Because of the type of work I do, I tend to focus on helping people change the negative messages they took in as children. But I also like to ask folks to remember the shining moments. Often times they don’t hold our attention as much as the hurtful ones and we aren’t as motivated to learn from them...but they are more important to our sense of well-being!
I’ve written before about how we are programmed through biology to remember negative experiences with more clarity than the positive ones. This is helpful if we are in survival mode. As in we ought to be more alert to a bear chasing us than flowers growing along the road. However when it comes to our self-concept, the positive experiences are more important by far!
This negative memory bias often distorts the truth about who we believe we are. It may be that we received five messages that are positive to one message that is negative and it actually feels as though the opposite were true. Researchers have found that children need about seven positive comments to everyone negative one to come out balanced, I know from experience how hard that is for a parent to do! When a child is climbing on furniture or hitting their brother, that will get more reaction from a parent then when he is sitting quietly reading your book or sharing a toy. Sad but true!
Additionally, if you are very sensitive, even a neutral event can feel negative. As a child I was so sensitive that if I didn’t receive praise, I feel like I had done something wrong. Now I do a lot of public speaking and if it is for continuing education credit, the attendees must write evaluations. I laugh at myself that if there are 100 positive comments and one negative comment, the negative one will get me! It stings more than the positive ones bring pleasure. I am getting better though!
If you have any insecurities at all (and yes that would be all of us) you are likely operating on an incorrect perception of yourself due to a negative memory bias. So what can we now do about our this and its effect on our lives? Affirmations and mindful exercises can be helpful. But the strongest evidence will come from your own experiences.
The following is an exercise that can help you restore a balance in the messages that you took in as a child
Bright Shining Moments
1) Write down a list of all the influential people from your childhood such as:
2) Think of the most shining moments you had with each of them. It may that with some of these people you remember more negative things but for this exercise remember the most positive. It is likely that there were shining moments with even them.
3) Then consider the message that this positive encounter gives you about yourself. You may not have taken it in fully as a child, but you can now.
For example, Kayla always believed that she was too much for her parents. She remembered them constantly telling her to be quiet, sit down, or go to her room. In her current relationships, she also struggles with a vague sense that she is too much as well. She tries to contain her energy, her needs, and her emotions but generally ends up feeling misunderstood.
In doing this exercise, she was able to remember times when her energy made her parents laugh, times when she played outside with her dad, and a long forgotten memory that she was her gymnastics teacher’s favorite student. She was able to take in messages from these memories that she was a lot of fun, and that her energy could be helpful and productive. She was able to begin seeing herself as delightfully energetic and recognizing that some people would appreciate this about her and others would not. Instead of a global assumption she had about herself that she was too much, she began to gravitate toward people that seem to enjoy her energy.
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