The Hidden Rules That Keep You Suffering

Some of your greatest pain comes from doggedly pursuing how you think things should be. And sticking to that no matter what the world presents you with. Healthy thinking adapts as you grow and learn.

Do you remember the first time you went to someone else’s house at Christmas or another big family festival? It can be a surprise to discover they don’t do things the way your family does.

christmas-familySome families have presents before lunch. Some people have presents after lunch. Some families all get together on the same day. Others meet over a few days or not at all. Some play board games. Others always go for a walk. (Others like the ones in this photograph, apparently all dress up as Christmas trees!)

Every family has a different set of traditions and rules about when things happen, what they do, when they eat and so on.

Before you saw a different way of doing it, it probably seemed just obvious that that’s how it should be.

These unquestioned beliefs about the way things obviously should be are like an internal rule book you carry around.

The first problem with that is that other people have different rule books that seem just as obvious to them.

And second, if the rules in that book are unhelpful, you can end up relentlessly ‘pushing the river’ – trying to force the world to be how you think it should be without regard for how it actually is.

We rarely discuss these hidden “rule books” so they tend to go unquestioned. So bring them out into the open so you can look at them.

Your Hidden Rules

There are no right or wrong answers. Write whatever is true for you e.g. “Love means doing your duty”, “Commitment means staying in a relationship no matter what”, “Selfishness is bad”, “Friendship means looking after each other”, “Being a good daughter means looking after my parents.”

(Put them in the comments below if you like.)

  • Love means ______________
  • Friendship means ______________
  • Commitment means ______________
  • Being a good person means ______________
  • Being in a relationship means ______________
  • Looking after yourself is ______________
  • Getting that wrong means ______________
  • My mistake means ______________

The most common mistake that drives more suffering is over-applying a rule no matter what. For example “Being a good daughter means looking after my parents” could be fine. But if it comes to mean you can’t do anything except looking after them and you have to do it regardless of how they treat you, you could end up in trouble.

What beliefs are you over applying?

Outgrown Clothes

outgrowing-clothesI had a favourite pair of trousers as a child. I kept wearing them and wearing them. The problem was, I was growing bigger and so they were coming higher and higher up my legs until I outgrew them completely and my mum insisted I got rid of them.

Beliefs are like that. We usually pick them up from our parents and other people around us as children.

They may have been perfectly reasonable beliefs for them at that time but might not be in keeping who you are now. It is normal to outgrow beliefs. It is healthy to occasionally check through your ‘belief wardrobe’ and see if you are still hanging on to any beliefs that you have long outgrown.

Look back at what you wrote in the previous exercise. What you would think now if you started afresh?

Ask people you respect how they would answer the questions in the previous exercise. What do they think ‘love’ is? Or what ‘being good’ is? You will be surprised at how differently they see things to you. It is not a matter of being ‘right’ or ‘wrong’.

But seeing many perspectives will allow you to look at your own beliefs in a new light.

What beliefs have you outgrown?

Let me know in the comments.

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