On Facebook recently I saw a wonderful quote by Peggy O’Mara. It stated ” The way we talk to our children becomes their inner voice.” I thought about this quote from two perspectives. The first as a mother. The second as a daughter. From the perspective of a mother I became acutely aware of what I was saying to my daughters. As parent’s a lot of our comments or commands are generally of the negative form i.e. “Sit still,” “Get your elbows off the table”,” don’t eat with your mouth open”, “do your homework.” When I was growing up my father’s favorite phrase when I missed a math problem was “What are you a God Damn idiot?” Needless to say this phase echoes in my head when I make any mistakes.
In addition, we frequently pass on those messages we received from our parents to our own children. We may have promised ourselves we would never say those hurtful things to our own children, but sometimes it just slips out. I heard someone describe their inner voice as the “Itty bitty sh*tty committee.”
So what do you do if you want to change those tapes in your head that are playing constantly? The first step is becoming a detective and notice what thoughts automatically pop in your head. Keeping a thought journal is very helpful for this exercise. These intermediate beliefs may take the form of attitudes (anyone who cries is weak), rules (boys don’t cry) or conditional assumptions (If I cry in public I am weak.) Under the surface of many these automatic thoughts are core beliefs and assumptions that influence our thoughts and view of the world. If we want to change these core beliefs we need to identify them and challenge them so that we can come up with new more realistic views of ourselves and others.
Core values fall into several categories:
An exercise to identify what your core beliefs are is called the downward arrow technique. After you catch one of your automatic thoughts ask yourself “If that were true, what would that say about me or others?” Write down your answer at the top of a piece of paper. Draw an arrow down from there and ask yourself “What would happen if this thought were true? What would it say or mean about me?” Draw an arrow below this answer and ask the same questions. Do this until you cannot answer it anymore and reach one of the categories listed above. This is your core belief.
Below is an example of the downward arrow exercise:
My date is looking at me in a strange way
He thinks that everything I say is really stupid
He is going to dump me
I will never find anyone who can love me
Once you have identified your core belief you can begin to challenge them. In my next post I will discuss the ways to take on these beliefs.