memory with a different ending and a new message: I was loved, valued, cared about, beautiful, honored; and more important than all of that, I realized that I had a voice and it was OKAY for that voice to speak and be heard!

This exercise overwrote a core message that had been poisoning my present day experiences. It worked like an antidote, changing for the better the way I perceive and process the happenings in my life today.

The next time a dark and persistent memory comes up to haunt you, meet it head on. Here are some therapuetic steps you can take to heal the emotional wound:

Steps to Healing

  1. Write down the memory in a paraphrase. Don’t go into a lot of detail. Just write enough to evoke the hurtful emotions.
  2. Once you can feel the pain or emotion, write down why it hurts. Think about that child you were. What messages was she telling herself when it happened. Allow your emotions to come up and be expressed. Do not try to fight them. Let them be whatever they are. Let them wash through.
  3. Now you, as a responsible, caring adult, go to that child in your minds eye. What would you say to her? What would you do? How would you protect her? Comfort her? Help her to see that what happened wasn’t her fault? What new message do you want her to know that she didn’t know then? Tell her.
  4. Close the session with a memorial or ritual. You could take the incident that you wrote down and flush it down the toilet and say good by to the crap that was dumped on you. You could light a candle in honor of all that she once suffered and has now overcome. You could drink a toast to a new message a new life a more empowered YOU.
  5. Keep the new message fresh. Reread the new message to yourself over the next week or until you feel giddy about it!
  6. SMILE!!! You are awesome! I’m SO proud of you!!!


Share with us how this exercise helped you, what your learned about yourself, what you overcame, either in the comments below or in our NEW OFFICIAL High Vibes Life Facebook Support Group


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One thought on “How to Positively Change Damaging Self-Perceptions into Empowering Ones

  1. I need to go back to that little girl and tell her she is awesome and that her opinion is so important. Big hugs and a huge thanks for turning a negative into a positive!!! What a journey life has been.

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