The term “old tapes” is often used for messages that come to us from our families and the cultures we live in. Our lives are made up of our choices, so it is important to look at the beliefs these messages formed and how those beliefs lead to the choices we make.
We automatically accept beliefs in our young years from age two to five, a time when we do not have the ability to determine their validity. But we accept many of our families’ beliefs over the years beyond age five just as automatically. We love our parents, even when they are difficult. We live closely with them and see their behaviors and create beliefs from those silent unspoken actions. These also are part of our current beliefs, feelings, and habits.
Although our upbringing instills in us our beliefs about life, they are not always helpful. We have only to look at some of the medical advice we once accepted.
Once we were told “coffee is harmful,” but today we are told it is good for our heart. Well, those messages we got from our parents as we grew up can be even more deadly. They began at age 2 when a smile is a reward for cute behavior. Many little boys got the “men don’t cry” message. As we grew up, some messages, often given with good intent, were very harmful. One of my sisters-in-law was told that to keep a husband she had to have a beautiful body. And she went through several cosmetic surgeries before her husband divorced her and eventually married a woman who didn’t have that belief. These examples are spoken messages which were believed to be truth.
However, not all of the advice was spoken, and others were not strictly enforced. These silent actions still conveyed meaning to us and created beliefs about important things. Sometimes silent messages can be difficult to unravel. Yet, they often deal with important aspects like sex, money, what to eat and not to eat, about what is attractive and not attractive, our relationship to the divine, and every other area of our life. And all of these old tapes, spoken and silent, tag along behind us until we examine them.
Psychologist Alfred Adler stated that these beliefs dictate a person’s behavior and that an individual cannot develop a true understanding without a change in behavior. Adler also says it is difficult to change behavior if a person cannot verbalize it. Writing in your journal can begin the verbalizing process.
Since we must look at our parents’ behavior to ferret out all of the messages sent, I suggest utilizing these questions and any new ones that come to you to help you uncover hidden beliefs:
1. What horrified your parents?
2. What made them scold you?
3. What topics of conversation were forbidden? How did you know they were?
4. What habits or lifestyles were not allowed?
5. What do you think your mother or father never did?
6. What rules were enforced? How were they reinforced?
7. What role did money play in your family’s life?
8. How did your parents communicate?
9. When and for what were you rewarded?
10. How did they react to stress?
11. What did they appear to believe about life and death?
As you answer your questions, consider your reaction to them.
What beliefs did you form from the unspoken mannerisms and actions? Are there other interpretations you could have applied to the events that created your belief? Can you see how your beliefs affected your life? Are they are still playing out in your life now? Do you still honor them? Have you abandoned them? Or are you still fighting against them?
Don’t look to anyone else for the answer. Two children in the same family will react differently. If money is the subject, one child may become a saver who hates to spend a penny unnecessarily while the other may be a spendthrift, always broke.
Those two examples are extreme, and the main issue is: Are your actions serving you? What specific reactions would you like to change? If you changed them, what gift would you receive?
You can create a dialog with your old tapes, using your dominant hand for questions and your non-dominant for answers. Any answer that arises as you process through the material should be looked into with your adult eyes and understanding. The list offered is a basic series of questions. As you start the process, you may come up with other questions to explore. This is good. You may discover even more deeply hidden ideas you erroneously formed.
Don’t limit the questions to only parents, apply them to anyone you looked up to or were close to. I had a 94-year-old aunt that felt not making her bed was a terrible thing to do. When she became fragile and bedmaking became a chore, she chose to make up her bed and sleep in a chair so she would not have to expend the energy to make her bed each day.
Our beliefs are passed down, generation to generation. What beliefs are you passing on? My aunt didn’t have children, and we were close. As a result, many of her beliefs were passed on to me. Fortunately, this one didn’t stick. I make my bed when I feel like it, and if I don’t want to make it, I don’t. Not making my bed isn’t the end of the world. If there is someone close to you, like my aunt and I were, you might look and see if there are any of his or her beliefs you have accepted to determine validity and how they affect you.
Most people pass along messages they believe will be helpful to the child. Those messages often come down from generation to generation until someone looks at them and says, “Why is that important?” or “How does that work?”
Further, we are discovering our thoughts create our view of the world we live in, and that it appears the world itself shifts to confirm to those thoughts. It you want a kinder world, it is essential to focus on kindness, the beauty in the natural world, and offer up gratitude for this. Remember that action is always required to change an embedded belief.
The messages you carry with you will be both large and small; thus, I leave you with a little story of a small message that was about to head into another generation.
The daughter was watching her mother prepare a roast for dinner. When it was ready for the pan, the mother cut the off the end and set it comfortably in the roasting pan without it touching the sides of the pan.
Curious, the daughter asked, “Mom, why do you always cut the end off the end of the roast?”
Smiling, the mother said, “My mother always did that. I never asked her why.”