Rules for Living

Values and opinions guide our lives and give us rules for living. Usually we pick up our values in childhood from our families, blindly swallowing other people’s opinions without question. Many of us graduate to adulthood still following these hand-me-down beliefs. But without questioning and developing our own values and opinions, we can’t become full-fledged grown-ups who can think for ourselves.

How do you feel about expressing your values and opinions? For many people, they don’t think twice about pushing their thoughts and beliefs on others, never questioning the absolute truth of what they are saying. But more self-reflective individuals may hesitate to speak up about the code they live by, for fear of rejection or reprisal. They may even doubt their own opinions or be ambivalent about the values that could put them into conflict with others. These people may have been raised in a parental atmosphere where rigid, emotionally immature authority figures did not allow free thought or standing up for oneself. In this way children learn to feel unentitled to their own opinion or shy away from speaking up about what matters to them. 

Emotionally immature parents impose their values and opinions in a coercive way, sending the message you are bad if you don’t totally agree with them. Their rigid opinions and moral values maintain control over family members by discouraging any discussion or questions. But these emotionally immature parents’ values and opinions may not reflect what you now know in your adult experience to be true. Their concepts of what’s important in life don’t necessarily fit who you are now. When this happens, you may experience emotional conflict as you struggle to keep up a relationship with them at the cost of your authentic feelings.

So what happens if you point out that an emotionally immature parental value or opinion is inconsistent or doesn’t make sense? What happens when you think for yourself or set your own priorities and values? The emotionally immature parent typically will shut you down with anger, shaming, or emotional rejection. This leaves you in a state of moral confusion wherein strong but irrational parental opinions struggle against your secret realization that those beliefs can’t be true. At the very least, you might feel like a bad person for not valuing ideas and behaviors that the parent very much believes in.

Much adult anxiety and depression has its roots in deeply held, but unexamined parental values and opinions that operate against a person’s mental health. You might still hold rigid opinions from childhood that cause needless problems in your adult relationships or honor values that wear you out in unhealthy, unbalanced efforts to please other people. You might never think to question a self-defeating value by asking yourself, “Is this true?”

If you sometimes feel depressed and lacking in confidence, it may be a sign you are ready to begin actively questioning some of the hand-me-down beliefs you grew up with. The point is to construct solid, consciously chosen values and opinions that you feel good living by. Questioning outdated values and narrow opinions from your childhood is empowering, especially if these beliefs are causing unnecessary anxiety and low self-esteem.

The next time you feel conflicted or down on yourself, ask what underlying values are making you feel that way. For instance, are you valuing work and busyness over time to replenish your energies? Are you of the opinion that other people’s needs should always take precedence over your own? The next step is to question whether that belief makes sense for your healthiest life. This is especially so if the value begins with, “You should always…”

As an adult, you can decide what makes sense to you, based on your life experience. You can adopt conscious values that are kinder and more self-supportive. You can be of the opinion that you are worthy of consideration, too. For example, if you were mistreated or neglected in childhood, you can now form an opinion about that and consciously set a new value about being treated well. It is incredibly freeing to look at an inherited belief and declare it wrong according to your current adult values.

If you don’t do the emotional work of forming an opinion about how you were treated in your family, it can be much harder to take yourself seriously as an adult. It’s up to you to update values about the type of relationships you want and how you want other people to treat you. Deliberately forming opinions about right behavior allows you to be consciously guided by a set of values that matches who you really are. As an adult, you now get to decide if old beliefs have been good for you or not. Start living by your own opinions and values and watch the lift in your energy, health, and well being. 

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