The last few blog posts have covered how our feelings can get shut down, but what about our thoughts? Have you ever thought about how you were taught to think, or taught not to think?
In recovery and emotional healing, I hear people say all the time that when they are asked the question “what do you think?” they just jam up. That they don’t know how to respond to that question in the same way that people freeze when asked how they are feeling.
Just as we learn to shut down our own feelings as a result of being told over time that they are “wrong” or that we don’t actually feel them”, learning to doubt our thoughts and opinions and to shut them down also happens in a very similar way. The details are different, but the damage is very comparable.
I have heard children trying to contribute to the conversation with the statement “well I think …” and the adult (or the bully) in the situation will respond by saying;
~ “well no one asked you to think”
~ “Well no one cares what YOU think”
~ “you are not capable of thinking”
~ “If I want to know what YOU think, I will ask you”
There are often subtle rhetorical questions that are designed to tear you down and put you back in “your place”. Although these questions are not necessarily meant to be answered, they have an effect. Even when the person saying these things has no intention to cause harm, these types of statements DO cause harm. These proclamations might be in response to something you did, or to something you said. Usually they have the desired effect which is to communicate to you that you are wrong.
~ “what in the world are YOU thinking”? or “What in the world were you thinking”
~ “do you have ROCKS in your head instead of a brain”?
~ “How old are you?” inferring either that you are old enough not to say or think such stupid things OR inferring that you are too young to know anything.
These questions or sayings are invalidating and meant to remind you that you are “less than” or less important than they are and that you are LACKING. They create self doubt and add to low self esteem. And if by any chance you believe what they imply they embed themselves in YOUR belief system.
The underlying message is always that your contribution is not welcome.
If you were not encouraged to share your thoughts as a valid person no matter what age you were, or if you were taught to keep your thoughts to yourself, these types of statements are likely at the root of the problem when it comes to freezing when asked for your thoughts. Being constantly reprimanded and told you were wrong when you did share thoughts will lead to self questioning the validity of your thoughts and ideas. This is equal to having been taught NOT to have thoughts. No wonder there is fear and or freezing when asked “what do you think”
When someone asks “what do you think” and your whole life you were told (whether inferred or in direct words) that you are stupid and that you “can’t think” then that goes into your belief system and causes the fear of expressing thoughts. It causes a fear of thinking; what if the thought is “wrong”? And again, as with feelings, what will the consequences be if you ARE wrong? Public humiliation? Sarcastic comments? Rejection or fear of being kicked out of the group?
The risk of being wrong can bring up fears that we had in childhood that are no longer valid fears in adulthood, but we don’t know they are there in the first place. Fears operate under the surface and we often don’t know what drives them.
If you have a history of being harmed in any way for having thoughts, such as being hit for thinking or for expressing a thought that someone else didn’t approve of, then you have a history of being punished for thinking. If you have been emotionally harmed or humiliated for expressing a thought, that is the same as being punished for thinking and you might still be afraid to think or to express an opinion.
Being ignored is another way that communicates “your thoughts are not important or welcome”. When a child speaks and there is NO response at all the child gets the same message. And think about where all this “communication” leads; I concluded that if I had nothing of value to contribute to my family, then I had nothing to contribute to my community either and if I had nothing to contribute outside of my family, then I had nothing to contribute to the world. See how it happens?
I had to realize why I would freeze when I was asked what I was “thinking” or asked to contribute my thoughts to a conversation. The fear of being “wrong” was huge and it stemmed from the fear of the consequences of being wrong and NOT trusting myself to have anything valuable to contribute because it was communicated to me that I HAD nothing to contribute.
Were you encouraged to think? Were you asked to contribute and was your contribution acknowledged, considered or valued? Were you encouraged to contribute your thoughts to a conversation or to a plan? Were you ignored which communicates the exact same message; that you have nothing to contribute.
Please share your thoughts and please feel free to use only your first name or a screen name in the comment form.
Exposing Truth, one snapshot at a time;
~ Related Posts with Discussions here on Emerging from Broken (click titles to visit)