Transforming old messages into more constructive thoughts

Old message: If only my students (or kids, spouse, boss, parents, the government, etc.) would change, my life would be better.
New message: If my current behaviors (or thinking patterns) aren’t working for me, I am willing to change them. 

Old message: Other people’s actions, words and attitudes create my feelings and determine my behaviors, words, attitudes, and feelings.
New message: My reaction to other people’s actions, words, and attitudes creates my feelings. I am responsible for my feelings and actions.

Old message: This is just the way I am.
New message: I always have choices about my own behavior, language, and attitude. 

Old message: Sometimes you have to get angry, helpless, or sad in order to get people to do what you want. 
New message: I avoid using my feelings to try to change or control other people.

Old message: I am responsible for the behavior, performance, and appearance of others (for example, my children/students, employees, spouse, etc.)
New message: I can guide, reflect, and support others and still leave them responsible for their own behavior—and also respect their right to make their own choices.

Old message: My house (or classroom), my rules. Or: My way or the highway.
New message: We all live (or work) here together. While I may have the final say in many situations, your needs, preferences, and feelings matter to me.

Old message: When other people hurt or disappoint me, I have the right to hurt back or try to make them feel guilty.
New message: I can take care of myself without deliberately hurting or manipulating others.

Old message: If someone hurts me or someone I love, I have to get revenge to maintain my honor.
New message: I have the right to state my opinions and stand up for myself and others without hurting anyone.

Old message: If you really cared about me, you’d put my needs first.
New message: Self-abandonment is not loving behavior. Take care of yourself.

Old message: I will do my best to take care of others. If they’re happy, I’m happy.
New message: I will do my best to take care of myself and still consider other people’s needs and feelings.

Old message: It’s important that other people have high opinions of me. I am willing to do whatever I can to control their impression or opinion of me.
New message: What others think of me is none of my business.

Old message: I don’t care how you treat me, as long as you love me and never leave.
New message: I don’t care if you love me, just treat me right. Or: I will not tolerate abusive behavior, no matter how you feel about me.

Old message: Peace at any price.
New message: I am willing to risk conflict, loss, and even abandonment in order to take care of myself.

If the “new messages” characterize the way you operate in relation to others, your relationships are probably pretty healthy, although certainly not conflict-free. If the old messages are all too familiar, chances are you’re experiencing stresses in your relationships which could be minimized or even eliminated. There is a better way.

Adapted from Parents, Teens & Boundaries: How to Draw the Line, by Jane Bluestein, Ph.D. (Health Communications, Inc., Deerfield Beach, FL, 1993). This material also appears in The Complete Book of Handouts.

© 1993, 2001, 2012, 2022, Dr. Jane Bluestein

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