Your parents were not perfect. They carried their own childhood traumas. They were scared little toddlers once. You are better off this way. You would be unprepared for life with perfect parents. When it comes to parenthood, good enough is ok.
Most probably, your parents (or carers) did their best to raise you well. But, sometimes their insecurities got in the way. Unintentionally, they sent you harmful messages.
Transactional analysis, a field of psychotherapy, has identified twelve negative parental commands. They are called injunctions. They can be given through modeling, rewarding certain behaviors or direct expression. Sometimes, they are not even given by the parent. The child creates them through misinterpretation.
I found this theory helpful. There are just 12 prohibitions. You can quickly go through them and recognize if any applies to you. You can immediately check if you are sending any of those messages to your children. No need to do years of therapy to get some useful insight.
Are you brave enough to go through the 12 injunctions? Check if any of them still haunts you? Let’s get started.
Don’t be (don’t exist). This is one of the most harmful messages. Maybe your parents did not want you in the first place. Maybe they felt your needs were too much. There is a Facebook group called ‘I regret having children’ that keeps growing. Those parents need to be careful when they communicate with their children. Comments like ‘If it weren’t for you I would have a career’ or ‘I would divorce your father’ can send this message. A lot of people with suicidal tendencies or depression are complying with a ‘do not exist’ injunction.
Don’t be who you are. Maybe your parents wanted you to be more like them and less like you. Maybe they had different expectations about your appearance or your personality. Maybe they wanted you to be a different gender.
Don’t be a child. This message is usually sent to first-born children. You might have been asked to look after your siblings and be responsible. To not make mistakes or act silly. Do you tend to get the weight of the world on your shoulders?
Don’t grow up. This message is usually directed to the youngest child in the family. It is worse when the parents do not have a strong relationship between them. They derive meaning from having a ‘baby’ to look after. You may have complied by being immature, acting out or delaying leaving the nest.
Don’t think. When you started questioning everything as a toddler, your parents got annoyed. They discouraged you when you had a different opinion than them.
Don’t feel. When you cried or were upset, your parents felt uncomfortable. They got angry with you, they shut you out or tried to distract you. They said things like: ‘Big boys don’t cry’ or ‘nice girls do not get angry.’ Do you have tears leaving your eyes when you get angry? Do you get angry when you really are sad? You may have learned to substitute certain emotions with others that were more acceptable in your home.
Don’t do anything. “Don’t run.’ ‘Don’t climb high.’ ‘Don’t get dirty.’ Your parents tended to do everything for you. They were too afraid for your safety. You may start things, but not finish them. You may struggle to make decisions as you think the world is a scary place.
Don’t be well (or sane). Your parents only paid attention to you when you were not well. They rewarded bizarre behavior. You have learned to get attention from others by being unwell or unstable.
Don’t be important. You grew up hearing ‘Children are to be seen and not be heard’ and ‘You should not talk at the dinner table.’
Don’t make it in your life. Were your parents angry when you won over them in a game? Did they set unattainable standards, so it was impossible for you to succeed? It could be that your parents were unconsciously jealous and did not want you to surpass them.
Don’t be close: Your parents felt uncomfortable with intimacy. They did not show affection. They may have taught you not to trust others or not to share your life.
Don’t belong: Your parents judged your friends and any group you attached yourself to. You may have moved around a lot as a child.
And now what
Do you recognize any of those messages? Most importantly, are you still complying or rebelling against them? This is not an exercise about digging in the past for the sake of it. Or about printing this list and going to pick a fight with your parents. It is about increasing your self-awareness.
As a child, you did the best you could to deal with the situation. You made some decisions that helped you survive. These decisions may not serve you anymore. You are an adult now.
Use the injunction list to recognize potential limiting beliefs in your life now. Then, you can focus on replacing them with more constructive ones. Maybe with the help of a therapist.
After you tend to the child inside you, take a look at your kids if you are a parent. Do you subconsciously send any of those messages to them? I know I do from time to time. I used to be uncomfortable with my daughter’s crying potentially sending a ‘Do not feel’ message.
Being aware of those messages and avoiding them can help you become a better parent.
No need to get paranoid about it. Everyone slips from time to time. Remember, you just need to be a good enough.
You can download Caterina Kostoula’s free Balance & Self-Care toolkit to assess your self-care needs, identify your energy zappers, and create more space in your life.