Memo To Myself

Memo To Myself

“The message you give yourself is the loudest message of all.”

Do you agree with that statement? Let’s unpack it together.

As individuals, we make many choices every day, throughout the day. From more mundane decisions such as what to eat or what to wear, to figuring out how to structure our day or week, and on to major life decisions that we base on values and goals: we are constantly selecting what, when, and how.

Do you think that most people are making those choices for themselves? It would seem that way, and probably the answer to that is yes…mostly. I say mostly, and not completely, because of the nature/nurture debate, and because of attachment theory.

The experiences that people have in their life continue to shape them into the future.

Now, if someone has good, nurturing, experiences, positive relationships, and a secure attachment overall, the messages they are sending themselves are probably along those lines as well.
“I’m proud of myself for trying.”
“I’ve got this!”
“People enjoy spending time with me.”
“This suit looks really good on me.”

For someone who experienced things they wish they didn’t, or if one has yearned for positive connections which went unfulfilled, the loud messages they send themselves tend to be doubtful, insecure, and sometimes downright degrading.
“Is she really your friend or does she just pity you?”
“Of course I messed up, I’m an idiot.”
“Why would anyone want to spend time with me?”
“I’m a failure.”
“I’m not thin enough.”

I’ve written about relationships before, and I will write about relationships again. This is because relationships play a central role in every person's life. Relationships also factor significantly into the messages that one gives themself, the one that can end up being really loud.

Often, people are focused on the relationships they have, or wish to have, in the present. What they might not realize is that the relationships of their past may be following them into their present, through those loud internal messages, and will continue into the future, unless there is an active choice otherwise.

The messages that people absorb in their younger years are very likely to follow them into the relationships that they develop over time.

Julie’s parents were the children of Holocaust survivors. They tended to withhold praise, empathy, and validation from Julie, and set high standards in grades and behavior, particularly respect. Julie longed for connection, for approval, and most of all, to feel like her parents valued her for who she was. Most often, she received criticism and was sometimes at the brunt of her parent’s anger, which could mean either being shouted at or receiving the silent treatment.

As an adult, Julie was especially sensitive to feedback from her spouse and peers. The message she kept replaying in her mind was, “you are not good enough.” Once she became a mom, she struggled to find the balance of love and boundaries with which to discipline her children.

An adult who grew up with parents who were unable to provide empathy, validation, a safe emotional harbor or emotional stability, may find themselves engaging in behaviors as a spouse or parent that they don’t like. Listening to the body’s internal cues is a helpful way of understanding the messages one is receiving, so that they can be rewired in a more satisfying, fulfilling way.

Julie’s mom was a rigid disciplinarian. Julie knew that she wanted to parent differently, but she didn’t know how. Her loud internal messages kept shouting,       “you are not good enough” and “you are wrong!” Julie would get very upset when her children didn’t listen to her, when the house was not orderly, or when her husband just didn’t ‘get it’. Julie desperately wanted to cultivate a sense of happiness, pride and joy in her children, she just didn’t know how.

Once Julie learned to recognize her internal messages and understand where they stemmed from, she realized that the loud messages she was giving herself really were not coming from her at all. The messages were stemming from the way she felt that her parents saw her. As a child, Julie needed to be very respectful to her parents at all times, no matter how she was feeling internally. This led her to understand that she was to blame, and shame for not being ‘enough’ followed her around.

As a child, there was no room for expressing anger, hurt, or distress: compliance was of utmost importance. As a parent, Julie worked hard to eradicate the message of strict compliance and strived to make space for her children’s emotions. It was not easy making her children feel heard while keeping things functional and stable. There were times when stressful situations sent her back into default mode, where the parenting that was modeled for Julie came up and her internal messages screamed “you are not good enough” and “you are wrong!” Julie continued building confidence in herself, in her abilities, in her capacity for connection, and made space for her emotions. She learned to trust what she was feeling and respond compassionately to herself. Through this work, Julie gave herself new messages to internalize, which impacted her relationships.

“The message you give yourself is the loudest message of all.”

The loudest message for Julie used to be the one ingrained from years of shame and disconnect. It was coming from someplace deep in her mind, but it was not coming from deep within her self, and it didn’t really work well with what she wanted for herself. Through being intentional, Julie was able to align herself with messages that felt compatible with her goals.

The 4 beginner steps to managing unhelpful messages are:

  1. Know what your narrative is.
  2. Know where it is coming from.
  3. Learn as much as you can about the story surrounding the narrative.
  4. Ask yourself what you needed when those experiences occurred.

If you want positive changes for yourself, as an individual or within a relationship dynamic, as a spouse or a parent, you have to be willing to change the story you tell yourself about who you are.

This article originally appeared in the Five Towns Jewish Times.