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The Wrong Things You Learn from Parents

We cannot afford to underestimate the effect our parents have on us when we’re growing up. Why? Because our undeveloped brains look to them to teach us how to understand the world and make it right. As adults, they seem to know everything and do whatever needs getting done. As children, we know we’re dependent on their knowledge and their actions.

I was reminded of this dynamic reading an article about a teacher asking his students to take some actions in class which were morally wrong. When asked about the incident, one student replied that she thought what she did was okay because what was asked “came from an adult.” This child’s thinking tied in perfectly with the message that offending parents gave their children in this year’s college admissions scandal: it’s okay to cheat to get what you want. And also relates to a story a friend from a wealthy family told me about how her mother used to take her along as a child on shop-lifting excursions. And with the question my Little Sister (I was a Big Sister) asked me one night as I was paying for our restaurant dinner: “How come we can’t we just walk out without paying?”

As adults, we might look back now at what our parents (or caretakers) taught us and realize how wrong, harmful, or downright dangerous it was. But that happens only when we think about every single thing we learned from them by word or deed and absorbed consciously or unconsciously. My hunch is that, unless you’ve spent a good deal of time analyzing the subtle, covert information and messages you received as a child, you’re unknowingly operating on some very unhelpful beliefs learned from your parents and, whether you know it or not, that they are creating difficulties for you in the present.

Here are some areas to consider in order to distinguish your healthy from unhealthy beliefs: Fat is bad, food is the enemy, you must always be nice to people, put yourself last, put yourself first, you can’t trust yourself, you need others’ approval, making money is the most important thing in the world, money doesn’t matter, you must marry or have children to be happy, some ethnic/religious groups are better than others, life is a jungle, you can’t trust anyone, never share your feelings, no one cares what you think, food is love, it’s better to be loved than love, if someone hurts you then hurt them back, you don’t matter, material things matter more than moral ones, life is scary, be cautious, forget about consequences, people can pull themselves up by their bootstraps if they try, there are winners and there are losers in life, be careful or you’ll get hurt, family is everything.

Spend time being curious and non-judgmental about what you believe. When you have a thought, stop and question its usefulness and veracity. When you listen to so-called experts (even me) talk about issues, ponder the truth behind our words. When you act, consider the beliefs that motivate your actions. Sort out the beliefs you learned in childhood and along the way to toss into the trash bin from ones which ones are keepers because you’ve decided that the values they represent are best for you and for the world.







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