Unpack the hurtful messages

“Pain from our past that is unresolved is pain we’re condemned to repeat.” —Terry Kellogg, in “Men’s Secret Wars,” by Patrick A. Means

I cannot count the number of times in my life when someone, including me, repeats this worn out phrase: “He (she) is just like his father (or her mother).”

It’s often true, but it reflects a statement about life that is uncomfortably accurate more often than we like. To agree is like peeling back the layers of skin and exposing our life to people who are watching. It is a painful admission that we are imperfect. We prefer the anonymity of obscurity and the illusion of perfection, rather than a glaring spotlight focused on our faults and foibles.

Recently, Deborah and I were dinner guests of old friends who recently returned to our community. We each began raising children more than three decades ago, each family parting ways as our careers took different paths.

In the ensuing conversation, we rediscovered our familial heritage and recounted forgotten, yet familiar, experiences we had in common. Most stories were encouraging and reflective of our shared heritage, and a few were reflective of a darker, yet remembered past.

Such reflections are beneficial, mostly because they are opportunities to rejoice over how much good comes from these life experiences, whether good was intended, or not.

Patrick Means writes that some experts believe more than 25,000 hours of parental messages are stored in the average adult’s mind. Beginning in our childhood, these messages exert a much greater influence on us than we can imagine.

The way we see ourselves, the marriage partners we pick, our work style, all follow these “lifescripts” we carry into adulthood. Though we may rebel while teenagers, these messages control our thoughts and behavior, having been hard-wired into our subconscious.

We cannot explain why we act, but we eventually are confronted with the reality that unhealthy behaviors and attitudes accumulated during our childhood carry over into our adult lives.

Bible stories in the Old Testament recount how Jacob, aptly named the Deceiver, followed his father and grandfather’s practice of deception and lies. King David, though he repented of his adultery with another man’s wife, could not prevent the outcome of events as his children followed in his footsteps with broken sexual behavior. Even Solomon, reputedly the wisest man to ever have lived, could not escape the tentacles of his lifescript.

In the chapter “Rewriting Your Lifescript,” Means writes in order to change our scripts we must identify unhealthy patterns in our family. It demands our abandonment of the ideal image of our family, our parents and grandparents. It is admitting we and they are imperfect, and this may seem like we are dishonoring them.

However, without recognizing the problem, we will continue in these unhealthy patterns that can completely destroy the family from within, and continue for generations that follow.

Means identifies the three Rs that forms our lifescript.

• Rules. Unhealthy ones are: Don’t talk about anything that upsets the parents or opinions your parents disagree with. Don’t think for yourself or form your own convictions. Don’t feel any “bad” emotions, like anger, sadness or disappointment. Keep them to yourself if you do. Be perfect. Don’t make mistakes. Never embarrass your family. Don’t reveal family secrets. Be loyal to the family system and its rules.

• Roles. Some roles serve to meet the parent’s needs. Others cover family secrets. Common roles are the hero, the rebel, the caretaker, mascot, surrogate spouse, saint, mediator-peacemaker and/or daddy’s buddy.

• Recordings. Shame-based messages repeating within one’s mind: Who do you think you are? You’re good for nothing. You’re so stupid. Why can’t you be more like (your sibling)?

According to Means, these recordings become especially destructive when combined with sexual or physical abuse.

Rewriting lifescripts demands disloyalty to unhealthy family rules, family roles and recordings. Each process requires changing the rules, roles and recordings to ones that are healthy and discarding the old ones.

I remember the day we began this painful, yet absolutely necessary transition. In some ways, it was like taking hold of an ugly wart and ripping it out of the flesh. Painful? Absolutely! But healing and making a change of how we behave requires this intentional act. It is a form of repentance and a declaration that change is on its way, and this destructive behavior ends here, with us.

Rewriting the rules, though difficult in the beginning, forms the basis of appropriate behavior, capitalizing on the positive aspects of familial behavior and discarding the rest.

Rewriting the roles takes time, as there are many to address. Sometimes we identify with more than one role, and it takes time to unravel and recognize the ways we act and how to move away from the negative and destructive ones

Rewriting the recordings, deep-seated within the mind, we struggle with these negative messages, and they are difficult to remove. This requires more intentional action, reprogramming the mind to focus on thoughts that build up, rather than tearing you down. Meditate on Scripture that reflect God’s attitude toward you and how much he values you.

I cannot imagine how life would be without having made the decision to make the change. I choose not to dwell on the negative part. Looking ahead, the future is awash with full potential as future generations are born, grow and take their places in this family. It is empowerment magnified. It is living the life God desires for us.

Paul Penner farms in the Hillsboro area. He has been active statewide and nationally regarding agriculture policy.