top of page

Living by Old Rules: Are You On This List?

picture of drama mask, Raleigh Psychotherapy, Katherine Broadway, relationship counseling

Carl grew up with a mother who raged. If his dad was late getting home, his mother would go into a rage. If he spilled something on the floor his mother would go into a rage. If she was left waiting too long she would go into a rage. Carl was terrified of his mother, even though she could be loving and caring.

Bruce’s father was impatient and strict when sober, but when he got drunk he would turn violent and threaten him, his sister and mother. His mother was afraid and could not defend herself and her children from him.

Anna’s mother was critical and judgmental. Anna felt that she could never do anything right or please her mother. She believed that her mother did not like her and disapproved of her as a person.

Carl, Bruce and Anna share a common difficulty: they are afraid and feel bad about themselves. Because of the difficulty in their families, they developed parts of themselves that look put together on the outside, while feeling incapable and childlike on the inside.

Children who grew up in dysfunctional families often feel their experiences were unique, and that no one else can identify with what they went through. As we can see in these examples, they had unique experiences while being able to understand one another’s suffering.

It has been seen through studies and observation, that dysfunctional families have characteristics, behaviors, and family rules in common. They were often developed before the child was old enough to have a say in how to act or react to these situations. They remain powerful directives in our lives well into adulthood. Many of theses directives are unconscious and based on survival.

Carl, Bruce and Anna are still living by survival rules that are carried by the unknown parts of themselves. They no longer have to live by survival rules. They are out of the family home where they felt threaten, but the survival system that is in place does not know that and continues to function as if they are under daily threat.

Becoming aware of our own rules for life is half of winning the battle to reclaiming ourselves. How many of these rules can you see in your family?

1. Don’t feel. Feelings are dangerous and will only lead to problems.

Don’t think. You aren’t allowed to have opinions or make decisions.

2. Don’t talk. What happens in the family stays in the family, and is never to be revealed.

3. Don’t identify problems, because you are the only problem. Don’t solve problems.

4. Don’t have a self. Be what the family wants you to be. Be good, strong, right, and perfect.

5. Don’t have any wants or needs. If you do, you will be a problem and bad.

6. Don’t have fun. Don’t be happy or enjoy life; it is not necessary. Your time and energy needs to be used to save others.

7. Don’t trust yourself or others. To trust is to let your guard down, and to become vulnerable. It is dangerous.

8. Don’t tell the truth. The truth about what is going on in the family is to remain hidden. Hint at what you want and need. Manipulate others to talk and act on your behalf. Stay hidden and safe.

9. Don’t get close to others. Push them away by judging and criticizing them. Be distant by being the caretaker. Put a false self out to impress and wow them.

10. Don’t grow or change. Be the person the family wants and needs you to be. What is appropriate for you and is in your best interest will threaten and hurt the family.

When you live by any of these rules, you are unable to find your true self, the part of you that can see reality and live in the here and now. It is through this part that you can live a life that makes you feel good. Living according to these old rules is to live by the messages that your survival parts convey. It is living out of the false self that causes depression, loneliness, emptiness, and dissatisfaction.

It does not have to continue. You can begin to know these hidden parts of you and the messages they give you, as you do you will find and develop a true self, and live a life of satisfaction. Next week, we will look at how these rules manifest themselves in your adult life, and ways you can begin to change.

bottom of page