Mental Health


Mandy Kloppers

How to undo negative programming

child holding hands photo

Undo Negative Programming

Our childhoods affect us immensely. Of course, some of our characteristics are genetically inherited – whether we are shy and prefer to observe instead of rush in and try something new are traits we are born with. So we have a starting platform and from this, we develop and grow whilst learning from our parents and experiences. I am referring to the well-known nature versus nurture debate. What affects us the most? Is it genetics or our environment that is responsible for determining how we turn out as adults?

Many scientists and psychologists believe that genetics limit you in certain ways but environment determines how high you get to reaching that ceiling – called the “Genetic Ceiling Model”. The current scientific view is that neither genetics nor environment are solely responsible for producing individual variation, and that virtually all traits show gene–environment interaction.

Whatever the verdict, if we grew up in unfavourable circumstances, we tend to carry around ‘negative programming’ about ourselves and the world. Becoming aware of these habitual thoughts is the first step in minimising their effect.

Were you told that you were “stupid” or “fat and lazy” or accused of some other derogatory description? Said often enough and we begin to believe what we are told. It’s time to re-examine old beliefs and decide whether they are true or not.

Here are a few tips:

1) Examine the source

When we’re young our parents seem like Gods. All powerful and able to fix everything. Why wouldn’t we believe what they tell us? As we grow older it’s important to look at your parents as fallible human beings who didn’t always get it right. Their criticisms were more about them than you. Believe that they did the best they could with the knowledge they had at the time.

2) You decide

Whatever you were told as a child, it’s important to realise that you can undo the messages and start afresh. Who do you think you are? What do you like about yourself? Focus on your strengths and achievements and reward yourself for being able to redefine yourself and reject the labels your parents gave you. As Eleanor Roosevelt said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent”. One of my favourite quotes!

3) Acceptance

Unfortunately, there is very little that can fully replace the love that you lost as a child. It would be unfair to expect a partner to offer you that same level of parental love, nor should they be expected to reach that level. Learn to love yourself regardless and remind yourself that you are loveable as you are.

I felt rejected by my parents and felt like a burden. I constantly sought that love from others, as an adult. I would expect my partner to be everything – my father, my mentor, my best friend, my confidante, my number one fan and my lover. It’s not a surprise that I was left disappointed! Now I have accepted that some of that love I have to give myself. I nurture the little girl in me and sometimes talk to her and tell her she is loved. In a way I am re-parenting myself. It sounds a little quirky but it has helped me. I also have many more female friends now to provide some of the emotional support that a man cannot always offer. I have a much more realistic way of getting my needs met.

4) Challenge your thoughts

Watch the negative thinking. Wear an elastic band around your wrist and ‘ping’ it every time you catch yourself thinking a negative thought. Statements from your parents might come back to haunt you. Make sure you reframe these thoughts. Here’s an example:

Negative Automatic Thought (NAT):  No one would love the ‘real me’.

Reframe: I may have flaws but there are many positive attributes such as (list them……). Besides no one is perfect.

Our thoughts lead to emotions and subsequently behaviour and so the cycle continues. Manage the thoughts and a more positive cycle ensues. It takes practise but it is worth the effort.

Your childhood and how it shaped you does not have to be written in stone. You are an adult now and you have the power to choose who you are and what you are capable of.

Mandy X

Photo by Spirit-Fire